'roo music preview

Would you like to hear some excellent music? Because back in January I threatened to share some of my favorite discoveries from the Bonnaroo lineup, and four months later I'm finally ready to make good on that threat.

(Some of these vids have playback restrictions; you'll have to click over to YouTube to watch/listen. Hoping you find at least a few worth the effort.) Ready? Let's do it!

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Courtney Barnett is an Australian singer/songwriter whose brain makes me wish I could put it through some kind of enfleurage process, get a vial's worth of essence for my very own. Her conversational lyrics come rapid-fire, like spiral notebooks tumbling down from a too full shelf, their pages crammed with poetry you don't want to stop reading. So goddamn smart. If you listen to only one artist listed in this post, please make it the first.





The Districts are an indie quartet from Pennsylvania. Lead singer Rob Grote's voice shares that same wonderful lisping quality as Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse. So if you dig that, I think you'll like this. Silver Couplets is twangy and rich; the refrain will get pleasantly stuck in your head. For months. And 4th and Roebling takes a page from The Strokes - and it is a rockin' page:





Seattle electronic duo ODESZA is pretty big; you've surely heard them. But maybe not Kusanagi, which is like drinking peppermint tea and listening to a rainstorm:



And you know Spoon, of course. But in familiarizing myself with them more, I discovered this little gem:



Festival organizers have already published the schedule, which is great, but it kills me that Pokey LaFarge is on so early in the day. Don't know that I'll make it to see him, but holy cow would this be fun:



More Aussies! The DMA's are a trio of kids with a really sweet, plaintive sound that'll slingshot you right back to every 90's emo band you ever banged your heart against:



Indiana quartet Houndmouth just released their second full-length album in March, and I have a really, really good feeling about these guys. And something I've learned about festivals - the closer to their hometown, the more fun a band is to see live. Also? Bonnaroo fans represent, when it comes to folk and country. Sedona from the new album and Ludlow from the previous:





Time for some Afro-electro-pop. Chances are zip to none that Ezra Koenig will make a surprise appearance alongside The Very Best at Bonnaroo (sigh), but I'm including the track featuring him anyway. I promise it is physically impossible to feel bad while listening to these songs:





And while I've got you in a good mood, I'm skipping Slovenian DJ Gramatik's super popular (and played out, maybe?) Hit That Jive for Born Ready, which'll make your freakin' throat pulse:



I know. You're sick to death of AWOLNATION's Sail. But hear me out. Rather, hear frontman Aaron Bruno out, singing the sexiest screamfest you will hear this week. I dunno, it could just be me, but I cannot get enough of Woman Woman:



Good stuff, yes yes? Everyone ready to join me in Tennessee in June? Elliequent field trip? I promise I won't narc if you have to forge your parent's signature on the permission slip...

moonlight

I'm driving down a backcountry road, somewhere off the map and unfamiliar. New terrain. Nothing especially striking about the landscape, though occasionally I'm surprised by a pretty vista. But I'm whizzing along, no time to stop, so these sights are just what I glimpse in passing. The main thing is the road. Staying on the road.

I'm alone, of course. Everything I need in a sturdy suitcase, perched on the backseat. I can see it out of the corner of my eye, and it reassures me. Everything I need is here.

Suddenly, something feels off. Alignment? Suspension? I can't tell exactly, I don't know mechanics that well. I only know the drive isn't as smooth as it was a few miles back. I'm tempted to push it, to gun for the next milestone, but experience has taught me that can spell disaster. I have to stop. I have to see what's wrong.

So I pull over and spend some time kidding myself I can figure out the problem. I circle the car. Inspect the tires. Peer under the hood. I walk several yards away to scrutinize from a distance, as if a bit of perspective might reveal the issue. But whatever it is, it sits deep inside my car, secret and silent and out of reach.

I drive on. It isn't safe to stay in the dead, dark of night, in a strange place. Because out of nowhere it is dark, and cold. Shivering, I remember my suitcase. Everything I need.

But then it's worse. The car is shaking so badly I can't trust it anymore. In what feels like it could be the last decision I'll ever make, I stop again. Make the same rounds. Tires. Hood. This time with a heavy dose of self-recrimination. If only I'd learned more about the car. If only I'd taught myself how to fix it. If only I'd taken another road.

I want to believe that someone will come along and help. But I'm so far from the main highway that it's doubtful. My isolation feels like a punishment for too many crimes to face here alone, in the quiet. With only stars for company and moonlight as witness.

It's time to find out how well I packed.


things coming, things passed

I am very happy to say that the sads I was having about a friend have been resolved. She reached out, but I wasn't ready. Then I reached out, and she was. We had dinner and talked about what happened and what we can do to keep it from happening again. I told her I just loved spending time with her, and was disappointed when she was flaky. That it's a bummer when things seem so often on her terms. She owned this and acknowledged she could probably work on that. Then I apologized for having ambushed her, slightly tipsily, with my hurt feelings in the first place. We cracked jokes, were honest and vulnerable, and it was all over and behind us in a matter of minutes. And then I got to sneak off to Minichella feeling all warm and fuzzy about someone I care for deeply. The best part, though? Her move has been postponed, indefinitely. I've got my Kerrbear for a while yet.

---

My Bonnaroadtrip is all set! After the festival I'm renting a car and spending a week in Lake Burton, Georgia, with Mason's uncle and aunt, before visiting a friend of my parent's in South Carolina that I haven't seen since I was nine years old.

Why am I spending a week with my best friend's aunt and uncle? Well, because I've had the great pleasure of cultivating a friendship with them - mainly the avuncular half - for the past two+ years. I met Bill on Thanksgiving, 2012 and spent the holiday with him (and Terence, and Mason, and some of Mason's family) again the following year. Bill and I exchange emails here and there, which are mostly me being the lucky, grateful benefactor of his accumulated wit and wisdom. I even printed up one of my favorite messages from him; I keep a copy of it taped inside my desk drawer to peek at when I'm feeling lost:

Life is meaningless. We waste so much time looking for a meaning to life when our primary purpose should be to enjoy living. On the entire planet, among all the animals, only man is arrogant enough to believe that he was put here for a purpose, different from all other animals. 

I could get all weepy right now, trying to convey what Bill's support has meant - support which came to me out of nowhere, really, and for no good reason. When he found out I'd be down south, he invited me to come spend some time with he and his wife before flying back to LA. I've never been to Georgia or South Carolina, haven't been on a lake in decades, and it's been a lifetime since I took myself on a road trip. Really, really excited for this.

