Festival Friends & Humani-Tea
As shared at Chicago's Story Club South Side: Why do we listen to stories? Is it, perhaps, for the opportunity to see our lives mirrored through the eyes of another, to realize—if only transiently—that we are not so different after all? Mine is a simple tale, a story of Festival Friends & Humani-Tea. That would be H-U-M-A-N-I T-E-A.
Decked in a long-sleeved purple shirt, black jeans, and oyster-tan ankle boots, I’m ready to head out to Mamby on the Beach—one of Chicago’s up and coming music festivals. You’re thinking: Soton, that’s not what you wear to a music festival on the beach in late June. However, Chicago is perhaps the most capricious lover you’ll ever know—70 degrees in February and 60 degrees in June, her affections frequently run hot and cold with nary a bit of rhyme or reason. Having spent much of the week sleeping with a heated blanket, I consulted the forecasted high of 72 and figured a tee-shirt just wouldn’t do. As to the boots…well, I once made the mistake of wearing sandals to the other storied Chicago music festival, Lolapalooza. Having survived that bone crushing bacchanalia, I made my battered toes a solemn vow—never again.
“…I once made the mistake of wearing sandals to the other storied Chicago music festival, Lolapalooza.”
With a lavender-laced earl grey tea in hand, I charter an uber fast chariot to Chicago’s southernly reaches. The chatty driver asks where I’m headed. “Mamby,” I reply, rebalancing the cadmium yellow sunglasses I love even though the bridge is slightly too high for my nose. “There’re three acts I’ve been dying to see.” Those three being Nora En Pure, Jai Wolf and Duke Dumont. The preceding fall, I’d almost considered buying a last-minute ticket to Idaho to catch one of the last concerts in Jai Wolf’s Kindred Spirits tour. On the one hand, the trip would have been a pleasant reprieve from the consulting life I ached to leave; on the other hand, I couldn’t quite bring myself to add yet another flight to my weekly schedule. I passed but found myself pleasantly surprised a few months later when I learnt that Jai Wolf would soon be flying to me (not personally, of course, but that’s just semantics). I bought two tickets—one for me, and one for whoever Fate intended.
Alone, I disembark and stroll across the grass-lined concrete overpass towards the beach. Around me people drag coolers, umbrellas, and beach towels. All I’ve brought is a cross-shoulder messenger bag. Every few yards, someone stops me to ask, “Do you have an extra ticket?” I suppose it’s a natural assumption if you see someone flying solo.
“No,” I shake my head. Technically, Fate has chosen a recently acquired friend (or is that an acquaintance?) as the second ticket’s intended. She said she’d try to make it, but in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure whether she’ll show. I guess, Fate’s friend, Time, will tell.
The benefit in showing up somewhat early to events such as these is the non-existent wait time. Unencumbered, I traipse past the metal guardrails designed to marshal a yet-to-manifest serpentine line. After a thorough check for contraband, I’m through. Above me a cerulean sky cradles a blazing sun. With haste, blades of emerald grass run into sandy beach as I make my way to the first stage. A gospel choir belts out saucy soul. I guess they’ve come early to bless the grounds before sin doth abound. While a festival volunteer boogies to the holy beat, swinging her stick for picking up trash, I pull out my phone. I take a couple of videos for the family that’s always been more religious than me and for my nephew who I know will get a kick out of the wicked drum solo. In an instant, hearts and thumbs-up appear on the video-footage. Success. The song ends, and the choir dance-marches their way off stage. Do they take holiness with them?
Back on my way, I wander past countless food trucks and stands until I reach another stage at the far end of the festival grounds. Unable to keep still, my hips begin to sway of their own volition. My eyes close; a swanky house melody spirits me away. Before I know it, I’m full on undulating to the beat. My eyes open, and one of the two guys on stage gives me a wink, shaking his shoulders, moving his feet. Though we’re yards apart, for a moment the two of us dance together. Later on, I find out they’re a new (to me, at least) duo called Gilligan Moss. As much as I’d love to dance the right way—with reckless abandon—I’m starting to think wearing this long-sleeved shirt might have been an overzealous idea.
Gilligan Moss winds down their set, and I float off to the series of tents selling all manner of festival wares. There I find the right shirt—short-sleeved, black with a minimalistic white Chicago skyline strewn above the words “Birthplace of House”. An economic transaction facilitates an emotional connection as the Purveyor of Shirts and I bond over our love of disco’s progeny. We trade stories on how we first found our way to the musical form, the DJ’s we admire, the styles we adore. Festival Friend #1.
In short order, I swap shirts, stuffing my purple one in the messenger bag I’m glad I brought. My friend texts me. She hasn’t left yet. She wants to know what everyone’s wearing. As a glitter warrior walks by, I tell her standard festival wear. She tells me she’ll probably get to me around 5. Though that’s still a few hours out, I’m pleased she’ll likely make it just in time for Nora.
