The Voyage to Somerset
The packing list had been checked twice, the car loaded with tents, extra shoes, and a stocked cooler. We took our last showers, donned sweats for the ride, and dropped off our extra-large Puppers at my parent’s up north. After grabbing bacon, egg, and cheese croissants and tall coffees to go, we set off on our 6-hour journey back to Somerset, Wisconsin.
Driving through Wisconsin was a trip down memory lane. Passing the Mars Cheese Castle, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin Dells, Little House on the Rock, all familiar sites that reminded me I wasn’t all that far from home. The number of signs for “cheese” and “fresh cheese curds” was alarming, but didn’t stop me from pulling over and purchasing a fresh bag of cheddar cheese curds about halfway through the state.
378 miles and 3/4 of a bag of cheese curds later, we finally exited WI-65 and turned onto backroads, freshly paved with no lines or speed limit signs. We passed horses, cows, goats, and a dog on the side of the road, just before turning into the little town of Somerset. Signs flashed “Festival traffic, turn left” signaling we were not only close, but that we were about to leave the real world and transcend to a new world full of music, lights, and love.
I drove across a field of grass, following lines of flags forming rows for car checks for camping. The Mainstage was no more than football-field’s length away. I could hear Slushii mixing Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” and saw flags waving, totems raging, and stage lights dancing as I waited patiently for the green light to head to the South Campground. The only real contraband I’m worried about is a glass bottle of Prosecco I hid in my Spyro onesie which I planned to pop for Griz’ set Sunday night.
The search is light, two rounds of dogs, a girl that sifts through a bag or two, checks the glove box, and then tells me to get back in my car and drive on. (Prosecco, in!) Once through the gates, I was directed to a hill, the only car around. Rows of tents and cars were on every side of me, but I was the first in this new section. “Park here,” they said. “You can set up anywhere on the hill. Just keep it 5 feet from the fence.”
More cars pulled in parking next time mine over the next half hour. A frenzy of camping chairs, tailgating canopies, and tents of every shape, color, and size began popping up left and right. We scrambled to claim our prime spot and get our gear put together, all while being serenaded by Keys and Krates. It wasn’t long before our grassy hill became a small village. Just a walk away from the General Store, the Mainstage entrance, and The Grove, we really had one of the best spots in the park, overlooking Wisconsin’s bluffs and the rest of camp. Time to meet the neighbors.
We only used half of the bag of ice to chill our cooler down. We offered our neighbors-on-the-right the other half, introducing ourselves and exchanging pleasantries as if in college again: “What’s your name, where are you from, who are you most excited to see this weekend” among the first round of interview questions, followed by “Have you seen Griz before?”, “Tubing tomorrow?”, and “Know where to charge up?”. Our other neighbors had a Hybrid car and were filling an air mattress. “Hi, neighbor,” I’d start off. It wasn’t long before we traded cold beers and handshakes to blow up our air mattress. We started calling everyone nearby “My Neighbor!” or “Neighb!” when we’d chat. After the final touches that turned camp into home sweet home, we rallied the troops for Seven Lions. We passed around a plastic bottle of whiskey, sprinkled pressed glitter on our faces and arms, and set off to begin our adventures.
First entering the festival grounds, we had minor searches and pat-downs (they got more intense as the weekend continued). Unique, this fest, was that our good buddy from back home was the security supervisor for this main entrance. Responsible for overseeing searches, entries, and exiting patrons from the Main Stage entrance, we’d see him each time we came in and out. It felt good being able to high five the supervisor and catch up briefly every time we came in and out.