To sweeten the deal, I'm going to get together with an old associate of my father's - someone I haven't seen since I was a little girl. Dale got in touch with me after my dad died, sending me one of the kindest letters I've ever received. I don't think he'd mind my sharing a bit of it:

...The thing I can tell you that is regardless of any possible faults your mother and dad had, and we all have them, they loved you dearly. So take that and lift your head high, because not many have the depth of love they felt for you. That I can swear to.  
I hope you don’t mind my reading your blogs. It gives me a feeling of contact with your dad. Know all the manly crap and not supposed to shed tears, but he and I were pretty close and I was a listening post for some of his thoughts so it hit me very hard to find out he had passed away....

So that's who I get to connect with, in just a couple months. My dad wasn't in touch with any family and really didn't have friends around when he died. There were very few people I could talk to about him, who'd known him. In the past few years there's been no one at all. Needless to say I'm very, very much looking forward to this reunion, demolish my heart though it might.

---

Speaking of, tomorrow marks three years to the day that my dad died. He would get such a kick out of the trip I've got planned. He was the original road-tripper, passed the love of it right down to me. Michigan to Florida. Florida to California. Arizona to Utah, Colorado, Texas. As a kid in the passenger's seat of my dad's cars I saw more of the U.S. than I've seen since, in adulthood. Every national park we could squeeze in, every scenic view and pull off. Always taking the long way there.

couple months' worth

Chaucer always appreciates when people bring toys to the park for him to play with.
"The steering on this thing is a little off."

Request line now open.

"But Moooom, he's got cheeeeese."

"NO! I'M NOT GOING FOR A WALK UNTIL I TAKE A LOBBY CHAUCER"
TFW Mom says we're having roast chicken for dinner

cream

Her: (from the bathroom doorway, towel-drying hair) So there's a pint of cream in the fridge that expires next month...on my birthday. 

Him: (in kitchen, playing guitar)

Her: I just find it really funny that the freakin' cream goes bad on the EXACT day I turn forty.

Him: (plays guitar)

Her: (coming into kitchen) I guess what I'm saying is, will you still love me even when the cream has turned?

Him: (look of horror) I never thought of it that way.

Her: (combing hair) Don't tease, I'm being serious.

Him: (still playing guitar) 

Her: (looking in mirror) Can we do a thing where, like, you skip a grade in school, only with your age? So instead of turning thirty-eight this year you'll turn thirty-nine?

Him: (singing) I'll get two years older overniiiight...just like on that episode of Louie where he thought he was youngerrrr...

Her: (to self) I'm just gonna go ahead and throw it out now. It's almost empty anyway.

minichella

I get to the festival as early as I can, which isn't early at all. Late afternoon, pulling into a nearly full parking lot with a steady stream of locals. One by one we're directed into rows before stepping hesitantly out into the sweltering sun. Car doors hang open, roofs too hot to touch. Last minute sunblock applications, swigs of water, stashing of contraband. Rallying, summoning the final day's worth of energy. Let's do this.

We troop, heads drooping in the heat, in clusters, crews, or by ourselves along a dirt path that goes on and on, not ending when you think it should. Another turn, another five minute stretch. Pedicabs manned by red-faced cyclists wheel by, carting the hot and tired, the lazy, the impatient. 'Scuse me guys. 'Scuse me. On your left. Each equipped with an mp3 player, trailing competing snippets of rap or metal or hiphop, which in turn compete with the massive, booming bass floating from the festival grounds.

More walking. Something wet hits my face. A girl, skipping a few feet ahead of her friends, is blowing bubbles from an oversized wand. They shimmer and hang in the air, fat as tennis balls, before bursting at the touch of outstretched hands. I distractedly note the prevalence of English accents in the bits of conversation that reach me. Always so many British visitors to Coachella. I wonder with envy how many of them will be at Glastonbury.

A perfunctory security check: my torso is loosely patted and my bag glanced in, but my zipped wallet is ignored. And then I'm in. The sights, sounds, smells are all familiar by this point. There's less buzzing in my gut, less anxiousness to consume everything than there used to be. I feel like I can relax, wander and dip into things at will. Only a few of today's acts are favorites of mine, and they're staggered widely across tonight's schedule. No pressure. Easy.

I buy two bottles of water, wiping them dry before dropping them into my backpack, and a peach smoothie, which I suck down in the five minutes it takes me to walk the long way around to the Sahara tent. I'd peeked at the app the night before, so I already knew a couple of the art installations, but I wanted to see them up close anyway. Stupid of me to have looked. Coachella doesn't hold that many surprises and whatever form the main structure takes every year is one of them. This season it's a caterpillar, reared up so its segmented belly and legs are exposed. Four stories high, yellow and black stripes, spindly antennae askew on its head. Creepy and wonderful.

Sahara is relatively empty. This time of the day, sunlight beams straight inside, pressing brutally on shoulders and cheeks that have already seen too much of it over the weekend. But as always, the sound is irresistible, and under the huge, hangar-shaped dome whose framework is covered in speakers and lights, the die-hards dance. I've come here first on purpose, to soak up some of their vibe. My favorite tent, Sahara is where you go to be shamelessly joyous, to jump and laugh and dance alongside strangers who don't give a shit how well you do it. Some engage communally: millennials who giddily sing to one another familiar refrains of chart-topping EDM songs. Some are lost in themselves, watching their own frantic feet try to catch the beat.

This is the music they've been listening to all year, or longer: on the radio, at the beach, in the car on the way to the club where they'll hear it again. The anthems of their generation. These songs are in their blood and under their skin, and the thrill of hearing them live rips from somewhere deep inside and shudders through their bodies. Multiply that bliss by several thousand, and you understand Sahara's magnetic pull - the feeling of being a part of something epic.

