Why Does Kelly Festy?

by Feb 21, 2016Adventure, Culture

jelly_stringsummit_stageI’ve seen dozens of live bands and musical acts.  

Possibly hundreds.  It’s been an addiction since I was young, and I have no regrets.  I spend money on live shows like the Kardashians spend money on shoes.  (I really don’t own a lot of shoes – so, that’s the trade off).  I’ve been going to shows since before I was a teenager, and I’m looking forward to that day when I’m spinning in circles in the field with my long, gray pigtails.  Taking all of this into consideration, you might be surprised to learn about the first concert I went to that started me on this path of enlightenment.  

The first live music I was exposed to was Christian Rock (and rap and heavy metal – yes, it all exists).  I was very young, and involved with the youth group at the church my family attended.  We saw Amy Grant and Michael W Smith, then moved on to more progressive music like D.C. Talk and Petra. (Just google it.)  The church organized van trips to Hershey Park to see these bands, and a huge group of us would go.

I was quickly hooked on the live music experience, not so much the style of music. 

All of the music groups we saw were totally unique, with religious-lyrics being the only unifying factor.  The thing that captured me, really stuck with me, was the experience.  The group of friends, the anticipation weeks before, the road trip to the show – it was different than any other experience in my life up until then.  When you arrived, it just kept building up – finding your seats, meeting your neighbors, and then – the moment when the lights dimmed, everyone quieted and looked towards the stage while the musicians came out and took their places, and the first note was played.  The show had begun. 

Violent Femmes get ReligiousFast-forward to 10th grade

and to when I had expanded my musical tastes quite a bit.  At this point in my life, I wasn’t really bragging about my experiences with live music.  Christian music just wasn’t cool, and admitting I had seen Amy Grant live could have been social suicide in my new high school.  My new favorite band was the Violent Femmes, thanks to a tape that someone had let my sister borrow.  I couldn’t play that tape enough.  (Maybe it was Gordon Gano singing “Jesus Walking on the Water” that really resonated with me.)  When they went on tour, some acquaintances in school had planned to go see them at John’s Hopkins University.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t close friends with most of the group – I knew I would simply DIE if I didn’t get to go! 

We all piled into someone’s mom’s van, and headed down to Baltimore. 

I took my CD binder full of almost 100 CDs, and distinctly remember flipping through the albums, talking to Ryan about Phish and how he thought Rift was their best album.  Music is a powerful thing. Music brings people together, and connects people that may have not connected otherwise.  I hadn’t been close friends with everyone in that van headed to the show, but we certainly connected and became better friends instantly knowing we had the love of the Violent Femmes and live music to share.

Jimmie’s Chicken Shack opened for the Femmes, and they gave free demo CD’s to everyone after their set (remember when that was a thing??).  And when the Femmes came out, we all made sure we were at the very front of the stage.  The crowds pressed up against us so hard, I had bruises on my chest from the rail for a week!  Gordon was just inches from my grasp, and Brian Ritchie stared at me creepily as he walked just to the edge of the stage.  Most of the show is a blur, filled with lots of singing and dancing and probably screaming like a 15-year-old high school girl. It’s one of my favorite moments of my entire life.

WHFS_99.1Live music was my heart and soul

from a very young age, and my main extracurricular activity throughout my years of education.  Sure, I ran track in 9th grade, but it had exponentially less impact on me than getting a new CD or discovering a new band. My first music festival was called HFStival, put on in Washington D.C. by the radio station 99.1 HFS.  That station probably influenced more teenagers than most radio station in the entire country (I’m slightly biased). To get tickets to HFStival, my friend (who incidentally went to the Femmes show as well) and I camped out in front of Towson Town Center mall the night before tickets went on sale.  It was the only way to get tickets – they sold out in just a few hours!  HFStival was a single-day festival held at RFK Stadium with huge names and 2 stages (at least that’s all I remember).  It was the highlight music festival of the summer, and something I was not going to miss!  I went several summers in a row, then I went to their HFSkimo festival (skiing and live music together!), and then to their HFSmas (their Christmas concert).  Seriously – what did kids do without WHFS? I can’t imagine.


Then came the move.

After graduating from college, I moved to Boulder, Colorado –  and live music became a huge part of my life.  I don’t think a single week went by that I didn’t see at least one live band.  Music festivals were becoming more and more prevalent across the country.  And so it started – one-day music festivals turned into two- and three-day camping music festivals. Road trips became an anticipated part of the entire music festival adventure.  It wasn’t “let’s go to this one festival” – it was “which festival can we go to” and “how many festivals can we go to this summer”.   We drove all around Colorado, and then expanded the trips to Kansas, Oregon, Washington and so on. 

Then came the BIG move.

I eventually married my festival partner, my soulmate of live music, my roommate and my best friend…and we went to Harvest Fest in the Ozark Mountains of Kelly Honeymoon OutfitArkansas for our honeymoon (making a 2-week road trip out of it as well).  I couldn’t imagine a better honeymoon – October in the Ozarks with the best of bluegrass music.  It was incredible.  The last festival we went to was Strings & Sol (December 2015): 4-nights of bluegrass at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.  We made it a 2-week trip, and spent spent extra days hanging out at the resort and a week galavanting with new friends around other parts of the Yucatan.  It’s unlike any festival you’ve ever experienced – but then again, aren’t they all?

Point being – festivals are about music, of course – but they are really about the full Festival Experience.  It’s the adventure, the planning, the packing, the road trip, the friends. It’s the individual culture that each festival encompasses, the energy of all those in attendance, the atmosphere of the location.  It’s the festival’s unique personality that makes each one memorable for its own special reasons. 

I “festival” because a festival is where I feel at home. 

It’s where my extended family is, even if we’ve never met before that weekend.  It’s where my favorite musicians hang out, even if I just discovered them that afternoon.  It’s my happy place, whether it pours rain or it’s sweltering hot.  It’s the community, the camaraderie, the connections.  It’s where I can let go, and be my very “fest” self.