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Now Go Home and Wash Up

Memories of a jam festival: the music, the mud, the pancakes . . .

 

My friend Pat’s Blazer had been flipped over twice and was missing a back driver’s side window. Common sense would say this was not the ideal car to drive five hours from central New Jersey to Turin, N.Y. The three of us, Pat, his girlfriend Amy and I, became friends while attending college in central England. Pat and I made numerous stops off of the London underground into Camden Lock, where I bought my first pair of hemp pants and saw people buy magic mushrooms with a Visa card. By accompanying the two to their favorite annual jam fest, moe.down, I was reassured that good times and hippiedom were to be had in the States as well. I was advised to bring the clothes on my back and, if I wanted, a toothbrush. My ticket was accidentally mailed to the wrong place, se we had to make a detour to Albany to pick it up. I nestled into my backseat bomb shelter surrounded by Stop & Shop bags full of hot-dog buns, and plugged my ears to avoid the annoying sound of flapping plastic that been loosely duct-taped over the missing window.

We finally arrived in Turin, where the festival was under way on a field next to a ski mountain. People were pitching their tents, assembling a vibrant, colorful landscape over the vast farmer’s field. After we befriended our “neighbors” and had a couple of beers, it was time to enjoy the music of moe. A wristband was required for the actual festival area, which made me wonder if it were free for anyone to come camp and party for three days in the tent area. I temporarily lost a flip-flop in the massive mud-puddle entrance to the music area. The stage was nestled at the bottom of a giant ski slope, allowing campers the option to relax on the hill or dance among the rush of the crowd. Out of excitement, we decided to push right into the crowd. Bad move: A drunken hippie behind me kept trying to grope me. While I could have been enjoying a cover of Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl, I was repeatedly pushing away this guy with dreads and a tattered plaid shirt. I regained faith in the festival’s positive vibe after the two-hour set had finished, when people made a point to pick up every bit of trash that was stomped into the ground by their dancin’ feet. Meanwhile, six or seven people took on the impossible, needle-in-haystack task of trying to find a girl’s missing earring in the mud. I love a horny and ambitious crowd.

We spent the majority of the second day lying around on the side of the ski mountain watching adults play with hula-hoops. From here I had a great view of the guy from Violent Femmes in hot-yellow leather pants, until it was disrupted by a 40-something woman who began blowing dish-liquid bubbles over me and my two friends. By the time we decided to move, lazy Amy and I had purpled skin from the sun. We decided that this would be a good time to ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain and enjoy some shade. When finally on top, we discovered an abandoned cabin, where we enjoyed the scenery of my home state. It seemed that you could hear the live music for miles in any direction, even up here.

Containing elements of rock, psychedelic rock, jazz, bluegrass, country, blues, Rastafarian, and even folk, “jam” music was created mainly for live improvisation that strays from an original recorded song structure. The ability of the musicians to stay on the same wavelength while conforming to the improvised rhythm and chord changes baffles me. There are dozens of jam festivals every summer in the Northeast. Whether it be moe.down, Snoe.down, Stonehenge, Bonaroo (which is actually in Tennessee), or Gathering of the Vibes, the idea is always the same: We arrive in our Birkenstocks and dreadlocks, necks adorned creatively with knots of hemp, dragging our coolers, coming together in an effort to create a realization of our equal humanity, and, of course, to enjoy a damn good show.

Within the large merchandise area, there was a free viewing of Jerry Garcia’s artwork, which paid homage to the originators of jam-improv, as did entire merchandise tents dedicated to Grateful Dead. Of course, blown glass, hemp products, and handmade clothing are sold at most jamfests; some even allow trade and barter. Some things, on the other hand, are best left for the fans to bring along themselves. I ended up having a long argument over the idea of making these specific things legal, and how it would contribute to the elimination of trillions of dollars of the United States debt – but that’s just the beauty of liberalism, and a few beers.

Our camp neighbors happened to have brought along thousands of tiny, colorful glow sticks. During moe.’s final set of the second night, the glow sticks were in full effect. It began to rain, and the blackened sky ignited with multicolored shards of lights that reminded me of someone throwing a giant Lite Brite back and forth. Amy, who had attended the festival since she was 9 or 10 with her father, and had befriended family members of the band moe., insisted that moe. purposely projected the blue water-like ripples upon the surrounding pine trees, “just as the drugs are beginning to kick in.” Some people made giant rings of the scattered glow sticks on the ground and became “glow people” who, in the darkness, resembled alien robots who only knew how to dance by flailing their arms in different directions and bouncing up and down. Others made more hula hoops out of the glow sticks and rolled them down the mountain. And yes, people did take advantage of giant mud puddles after a rain in order to bathe themselves or to use them as a massive slip-and-slide.

I love waking up in the morning and getting slapped in the face with a brick of crisp air. Somebody was making pancakes—and they were the best damned homemade pancakes. It was time to rub the morning mud-crust off of myself. We were given only a tiny water pipe for bathing, and even then some random girl did it for me. But what I love more than pancakes or the idea of someone else bathing me, is that these jam-fest occasions are annual—not just a Once upon a time I had the best three days of my life story. Going home is the sad part—especially since I have to wash my feet by my damn self. Brushing my teeth—what a chore. Could I spend the whole summer without brushing? If it were spent at moe.down.

When it’s all over, a gray-haired hippie named Gary can go home forever claiming the title “Mayor of moe.ville.” For the rest of us, life fast-forward back into society’s highway, leaving behind a few pairs of flip-flops, endless empty packs of Camel Lights and thousands of footprints in the void of mud. To this day, Amy still has not washed her Birkenstocks. Some days, sitting next to her in my Wednesday painting class, I get a whiff of upstate New York haystacks and catch a swift mental note of “Blister in the Sun.”

—Jamie-Lee Greene

 

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