Full of smoothie, still getting my festival legs, I move a little bit but mostly just watch and listen. The tent starts to fill up, kids in scraps of clothing are bounding in by the dozen, high-fiving and hugging when they recognize one another. A girl with blonde hair twisted into corn rows bounces around playfully with her friends; they all bear the beat-up, sunburned, happily exhausted look of campers. The girl's glassy expression and slight stumble give her away: she's wasted. A tap on her shoulder; she turns to greet a shirtless coed with wavy, jaw-length hair that looks expensively cut. He's doesn't say anything, just gives her a sheepish look that she returns with a wordless hug. The way they hang on one another, swaying for several second with her arms tight around his neck and his hands lightly on her back, suggests longtime friendship. I imagine endless late night talks in dorm rooms. Gossip and secrets. Deep platonic affection. He starts to speak but she puts a finger to his lips, shushing, shaking her head. Her lips are easy to read: It's okay. I love you. The drunken drama of the scene would be comical at a bar but for some reason, here the moment is unspeakably sweet. The pair has obviously had a big fight, maybe one that lasted all weekend, maybe something that embroiled their friends (who are watching and smiling approvingly) and cast a pall over the whole party. But now, on the last day, buoyed by friendship and a soundtrack that will squeeze their hearts every time they hear it - they are making up. This is Coachella.

---

A little while later I'm waiting to watch Ryan Adams. His appearance here - his first ever at Coachella - is one of the reasons I was willing to trade four hours of driving for eight hours of music. I've never seen him perform but I've been a fan for fifteen years, and his music is fraught with emotional significance for me. I score the last wedge of elbow room along the VIP railing, where I can watch those with wristbands twice as expensive as mine dribble in and leisurely plant themselves feet from the stage. They all seem to know another; their hairstyles, outfits, and general looks speak of The Industry. I keep my eyes peeled for celebrities and the few musician's faces I'd recognize, but then everyone starts to look famous, so I turn my attention those nearer to me. Trying to guess who's a true fan and who just likes being up close.

It doesn't take more than a minute to start chatting up another fan, and another festival lover; she hasn't missed a single Coachella. I high-five her, marveling, but she explains that living in Indio makes it easy. "What was the best year?" I ask.

She answers without hesitating: "Two thousand four. Radiohead. And the Pixies reunited." Her date looks bored. I ask him if he's a big Ryan Adams fan. "Oh no, I had to drag him out here," she laughs. I confess I've never seen Ryan Adams live and she seems excited for me. We compare notes on what we're hoping to hear and suddenly another woman is joining the conversation. Between us we cover three different generations.

And then he's on. His voice is effortless perfection, twang and honey that coasts smoothly across ballads he jokingly describes as "self-antagonizing." I don't know all of the tracks he plays - he's been producing for a long time - but it doesn't matter. Fifteen years fold away and I'm instantly back in Tucson, circa 2000, back to who and what I was. And I'm not alone; ghosts whose company I don't mind are with me, too. Listening and remembering, I could cry. Instead I breathe deeply until the constriction in my chest loosens. It's the best singer-songwriter set I've ever seen at a festival.

---

Sunset. Kaskade, on the main stage. How many tens of thousands coming to watch, I don't know. But they're running, it seems like they are all running. Even those already here are swept up in the excitement: the opening blasts of bass, of bouncing lights it's finally dim enough to appreciate. Jockeying to get closer, to get in the mix, in the thick of it. Twirling and jumping on one another's shoulders, you've never seen so many people so intoxicated by music, by their own existence. Two girls in flower headbands cross arms and spin like children, throwing their heads back and laughing with abandon. The grounds and everything on them are saturated in the last bits of sunlight, all that is brightly colored turned pastel in the haze. It's the in-betweenland of dusk, where flashes of neon start to emerge, to blaze and catch your eye. I dodge through the chaos to find my own sweet spot. Close enough but not too close. And then, for a little bit, I become part of the chaos.

---

Alice has taken her pill. It hits her stomach with a big swallow of water and a promise to herself: I will be smart. She is mindful, taking in her surroundings, appreciating every curve and beam of the massive statues she walks under. Metal? Fiberglass? She doesn't know how they're made, only that soon they'll recede into a sort of wallpaper, the pattern of which will cease to be as interesting as what's inside her own mind. And she wants to remember, before she forgets.

The pill's gelatin capsule has already dissolved; it won't be long now. Alice needs to decide where she wants to be when the wave hits. She never knows how big the wave will be, but she always plans for big waves. A glance at her watch; timing is everything. But the music isn't right where she's at, where she thought it would be best. No, it's jumpy and shallow and just...wrong. So she ducks into a different place, cooler and darker and covered, separate and more secret.

It's a big wave. Alice feels her heart pound and takes deep, gulping breaths. As much as she wants to dance, to let the music carry some of the pill off, she can't. The water is up to her neck. She retreats to the wall, carefully lowering her pulsing body to the floor. She hates having to give up these precious moments, she desperately wants to flow with the music, which is incredible, but she has no choice. Breathe. Breathe. For the fifth time she makes sure she has everything she needs.

Alice watches the others. She'll live through them, for a few minutes, until she can wade back in and join. A couple, two young men, directly in front of her. Light strobes across the face of one, then the other. They look almost painful in their bliss, lifting their heads to the sound, eyes closed, moving both as one and as two. The rightness of the scene, the wholeness of it, is a thing for Alice to hang on to. From the outside, she looks blank. Numb, even. But inside her body is a welling of ecstasy so powerful that blankness is all she can spare. Every cell overflowing with elation. So huge, this wave. She could get carried away.

Alice has taken her pill, and now the pill is taking her.

---

Jamie XX. A sexy, mellow heaven. A hammock for my overstimulated brain. Exactly what I needed, when I needed it.

---

Gesaffelstein. Hol-y shit. Never have I. I mean, I knew a little bit. Couple tracks on my running playlist. But I had no idea how unbelievable he is. Later Terence, when I showed him some of his Weekend 1 set, would describe it like Depeche Mode, if Depeche Mode did EDM. Yes.

What kills me is that I walked away from him twice. I was drifting around between a few different stages, undecided and uncommitted, and each time I walked by I heard how great he sounded. But it wasn't until my third pass that I planted myself at the back of the tent and didn't move until it was over. If you like glitchy or hard electronic at all, please do yourself a favor and listen to the entire video I linked to above. Or at least from 8:10 on. It is ridiculous. It's also his last performance, ever. Which makes me incredibly grateful to have seen it.

Danced my damn face off. At one point some guy doing the same thing right in front of me turned around, as if looking desperately for someone, anyone who was feeling the music the same way. He saw me, gestured towards the stage, and sort of just shook his head in wonder. "Right??" I said, laughing incredulously, glad I wasn't the only one who'd had no idea. I mean, I hate to diminish what I felt at Ryan Adams, but this was definitely my favorite set of the day. Wicked, wicked fun.

