I watched Almost Famous for the first time last month. It was during NOW Magazine’s “Free Flick Monday,” meaning that I had my boyfriend wait in line with me for forty minutes in front of the Royal Cinema on College Street. It was worth the wait, not only because it was a fantastic film, but because the protagonist’s journey kindled something deep in the pit of my heart. Here was a kid touring around with a rock band and writing for Rolling Stone. It seemed a little far-fetched, except for the fact that the movie is autobiographical, and while the audience sang along to “Tiny Dancer,” I was sitting there, thinking: “If fifteen-year-old Cameron Crowe managed to do this, then what’s my excuse?”
At the time, I was a few weeks away from graduating with a degree in psychology—an accomplishment that hasn’t earned the appreciation it deserves from me because all I keep thinking about is how a degree in journalism would have better served my career aspirations. Instead, I finished university feeling like an imposter—a self-identified writer with a degree in a field that most people associate with lab work and therapy.
Thoughts like these have kept me from actively pursuing opportunities in writing, feeling as though they would be better served by someone with the proper credentials. Yet when I left the Royal Cinema that evening, I thought to myself, “F*&k it. I’ve got nothing to lose.” A few days later, I used my affiliation with RU Student Life to submit a request for media accreditation at Bestival. To my great delight, I got in.
This was my first music festival, which seems bizarre considering my musical background, but I have always gravitated towards small venues like the ones that my dad so often played in while I was growing up. Given this, I had somewhat expected the Bestival grounds to be as expansive and overwhelming as the CNE, yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that everything was within a short walking distance.
Morgan and I were among the first group of people to enter the grounds at Woodbine Park Saturday afternoon. It quickly became apparent that there was something to entertain attendees of all speeds: the Bollywood Temple and Big Top, both of which which drew huge crowds with artists like Jonathan Rosa and Maddmon; the Cosmic Commune—an eclectic, shiny, alien-invaded pathway perforated by many sights, including pop-up vendors, Silver Elvis and his Rocket Car, and future retrovision; the Bestival Inflatable Church, the Vegetable Olympics (a hilarious display of bizarre shenanigans), many, many food vendors (everything including food and water bottles averaging around $4-10), and, of course, the main stage.
We meandered for a bit, munching on mango jerk chicken and falafel sandwiches next to some croquet-playing drag queens before wandering into the Inflatable Chapel. It was there that we happened upon the fake marriage of two festival-goers. Vows were exchanged before the congregation broke out dancing, as “Can’t Touch This,” blared through the speakers. The witnesses paraded out of the plastic chapel behind the bride and groom grinning, carefully stepping around “Grandma” and the “Reverend.” Morgan signed up immediately, texting her boyfriend Dan (who would be joining us later), to ask if he would fake marry her. He said yes.
Morgan and I eventually made our way to the Lucky Lounge, which was reserved for VIP attendees and media correspondents such as ourselves. Aside from having quick access to a food truck, a personal bar, and being able to charge our phones, the one truly remarkable feature of the Lucky Lounge was the fact we got to use the facilities in an air-conditioned trailer with linoleum flooring and private stalls (I’m not going to lie, though—we thought that was pretty damn cool). While living the VIP life, we managed to snag a brief interview with Elliott Vincent Jones, which you can read here.
The grounds started to fill as dusk set in, culminating in a massive crowd that filled the area in front of the main stage. We slowly made our way there, marvelling at the carefully-orchestrated outfits worn by passers-by. In keeping with the “Summer of Love,” theme, we saw several nods to the sixties—infused with fashion staples of more recent decades. I smiled as I watched people of all shapes and sizes walk around confidently in as much or as little clothing as they pleased. No one seemed offended. It was as though everyone had left judgment at home, allowing people to express themselves as they wished, whether through clothing or dance, without giving so much as a second glance and a good-natured grin.
Despite the vast amount of people, I never once picked up on anything going awry. The overriding atmosphere was peaceful throughout the entire weekend. It left me feeling relaxed and calm. I noted this early on, thinking to myself that had I not been there on work, I definitely wouldn’t have proceeded through the weekend sober. Yet the ambiance at Bestival was so thoroughly pleasant that anyone actively exercising sobriety, or simply not wanting to drink, would have enjoyed themselves.
The next few hours got really exciting: Morgan and Dan were married, I blew ten well-spent dollars on a Chimney ice cream, and then Tame Impala walked onto the main stage.
When they appeared, I stood in the crowd transfixed, remembering the first time I heard the Australian psychedelic rock band. My friends and I had been driving around Greektown when “Elephant” came on. “Who is this?” I asked immediately. It was at that moment that Tame Impala burned a pleasurable hole into my temples before they even changed cords—a sensation that I never truly experienced to the same degree until I was standing in Woodbine Park, three years later, watching as Kevin Parker stood with his back to the crowd—wild sounds emitting from his guitar in unison with the visual optics that were projecting towards the audience. I would occasionally peel my eyes away from the stage to look around me, only to see that everyone was just as mesmerized as I was. Some stood with their eyes closed, others quietly mouthed lyrics, their faces changing colours along with the saturated projections that flickered from the stage. Tame Impala responded to our encore with one or two, maybe even three more songs—by then I was lost inside of the music and a bit heat-stroked, my thoughts drifting between the changing forces in my life—my flight from the Ryerson nest, my half-fleshed plans of pursuing a career that I’m still not sure how to define, how ill-equipped I feel, how free I feel, how happy my life is right now, how afraid I am of wasting too much time…
I returned to my boyfriend’s house that night and slept for nine solid hours.
I met Morgan in the media tent Sunday evening, just in time for Daughter, Odeza, and Grimes. When reentering the grounds, I noticed that security had become much more rigorous as compared to the day before (I got bra-searched). After much running around the day before, I was content to spend my time Sunday hanging out in the Lucky Lounge, listening to the surreal roars from the massive crowds and watching journalists get a head-start on their articles in the media tent. The weather, while sweltering hot the day before, had cooled considerably to the point where even in jeans and a blouse I was cold. When The Cure graced the stage that evening, I moved into the crowd with Morgan and noticed that the audience had matured since I had last been a part of it. Septum-pierced millennials gave way to greying parents with spider-rings, wedding bands, and punk-rock hairstyles. I could tell that they were just as moved by The Cure’s presence as I was by Tame Impala’s. I realized then that Bestival really was for everyone, just as its organizers had promised.
I left the grounds Sunday night pleased that I had taken a momentary lapse out of my usual zone of self-doubt. It was a mini-retreat in a semi-fanciful adult dreamland, in which, true to Bestival’s invitation, I had “surrendered to the possibilities.” Bestival created a world where we could all escape for a couple of days. For me, it allowed me a brief stint as a festival corespondent, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved covering it. I loved being there, and I can’t wait to go back.
Photos by Morgan Bocknek
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