After I toss my phone in my purse, I look up to find a man walking straight towards me, arms outstretched. “Thank you!” he says. “Thank you for dancing back there. Your dancing’s awesome.” It takes me a minute to realize he’s the guy from Gilligan Moss.
I’m wondering how he picked me out from the crowd after I’d changed my shirt, then I remember my oversized yellow sunshades might as well be a lightning rod. “Haha, thanks,” I reply. “I used to belly dance a long time ago.”
“Wow! That’s cool,” he removes his shades as do I. Thus, begins a short conversation about our histories—where we came from, where we are now, where we are going. Though Fate may not intend us to know each other for long, he is Festival Friend #2.
Eventually, I make my way to the stage where all three of the acts I planned to see will eventually perform. There’s a universe in which Vanilla Ice, Linkin Park and Eminem entered into a polyamorous relationship. This guy on the stage is their lovechild. While not exactly my jam, I hang for a while. Around me the festival grounds swell with all manner of people, so I while away the time with one of my favorite pass-times—people watching—until the one that Fate intended finally arrives.
By this time the festival grounds burst at the seams with countless bodies, and I’ve lost count of how many times my feet have been trampled. But I am prepared!
Ahead of us, a guy of middling height waves a solitary crutch in the air. He becomes my next Festival Friend. After all, how could I not take a picture with the one who was not to be deterred, choosing instead to attend Mamby with a broken leg. We’re photo-bombed by a random dude who turns out to be his boyfriend. Not long after meeting Festival Friend #3, #4 finds me too. This one’s young, chatty, and friendly despite (or perhaps because) he’s quite clearly high out of his mind. He marvels at the fact that I graduated from college before he ever entered high school. “You look like you can’t be older than 25,” he insists.
“Melanin,” I shrug.
After asking me for the tenth time which college it is that I went to, he decides to jump into the lake. He returns, sopping wet and frantic that he’s lost his wallet and keys, which I find tucked away in the shoes he left with us for safe keeping.
We don’t wait long before Festival Friends #5 through 10 to arrive. Though the raucous drowns out any attempt at conversation, we endeavor all the same to relate who we are, how we came to be here and why. Connection, however, seldom requires articulated words. Among this new group coasts a rather dapper Lithuanian—Festival Friend #7. At first, I’m unsure whether he’s flirting with Fate’s intended, but then a hand gliding across the small of my back and the whispered words “I’m going to be in America for a little while,” clear up any sense of confusion. Roguish blue eyes dare me to accept the invitation, but—with a coquettish grin—I elect instead to vault over the fence to join another set of Festival Friends who have chosen to dance on the platforms supporting a set of human-sized speakers. Festival Friends #6, 8 and 9 make the pilgrimage behind me.
Elevated, we gyrate like priests before the altar. Me, I’ve given myself to the rhythm and the beat, my body conversing with melody and bass. One of my new Festival Friends, taps me between the shoulder blades. I turn back. She pulls my sunshades from my nose and places them squarely on her own. Though the sun has long since set, I’d never taken them off. They’re prescription lenses, and my other glasses lie buried at the bottom of my messenger bag. I wonder what she sees as she whirls with her arms raised high. Smiling, she passes my glasses to her eagerly waiting friend almost like a priest passes a sacramental chalice. Perhaps, this has become our totem as Festival Friends. Eventually, my shades make their way back to me, but now my eyes have adjusted to the night. I figure it’s time to swap into my regular glasses.
Meanwhile, Duke Dumont’s robotic sigil declares “Operator! We have a problem!” As if on cue, a bespectacled marshal materializes, screaming, “Get out now! Get out now!” It’s festival management here to evict us from our temple. While I suppose no festival is complete without someone (almost) getting arrested, I have no intents on that someone being me. I scramble out between the metal fence, melting into the crowd. With no resistance the crowd parts to enshroud me in their shelter. I weave between countless Festival Friends, who with high fives and claps on the back, node approval at the priestess who now walks between them.
The next day, I meet up with a former colleague and old friend, who’s soon moving to Seattle. We first bonded over our mutual love of tea, so I guess it’s somewhat fitting that we say our goodbyes at a tasting at Adagio Teas. After dipping our senses in dozens of aromatic leaves, we decide on three teas to taste—one black, one green, one white. The Tea Master, lays out a rainbow of tea leaves ranging from citric green to burnt umber. Before we can taste, she begins her lesson. “All teas,” she says, “come from the same plant. All that renders them different are the soil in which they grow, the time at which they are picked and the processing which they undergo.” This, I think to myself, is not unlike humanity—an easy explanation for how easy one might make, if only for an ephemeral moment, a family of Festival Friends.
All teas come from the same plant. This, I think, is not unlike humanity.
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