---

It's 1:15 am. I left the festival over an hour ago. But I'm still in the parking lot. I'm still in the parking lot because I Can't. Find. My. Car. I've been looking for it for over an hour. Things I'm feeling: shame, stupidity, frustration, exhaustion, fear, and resignation. I am fully prepared to be here until dawn, until there's enough light to finally see it. As best I can tell that is exactly what I'm headed for.

Did I make a note of where I parked? Yep. I wrote down the section and even took a few pictures of landmarks nearby. Did I put a pin in my GPS? Nope. That I did not do. So now I am walking up and down every last aisle of the section I parked in, systematically, in the dark and in the dust, trying not to cry.

And I succeed, up until the moment I ask some guys leaning against their trunk if they have an iPhone charger I can borrow. I'm on 3%. Not that calling anyone would help. Terence is fast asleep and has work early; I'd die before I woke him up with the news that I lost his car. I strongly consider calling Mason, who I've been texting with during the night, just for the moral support, knowing he'll laugh at my predicament until I do, until I'm calm. But really, what I need more than a charger is to just find the goddamn car. They don't have a charger, anyway. Back to searching.

Up and down, up and down. Row by row. Exiting drivers glance at me sympathetically as they merge into long lines to leave. Over and over I hit the fob, hoping to see tell-tale brake lights pop up nearby. Nothing. It has vanished. I've already had to stop once, return to the festival in a pedicab to use the bathroom, and make the trek back out to the parking lot. The attendants feel bad but there's not much they can do. I'm not the only one, after all. In the hazy moonlight I see others staggering about - though in groups of two or more. I seem to be the only solo car-loser. Fucked. I am so fucked.

"Did you find your car?" A figure is walking toward me, silhouetted against the gritty night. "I found mine, finally. Did you find yours?"

I glance around. "Are you talking to me?"

"Yeah." Close enough to make out now. Thirty-something. Dark hair, eyes, skin. T-shirt and shorts. His face is open and friendly, but sort of spaced out. He's not exactly looking at me.

"No." I lean over, defeated, resting my hands on thighs. "I've been out here for an hour."

He shakes his head. "No, no. That's a long time. I'm going to help you." Seeing my tears start, the desperation melting into gratitude that someone, anyone, gives a fuck, he shushes me soothingly. I half expect him to try to hug me but he doesn't. Instead he jerks his head towards an Audi a few feet away, headlamps glowing. "We're going to do this mathematically, okay?"

I nod. "You're the nicest person," I start. "I don't know--"

"No, it's alright. This happened to me Friday. It's the worst. We'll find your car, okay? This is my car. We're going to use my car as home base and work from it."

"I took pictures," I tell him. "I took pictures when I got out of my car. Of where I was."

He lights up, like a teacher happily surprised by a student he'd written off. "Perfect! That's great! See, now you're thinking. Let's see them." I don't tell him that my phone's about to die, afraid that if he grasps how bad the situation is he'll flee. Two percent now. If it dies, maybe he'll have a charger. I open my photos and pass the phone over.

"Oh see this is great! Look, this line of trees in the picture, where is this line of trees? Can we see a line of trees anywhere?" This guy has definitely got to be a teacher. Elementary school, even. He pivots where we stand, trying to match up reality with my snapshot.

But I'm useless. The line of palm trees I thought I was looking for don't make sense relative to where I know I parked. I'm turned around and disoriented and oh wow, he's pulling a joint out of his pocket now. Lighting it.

"Cannabis," he announces, as if he just likes saying the word. He examines the joint thoughtfully and then takes a drag. I brace myself for the offer, which I'll feel rude rejecting at this point - but it doesn't come. My savior is not sharing his weed. "Do you know it's 4/20 tomorrow? I mean if you're gonna be lost that's as good a day as any, right?"

The spaced-out look makes sense now. I laugh, trying not to think about him driving high, on the freeway home. Myself, I've been sober for almost three hours; the last hour, brutally so. He asks me where I'm from and we make small talk while he looks at my phone, then squints around the dark parking lot, then looks back at my phone. "I don't think you're in this lot."

And so I'm not. I'm in the next lot over, which we get to though an opening in the fences dividing them. Terence's car sits maybe a hundred feet from where I'd been pacing. Just right there, waiting for me. My knees go weak at the sight of it, and I realize I don't know my companion's name.

"Kumar. It's Kumar."

The next minute with Kumar is kind of a bummer. Thanking him profusely isn't enough. Neither is my offer of $20, which I quickly explain that I don't mean as an insult. "Please, just get a lunch on me tomorrow or something. I'm so grateful." But whether it was the hit of pot or whether Kumar is actually, after all, a bit of a creep, I don't know. But suddenly I'm being pressured into a hug from which I'm not immediately released. 

"Come onnnnn, it's Coachella," he whines, when explain I have to go. Big drive, boyfriend's waiting, etc. I disentangle myself from Kumar's arms, though not before he grabs my ass.

I'm annoyed and anxious to leave but as he walks off I call after him. "Are you okay to find your car now?" Without turning around he waves a hand over his shoulder, dismissing me. Having refused the knight's advance, the damsel in distress no longer interests him.

"Happy Coachella!" I say anyway. "And thank you!"

I sit in the car for a full minute, reveling in my relief, before texting Terence. His phone is off; he won't hear it. But just in case he wakes up, I want him to know I'm coming home.

le interview


in which I White Knight for a music festival

In a move 0% of those surveyed characterized as "a good idea", I went to Coachella for just one day - Sunday. I'm not often in the habit of wasting two thirds of a music festival ticket, but thanks to my own last minute indecisiveness, a resale glut on StubHub, some flaky Airbnb hosts, and a disinclination to engage with Craigslisters after dark, it was the best I could do to salvage my investment. I drove out, spent eight hours there, and drove home. Intense for sure, but not unbearable. And considering how much incredible music was plied into such a narrow time slot, worth the trip.

Coachella is everyone's favorite festival to hate on, and understandably so. It's expensive, heavily corporate, and has a terrible reputation for superficiality. Fashion has become such an integral part of Coachella culture that it seems to garner just as much attention as the performances themselves. When I saw this photo on The Atlantic, I cringed. A pack of rich, skinny white women striding in imperial lockstep across the field, outfitted in head-to-toe Bohemian Muse™, refusing to break the fourth wall and even acknowledge the photographer (kneeling in apparent fealty) before them. Looking at it tells you absolutely nothing about the festival. It's images like this that scare otherwise enthusiastic live music fans away from Coachella. Hell, it briefly scared me, before I tore my eyes from Alessandra and Co's cheekbones and noticed the reassuring averageness of most everyone else in the photo.

