Most people who have never attended a music festival imagine a dirty plot of land filled with grungy hippies or spoiled college kids whose main purpose is to look cute and rock the hippest “festie fashions,” while being drugged up and drunk out of their minds.
Although these stereotypes do exist, and drugs and alcohol are present, these things are not the meaning of what a music festival is about, especially ones which involve on-site camping. Festivals have changed when it comes to community, trust, equality and being there for the overall love of music.
I began attending music festivals at 16 years old with Bonnaroo being my first experience. The free-flowing love and kindness from strangers who later became like family while on the premises created an addiction to festivals and their environment. It was a place I could totally and openly be myself.
I felt equal joy while watching others enjoy the freedom of being exactly who they are without criticism and social norms being forced upon them. There was an element of beauty as I watched hands moving through the air and high fives being given among attendees as the music is played.
That image has now become a memory as the crowd has turned into a sea of cellphones and tablets blocking the view of the stage and removing the concert-goers from being in the moment and fully absorbing the experience. There is little trust left anymore -- between people stealing items from tents and cars and putting substances in an unsuspecting victim’s drink while they’re not looking.
People push through the crowd and step on others who are lying in the grass waiting for the next performance. Every year, I see music festivals losing more of what attracted me to them in the first place: peace, love, unity and happiness. Even the quality of the musical performers and bands has decreased.
This is a sad loss to a culture that once thrived on the talent of the music and the unison of attendees. Each year, a kind act from a stranger surprises me and makes me feel that all is not lost. The sunrises and sunsets over the stages and sprawling campgrounds bring warmth to my heart. Seeing the faces of newcomers light up as they enter the festival or hear their favorite band play is rewarding and takes me back to the excitement that vibrated through my body the first time I pulled into Bonnaroo, not being able to take in all of the colors and sounds at once, but bursting with a happiness that is unexplainable to those who haven’t experienced both contentment and sheer thrill at the same time.
I remind myself there is still hope when it comes to music festivals. Keeping the tradition and meaning alive rests on the shoulders of every individual who complains about the changes but continues to go, including myself. We have the power to bring back the beauty we’ve experienced and love.
Standard reporter Atlanta Northcutt can be reached at 473-2191.