Love, Loss, and Rock & Roll
by Cara Strickland
I am the last person you might expect to see at a music festival. Although I’m a lover of live music, that love is rivaled by my love of sitting down in climate-controlled spaces. I camp only when there is no other option. My feet get easily tired.
My brother called in March to tell me about a special tour presented by one of our mutual favorite bands: Mumford & Sons. I was still close enough to the flicker of worry I’d experienced during the period when they were no longer touring. I’d hate for them to break up and ruin my chance to see them live forever. We booked our tickets for August.
The band was planning to take over the small, lovely town of Walla Walla, WA. Once, it was a place surrounded by farms and livestock land; now, it’s wine country, a fact which leaves many locals conflicted about the extra tourists, bistros, and tasting rooms now lining their streets.
In March, I was happily dating someone, and he bought a ticket to come along with us. By August, we had broken up, and I was dating someone else (someone who wasn’t attending the concert), little dreaming that we would break up hours after the festival was over.
My brother and I and his best friend hiked across a golf course, carrying (and in some cases dragging), everything we’d brought with us. We pitched a tent within poking distance of our neighbors, I laced up my walking shoes, already dusty, and we set off to see the town.
As we walked, we noticed signs and flags in all the windows and storefronts. Walla Walla was welcoming us with open arms. Food trucks lined the streets, and I saw one sign advertising “wine slushies.”
It was a few degrees over a hundred that first day. We stood in the street and listened to local bands, eyes darting from face to face, hoping for an early glimpse of one of the headlining band members. From time to time, I popped into the air conditioned bookstore and browsed the bestsellers.
That night, we lay in the dark, surrounded by our chatty neighbors, too tired to move.
Day two brought entrance into the actual festival grounds, on the lawn of a university. We filtered in, taking in the tents serving food and alcohol, the vendors selling everything colorful or luminescent.
Once we had found a spot, I took a lap around the grounds. I ran into a woman with a long flowing skirt, moving something that looked like a complicated slinky up and down her arms. She held out a hand. “Would you like to try?”
I held out my hand to meet hers and she transferred the metal, showing me how to move it from one arm to another and back. I let the cool metal skim my skin for a while before passing it back, wordlessly.
That night, the Foo Fighters capped the evening. This was the band that my ex had been looking forward to most. I knew he was somewhere in the crowd, but we couldn’t have met up if we’d tried.
The lead singer sat in a throne made of guitars. He had broken his leg on tour. Later, I learned that he’d had the bone set during the concert and still finished the show. As we entered the second hour, I realized that it is possible that I don’t know any Foo Fighters songs, at least, not well enough to sing along. This was around the same time that I estimated that every bone in my feet hurt.
I said goodnight to my brother and made my way out of the crush of people (many of whom were not pleased). As I entered open air, I took a deep breath. I am learning to choose myself, these days, and I became more sure of my decision with each step into the campground, quiet for once. Back at my tent, I could still hear every Foo Fighting word with clarity. It sounded better from a horizontal position.
The next day was the one I’d been waiting for. Before beginning our day in the sun, we went to lunch at a friend of my brother’s, a local assistant winemaker. She served us chili and cornbread and poured us glasses of her own wine, smooth as silk. We sat around a table and talked and laughed, reminding me of all the best things about community and food. Before we left, she let me take a shower, not charging me the $10 fee from the campground.
Refreshed, we took our place in the hot sun, rubbing on sunscreen and preparing not to move for roughly 7 hours. I found my roommate, and our group huddled together, taking turns sitting down until we couldn’t anymore.
I will not tell you that I fell in love with camping, heat, and large amounts of walking on this trip. I will not tell you that I have booked another festival. I will tell you that in those seconds, minutes and hours when Mumford & Sons was onstage, time, the outside world, even my feet, melted away. All of those hours of listening to their music on vinyl alone in my room, that Thanksgiving where my brother first played me Winter Winds, the flash of excitement I felt when I heard that they were coming within easy driving distance, everything collided with the reality of hearing them sing their words right to me.
In the days that followed, as I began to pick up the pieces of my expectations, and my hopes, I saw the hands of God in the festival, preparing me for the season to come. In the midst of discomfort and blisters, I learned to pay attention to invitations to engage with what was actually happening in front of me, catching the moments like the complicated slinky, and letting them run over my arms. I learned to listen when my spirit was screaming for me to choose myself and leave the fighters to their foo. I learned to stand still in ecstasy, soaking it in, knowing that it wouldn’t last.
Cara Strickland writes about food, faith, singleness, and relationships for a variety of publications in print and online. She lives in Spokane. You can read more of her writing at carastrickland.com