Coachella's excess is undeniable. But what I've experienced in the last three years is that those corporate dollars buy a lot of production value. The festival truly delivers in terms of spectacle, talent, visual and audio design. Also in terms of cleanliness, accessibility, and organization, which are no small considerations when you're exhausted, overheated, dehydrated, and on day three of self-abuse. I for one am happy to pay a little more for a ticket if it means substantially shorter bathroom lines, easier to navigate grounds and exits, less trash, and more shade structures. And the fashion thing? Yes, it can be tiresome. But it's hardly fair to crucify Coachella for glorifying style when the flower children of festivals past are to this day admired as, well, Bohemian muses. Personally, I inwardly snicker when I see girls sweating under the weight of clingy crochet tops and leather fringe bags, dancing stiffly in heeled boots lest they dislodge their headpieces. And if those paper dolls want to blow $7k on a "Safari" tent vs. taking an actual safari, more LOLs for the hoi polloi. (Though I'd happily take their money and their cheekbones.)

Your social media feeds don't lie. Yes, some people at Coachella really look and act like that. And unless you check out the Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc. coverage of the festival's raison d'etre, those obnoxious selfies are probably your sole impressions of Coachella.

As a festival lover, this makes me sad.

Coachella could certainly use some tweaking, by everyone from organizers down to attendees. Skip the obnoxious publicity stunts and set up some truly noteworthy reunions and surprise appearances. Kill the over-the-top lodging packages, which attract scenesters and spoiled trust fundies. Stop making it about the clothes and satellite parties.

These failings notwithstanding, however, Coachella is an incredible experience. Seventy-two hours of pure potential: to bond, to explore (within and without), to be surprised, to feel and love and listen intently. This is what every music festival offers - even one whose hype has outpaced its maturation.

The Atlantic photographer who focused on the Coachella Heathers and blurred out everything else got it exactly backwards. If he'd stepped back and taken a wider shot you would have seen, albeit mixed in with the occasional douchebag, thousands of everyday people, concerned with much better things than matching outfits. I know because I notice them. Especially when I'm alone. I see tiny stories unfold, all day long. Some I'm even a part of. And I'll tell you a few, though they might well seem pedestrian and schmoopy. But first, you know what you have to do. That's right. You have to slog through Ellie's Carefully Curated Selection of 'Same Shit, Different Year' Festival Photos, because that is the tradition around here. Now look, goddamnit, LOOK AT THE PRETTY COLORS.

You have to admit that on the scale of obnoxious to cute, a circle of kids with their heads together for a group selfie is definitely at the cuter end of the scale. 


Look at these disgusting, multi-color, multi-size people, milling about all normally and shit. It's like they don't even care that The Atlantic needs clicks.


Are you frightened? It's okay if you are. I was. And I was completely sober. Did I mention it moves?


I heard this variously described as "the earth mover statue", "the machine from Aliens", and "the crane thing." Whatever it was, at least it stayed put.


They keep shoving the Do Lab further and further to the fringes of the festival. At this rate it'll be in Riverside by 2020.


"Hey Ellie, did you finally ride the Ferris Wheel, like you've been promising you would for forever?" "What's that? Oh hey look over there, free popsicles!"


I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that no one could possibly be so messed up at a festival such that alternately seeing a butterfly and a caterpillar could, like, totally screw with their mind and trip them the eff out. You go right on believing that. 

I was glad to see the Corporate Headquarters hippos back this year; they are a hoot. Here's an interview with the people who do it. 


Instagram's hardest working balloons right here, folks.


I rarely insist on being close up but for my first time seeing Ryan Adams? Hells yes.


I think that's the helicopter they used to airlift Drake to the hospital after Madonna sucked out his trachea. 


Not pictured: a mercifully cool breeze.


They ain't pretty, but they is comfy!


Sahara Tent, EDM headquarters of Coachella


"Okay, everybody, since it's almost 4/20 we're gonna put a spotlight on each of the weed smokers in the audience! Remember, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you!"


Rainbow. Bright.









You made it! You made it through my shitty, indiscernable-from-all-the-others festival photos. Your reward? A recap of the 2/3 of a day I spent there. Next post, though, because the hour is late, recovery is incomplete, and your Festress will be much more apt to produce purple prose vivid description and adjective abuse imagery without foto filler distracting her.

hashtag AI

A year ago this week, fed up with yet again "having to" concurrently document something that I was just trying to enjoy (in this case, Coachella), I quit Instagram. I bungled what could have been a breezy goodbye by having a mini breakdown, getting inexplicably, retroactively angry about my own two+ years of oversharing and taking that frustration out on several hundred innocent bystanders by way of the blockhammer. From over 1100 followers, I whittled and hacked my way down to 25 or so inner circle friends.

So silly.

Not quitting; I'm glad I left. But the concomitant drama - that was unnecessary. I should have just walked away and let things be, instead of making it so weird for myself, for readers and friends. Ah well. I was in deep. Big emotional investments result in big emotional cash outs, I guess.

I don't really know what the state of the gramming union is. If people love it, generally, or if enthusiasm is waning. If new features keep it fresh for them or if, like I was, they're burned out and bored. And it's the ultimate in navel-gazing, I realize, to write a post about Why I Did a Thing On Social Media. But every so often someone says something to me along the lines of I get why you did it. And I'm kinda jealous. Or, Totally understand. Thinking about doing the same.

So this post, aside from being a belly button lint check, is an assessment of life After Instagram. It's for anyone considering jumping ship, wanting a glimpse of the dark side. We here on the dark side are always recruiting.

No lie: the first week or so was really weird and rather awful. I felt like I'd up and moved away from some close friends. It was disorienting and isolating, like being in a foreign country without wifi access. Self-imposed banishment. I questioned my decision, only finding reassurance that I'd done the right thing when I reminded myself of all the things - better, more fulfilling and self-improving things - I'd be doing with my time instead.

So, how's that going for me? Am I doing better, more fulfilling and self-improving things with that portion of my time?

Nah, not really. I haven't exactly plowed through my reading list. I'm not out volunteering every weekend, and I haven't mastered a new language. I can claim no intellectual high ground, being off of IG. I still find plenty of ways to waste time. I do think my writing has improved, if only marginally, from forcing myself to tell stories more than show them. But leaving Instagram didn't magically transform me into a sophisticate.

It definitely made my life simpler, however. One less thing to "keep up", to manage. Pictures sit in my phone or on my computer until I'm ready, if ever, to share them on my blog. There's less nagging sense of expiration, gotta stay current, gotta 'gram it while it's fresh! So it's quieter, too.

I still take snapshots of my experiences to include here, but the urgency to Record! Every! Event! is gone. Which, interestingly, has made me look at the very nature of my friendships, of my relationship with Terence, differently. Well perhaps not differently, since it's something I've known - but maybe with refreshed eyes. A year clear of the mind-fuckery of IG, I am reminded that whatever the degree of my closeness to others - that is the same whether we're in front of a camera shutter or not. My dear friends are my dear friends, acquaintances are acquaintances, I am tolerated by some, disliked by some, and adored by a few. I can post a dozen photos a day, a carefully curated selection of flattering selfies, sunny hiking trails, and smiling faces, but not a single one of them can change what's going on behind the lens. I've got wrinkles. My boyfriend and I fight. Some nights out are boring. And that's okay.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to share the highlights of one's life. But there was a certain superficial affirmation in that feedback loop that, having now cut it, I recognize. Wow, my life looks so good! I must be doing great! Look how happy I look! I must be so happy! Which is not to say that I wasn't happy. Just that admiring myself and my life daily, in cleverly captioned, pretty little thumbnails, was a great way to excuse myself from the very hard work of trying to actually be happier. When I enjoyed a constant stream of external validation (You look fantastic! You two are the perfect couple! Wow you do cool things!), I wasn't overly motivated to find realer, more long-term and satisfying sources of internal validation (such as setting and accomplishing goals, and improving the very relationships I so proudly exhibited).

These days, if I want to feel good about myself, I have to actually do something. Something productive, or kind, or difficult. I no longer have the quick fix of posting to Instagram and getting a flood of positive cues to reinforce my lazy, push-button creativity or implicitly praise my lifestyle.

Last plus of being off IG? Opting the fuck out of self-comparison games. There's a fine line between inspiration and envy and being even one inch in the wrong direction was toxic to my sense of self. Sure, you can limit your range of motion on Instagram, only interact with people who make you feel good. But sooner or later you're going to see something that will make you feel inadequate. Or maybe not. I did, anyway, and I'm glad to be free of that.

Sometimes, when my phone is full of picturesque, perfectly filtered pictures, I'll miss it. I'll think about how great they'd look on IG, colorful and bright, reflecting moments of my life that seemed beautiful enough to freeze the frame on. But then I'll realize how self-involved that is. That I'm not wanting to get back on Instagram because I so miss joking around with my buddies and seeing what they're up to. That I'm wanting to get back on Instagram because I'm a goddamn me monster who is vastly less interested in other people's images than in my own. Yeah yeah, okay, kid, kid, sunset, selfie, cat...NOW ME! MY TURN! LOOK AT ME MY PHOTO MY LIFE ME ME ME!

I do more than enough Me Monstering right here.

So that my friends is what it's like here on the dark side. A little bit quieter, a little bit simpler, a little bit lonelier, with at least one monster poking about. I'm probably not making it sound as nice as it actually is, but I'd be glad for your company if you came over all the same. #atleastIwonthashtagyou

Captain Awkward

I'm probably one of the last persons on the Internet to have discovered the advice blog Captain Awkward, but I'm happy to disclose my embarrassingly late arrival just in case you're even later than me. Because it's fantastic. I've said before how much I like Baggage Reclaim for relationship advice, but Captain Awkward goes further, delving into career, family, friendship, mental health, Feminism, sex, and more.

CA moderates comments (referencing by way of explanation a rather thought-provoking post from another blog, titled If Your Website's Full of Assholes, It's Your Fault), has a glossary (also off-site) of thoughtful, funny Awkwardisms, and boasts a community of long-time readers who've established a discussion forum and regularly schedule meet-ups around the US and UK. In short, from what I've seen, it seems like a really cool, really friendly place to kick it online.

As a recovering people pleaser, I particularly enjoy what she has to say about boundaries (I don't know that I'll ever get used to the empowerment that comes from a simple "no"). But my favorite thing about Captain Awkward is the "scripts" offered to letter-writers: helpful, concise responses which advice seekers can utilize, immediately, in the difficult situations they're facing in real life. (Example scripts for saying "It was nice to meet you! But not THAT nice.")

I could definitely have used this post about pushy in-laws back when I was married. This one, about auditioning for the approval of people who dislike you, would have been handy a few years ago when I was detaching, with much heartbreak, from a toxic social circle. And this one, about a lopsided, all-on-one-person's-terms friendship, is kinda exactly what I've been needing lately. From that post:

Listen, you can totally still be friends with this person as long as you accept that the friendship will take place 100% completely on his terms. When you hang out, you will do so at his place, listening to him noodle around on his guitar and agreeing with everything he says unless you’d like a tiresome fight. 
So only see him on those rare occasions that you’re looking for a night of listening to him play guitar and agreeing with whatever he says. On all other nights of the year, spend whatever energy and love you would normally pour into maintaining and deepening a friendship with him into making some new friends who actually, I don’t know, are interested in things about you and can maintain a basic level of reciprocity? 
And when you say “Let’s hang out!” and he says “Sure, come over and I’ll play guitar,” say “Eh, can’t we go out and grab some dinner?” and if he says “No, but come over!” say “Sorry, maybe next time.” Like any time you enforce a boundary for the first time, it will feel super-weird for a short time and then it will feel normal and you’ll start feeling much better. 
You don’t have to drop him from your life – I believe you that you’ve shared some good times – but you do have to teach yourself to need very little from him and to accept that he’s limited in what he can give you. I would pour your limited time and energy into making some new friends. I realize that’s easier said than done, especially with a demanding job, but I think that effort spent will pay off much better than beating your head against the wall of “We will do things my way at my convenience.” Hang out with him once in a blue moon when his self-centered ways amuse and comfort you with their utter predictability and don’t grate you down like fine cheese.

I mentioned a few posts back that I was going through something tough with a friend, something that I wasn't sure whether I wanted to talk about. Well, Captain Awkward has saved me that, uh, awkwardness because the bits I've bolded break it down perfectly. The exact situation, the exact dilemma. So, yeah. That's that particularly corner of my life, summed up. Bleh.

Anyway, if you've got some time and could use a laugh and a dose of good sense, coast on over. Great, useful stuff.

venice beach

Okay, we've Eastered. Now what? Beach day? We waffle. Kind of cold, swimming would be out of the question. Lay on the sand bundled up? I'm itching for the ocean, but it's also getting late. "I can get us there in half an hour." Fuck it, let's go.


I haven't been to Venice since high school. The intersection we turn at looks exactly the same, the one where we spent our meager teenage dollars on imitation Ray-Bans, leather bracelets, mood rings. Where the oldest looking among us hoodwinked the liquor store cashier into selling him a six pack of Zima. My first hangover. Long live young Thespians.


Whiplash back to the present: a parking attendant is demanding $30 for a spot in a makeshift lot near the main drag. "You're out of your mind," I scoff, but as we start to pull away I call back to him: "Will you take twenty?" It's packed out here today, and I'm antsy to get moving. But Terence thinks he can find street parking, and a few minutes later, he does. I hoist the beach tote, heavy with just-in-case, over my shoulder. Rash guard just in case. Sunscreen just in case. Flip flops just in case. Blanket just in case.



The wind starts my eyes watering immediately. I zip up my jacket, squinting into the already low sun. We get our bearings, taking in the shuffling crowd: colorful locals mixed with tourists and day trippers, teens on bikes, skateboarders. More pit bulls than I've seen in one place, ever.



Slightly more decrepit than I remember but not much different otherwise. Ethnic food every few feet. Souvenir shops spilling slang-covered shirts onto the walkway. "Ratchet 1" catches my eye, an in-joke with neighborfriend. I debate buying it for her while Terence checks out a hooded muscle tank: I FLEXED AND THE SLEEVES FELL OFF. I'd been wanting to find him a fun tank for Bonnaroo - this is perfect. The arm holes aren't too deep and he'll break his hand from the high fives it gets him. We've got spirit, yes we do. We've got spirit, how 'bout you?



A sunburned, dusty looking kid in neon and cargo shorts latches onto us. Store employee - one of several. They work on commission. He's already trying to sell me the "Ratchet" top, saw me laughing at it. Ten years ago I would have given in; the kid is cute and clearly hungry. But today I shake my head. "It'd be a fun gag for about ten seconds, but she'd never wear it." Quite a little racket they've got going in this place: prices vary wildly depending on clothing article and complexity of design. $35 for a beach tee. Eh, it'll be worth it. It'll be fun. God, Bonnaroo. Just around the corner.


Already feeling like we've won, like we've made the trip worth it, we step back out into crowd, getting swept along mindlessly until I spot a sign. Soft-serve ice cream. Yes. Tiny little place, staff scurrying to shove hot dogs and pretzels and slurpees into the hands of hungry children and frazzled parents. Terence gets a corn dog, spraying me with mustard when the pump on the condiment table sticks. I retreat back outside but he comes after me with a fistful of napkins. "Where did I get you?" No matter: I'm already busy with my own mess. Dripping swirls of chocolate and vanilla, melting much too fast considering the cold, as if it knows it's in Southern California, has a reputation to uphold.


We eat besides an outdoor gym: parallel bars and rings and climbing ropes mounted into concrete, inches from the sand. No serious contenders here today, though, just a few toughs in undershirts showing off for their girlfriends, or each other. They shimmy self-consciously up thick cables, refusing to look at anyone when they reach the top or slide back down, obviously pleased with themselves. "Do you think you could do it?" "God no. You?" "Maybe."


I notice the color. Look left at the row of businesses, begging with all their might for attention, see a splashy wonderland. Painted walls, painted plastic. Some of the people beg for attention, too. Spiked hair, spiked shoes, leopard print and leotards. But look right, out towards the water? A desert. Wasteland of grey-beige sand, much of it dusted up into the air, hazing over the sunshine. The beach looks barren.


We notice the sound: the wind, whooshing through palm trees whose fronds are lifted and flattened as if against a wall, on the ocean side. Here away from the crowd it's all you hear. We look at one another, marveling at this small thing.


Snacks consumed, we amble on in search of - what? More food? Sights? Not sure. We just amble. The sidewalk grows narrow and chokes up with foot traffic; we skirt along on the browning, brushy grass hill beside. So many dogs! I smile down at them as if they'll notice my appreciation. Mastiff sighting! Huge, wrinkly, pensive looking as he watches passerby. "He must have had his smarts brought up too high", a reference to our practice of rubbing Chaucy's "smart bump" every morning in accordance with what he'll need that day.



Cluster of actual sit-down restaurants. I don't feel like shopping around; there are too many people, it's starting to feel complicated, let's just go here. So we go here. Outside table, sure, we can seat you right away - only there's no alcohol served outside. Hm, okay.


We're arguing. Are we arguing? What happened? What am I annoyed about? Indecision, confusion, we were on a track but you suggested something else. My brain gets overloaded. I want to copilot together. We eat in silence, each nursing a pointless anger. Turkey burger's really good; I feel guilty on top of everything that I'm Not Speaking To You Right Now or I'd share a bite. It's really damn good.


Meal goes mercifully fast, though we bicker a good five minutes more, clomping back down a suddenly sparser path. Maybe everyone heard us fighting and decided to clear off. Don't blame them. But now we're getting somewhere. Something's been unlocked. Was it you? Usually you. You have more keys than me. And now we're hugging, clinging actually, two is stronger than one against this wind. It's made your face red, the wind. Mine too, that means. So goes the selfie.


What are we talking about? Us? Today? The little bump we hit or the landscape of the whole mountain. It doesn't feel like it matters, because we've made ourselves understood. You asked me what I remember from my teenage visit. I told you there was something I wanted, that I didn't get - a piece of jewelry, something cheap and silly that made an impression on me. I'd planned to go back to the shop and buy it but for some reason I didn't. "Let's try to find it," you say. As if we could. But my god how sweet.


For a moment we just stand there, hanging in the space between pain and peace. The wind is a wingman, conspiring to push us together. A guy in dreads stands on a tree stump, silhouetted against the sunset, twirling balls on a rope. What's that called? You see it sometimes at festivals. Just for the fun of it. Just for the thrill of balance and coordination. It must relax the mind. It relaxes me to watch him. A pretty young couple hop up on stumps beside him. He's going to teach them how to do it, I think. But I won't know for sure because now we're in a candy shop.


Gummi bears. Every last motherfucking kind of gummi bear. 


Now. Now we're ready. I unlace my tennis shoes, dropping them into the tote. Holy fuck the sand is cold. But it's an unspoken rule: you have to go to the water, no matter what. Touch it or don't but you have to at least get close to it. Wrapping the blanket around me, trying to anyway. The wind turns it turns into a sail, slowing me down while you charge ahead. Hipstamatic time. I shake and tap, shake and tap. Random pairings of film and lens. You are so photogenic. And you love the seagulls, who make you laugh as we return to the paved walkway. You think they're playing, showing off as they ride the breeze. And they might be, baby. They might be.


The sun is really dipping now, and the temperature. We're dragging our feet back to where we turned in from the street. We should probably go home. I veer off here and there to take pictures. Shake and tap. I've missed this app so much. Why did I ever stop?


And then we hear it. I've been listening for minutes now without realizing, but you extend your hand. Look. Out there. I can't comprehend what I'm seeing. Some mass on the sand, towards the water. Something. I can't understand at first what you do right away: it's a huge group of people. A hundred or more. "It's a drum circle." But I'm incredulous. No way. What? Why? Just a bunch of strangers huddled together like that? "A sunset drum circle," you repeat. "I've seen them here before."


And just like that, we're off, running to join them. Running, running, running, the expanse between us and them feels endless. Why are we running? Because we didn't have a choice, feels like. So dry, blank, cold, colorless even with the sun radiating across the water, rushing now it seems, to say goodnight. You're faster, several feet ahead of me, though you look back and we laugh, breathless. What is this? What's happening? A pair of teenage boys passes us, leaving the beating throng. "You should go in there," they say, smiling big. "It's really fun." They mean the center of everyone, which now that we're upon it is like a slow-shifting animal with a single throbbing heartbeat.


Dozens of drums sound, though we can only see a few. Tambourines. Even a whistle. The crowd is locked in tight in the middle, looser at the edges. We watch, wordless. Women in sarongs sway and whip their hair. Men with crossed arms stand stolidly as if at attention. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible, sneaking a few photos. You hold me, and quietly we agree that this is the closet we'll probably ever get to Burning Man. And that's okay.


Time to go home. The last drops of light stretch our shadows across cold sand. The houses a safe block away from the chaos are cheery yellows and blues, but they look sleepy. One final look back: everything dark save for a daub of pink on the horizon. A short visit, but intense. I'm glad we came.

intruder

"911, what is your emergency? Okay, okay, ma'am? Calm down ma'am. Can you describe the intruder? Uh huh...uh huh...uh huh. What is your name? Alright Ellie, I want you to get to a safe place. Can you lock yourself in the bath--what do you mean he's actually kind of cute? Ma'am I'm dispatching a unit to your home but I need to verify your description of the criminal first, okay? Height six-three, weight unsure but 'looks hot in a thermal', brown hair and eyes, bunny ears, dimple. Is that correct? Ma'am, does the intruder have a weapon? Uh huh. I see. Ma'am a basket of candy is not a weapon. Excuse me? Ma'am I'm having trouble understanding you--ma'am are you--are you eating something? Uh huh...uh huh. Well yes a white chocolate bunny from Bottega Louie does sound delicious but--uh huh...I see. Ma'am you do realize this is a taxpayer resource? Okay...okay...no, that's fine. I'll cancel the dispatch. Enjoy your basket in bed. Happy 'secular Easter' to you, too."



Let the record state that the accused, so attired, did indeed hop into the sleeping victim's bedroom, armed with the various pastries and confections pictured above. Breakfast thus procured, there was nothing for her to do but put on some ODESZA and torture the dog. 






Having patiently endured another round of blogsploitation, said dog was treated to a family walk and fetch sesh in the sun before his humans tucked him back into bed and drove to Venice Beach, because nothing says He is risen like mohawks and muscle tanks. 









Hope those of you who celebrate it had a beautiful, calorie-filled Easter. 

morebettersoon

Boring blog is boring lately, apologies for that. Few things going on keeping me from writing more (and better):

1. Some awfulness went down between myself and a friend recently. I'm really bummed out, not sure how to handle it, not sure if I want to talk about it or not. And when there's something big on my mind like that, everything else gets backed up and frozen until I've dealt with it.

2. I'm distracted by both some concrete and some still-vague travel plans for the year. Until that's all firmed up, I feel guilty spending time on the blog, particularly because others are waiting on me to make decisions. After Bonnaroo I'm taking a solo, mini road trip through Georgia and South Carolina to visit some friends (which I'll expand on in another post, soon). I need to figure out the exact wheres and whens of that. Also, Terence and I are talking about heading up to Big Sur for my birthday. A sort of hotel/camping hybrid weekend. Camping because I want to be in nature, because I want to try acid. But near enough to a hotel that if things go south, we can easily get back to civilization. I know, I am weird and crazy. And finally, not-so-new neighbor friend and I are looking at Morocco, this fall.

3. I guess I also have to cop to a general lack of inspiration, possibly tied to my upcoming 40th? Every so often an ugly thought worms itself into my brain: Quit the blog. You're too old for this shit. You've outgrown it. I doubt I will, I'm too entrenched. But ways to, I don't know, level it up maybe? - have been on my mind. It seems ridiculous to be posting screenshots of conversations with my friends at my age, even though they crack me up and are fun to read later. Essays feel like the right direction. Less social scrapbooking. But I still love that stuff, too, so who knows.

4. Last thing is that I've been focusing more attention than usual on working out. Also a turning forty thing, admittedly. And what with my finite energy supply, sometimes blogging gets shoved out of the day in favor of a run, or a longer set of weights. The good news is that I feel pretty great, physically. The bad is that I feel out of touch, creatively. If only balance really was sold in bar form. And because boring blog has been boring lately, eh, why not, here's a "progress" shot - though, spoiler alert, there'll almost definitely be more nekked pics closer to my birthday, because I yam who I yam.


Feels like I just wrote a term paper extension request, with the most inappropriate attachment ever.

Happy April, Quents! #morebettersoon