Returning to the Mainstage hill was a storybook homecoming: sparkling humans chasing down the hill, racing to a stage across from a Ferris wheel, swing ride, and vendor tents for trippy glasses, heady hat pins, and elaborate pizza concoctions. I was nothing but smiles, reliving last year's adventures with a deep breath, and exhaling for a new, fresh lineup with new neighbors and experiences in front of me. We moseyed around checking out the new colorful decor on the circle benches, took pictures under the arch, and rolled through The Grove just as the sky began turning from a bright, summer’s blue to a soft, warm pink-orange of dusk. Run the Jewels would be starting at nightfall and my sweat-stained baseball-t and shorts would just not work. A trip back to camp to refresh and regroup was just what we needed. We each disappeared into our little tent “homes” to get ready for the night ahead.
A Dragon Is Born
I emerged from my tent as a newly-born purple dragon. Makeup done, LED earrings in, and sneakers relaced, I was ready to rage! My boyfriend was sitting in a camp chair dressed as Charmander. The “Neighbs” were sporting band t-shirts, colored scarves, hats covered with pins, sparkly bodysuits, patterned leggings, and glowstick jewelry. Beers were shotgunned, shots were passed around, and we took cans of cider for the pregame walk. We returned as a crew to the Mainstage just in time for Run the Jewels. They called out totems including Rick and Morty signs and their favorite, a sparkly sign that read “Dad?”. They jokingly asked if anyone wanted to rap “Legend Has It”, referring to their Lollapalooza set a week prior, where one fan was brought to the stage, per request, to rap the RTJ lyrics alongside El-P and Killer Mike.
There is nothing like the silence in between sets at a music festival. The crowd whispers a hushed buzz as drinks are replenished, missing friends are reunited with their festie-besties, and the night’s darkness swallows you. The murmur turns to conversation as a few stage lights blink, crew members check equipment, and each friendly face standing near you says “hi” or nods approvingly in your direction.
It was cold and crisp, perfect festival weather for wearing character onesies. We turned and talked to partners in every direction, taking pictures, adding each other on Facebook, comparing weekend schedules, asking about Apple River tubing, and after-party plans. Our energy was only increasing with each conversation, anticipating Zeds Dead set to begin any moment. We never even saw them enter the stage, just saw the visuals on the screen behind them, silhouetting their two bodies at the turntables as a slow melody starting awakening the crowd. I snapped my LED earrings on and raged to a great set full of current hits, build-up of pounding risers, and drops into melodic dubstep.
Regrouping at camp, we rejoined our neighb-squad, recalling our favorite moments, visuals, and mashups from the earlier shows so far. But we were not settling in at camp for the night. No, not yet. Summer Set’s Mainstage doesn’t end the night. The Grove’s after-parties do. We were off, rolling up to the Grove with a squad 13 friends deep, listening to JT&T, pregaming (once again) for Illenium. We were tired from jumping, but felt alive, and pushed our feet with the first-night energy. From 1:30–2:30, we jumped to the beats, sang our hearts out, cried (when appropriate) and were mesmerized by the familiar sounds of Illenium.
After, we formed a big circle of camping chairs under one canopy, playing music and talking until sunrise. Passers-by would come up seeing our lit citronella candles (serving as our campfire) and join since we were one of the only camps still up and partying. We traded stories about must-see artists, favorite venues and festivals, and gauged the interest of the brave souls ready to try tubing tomorrow. More neighbors brought chairs and blankets over, agreeing to tube if it was happening.
One by one, our squad climbed into their caves of pillows and blankets to regenerate just in time for sunrise. It was a chilling 50-some degrees, I snapped a few pictures of the glowing red sun, peeking out from the northern bluffs, mist rising from the foliage. The phone blinked 6:16am before I laid down in my tent and rested while listening to the neighbors play Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, and Green Day like it was 2008. The poor groom’s bride is a whore… I swear I heard “Slut” muttered from at least half the tents in range of our Bluetooth speaker. And then I fell asleep.
I crawled out of my boiling crockpot of a tent to a beautiful, summer sun and a surprisingly cool breeze. Some of the neighbors were already up grilling bacon, burgers, and hot dogs for breakfast. I grabbed a cold can of coffee from the cooler and chugged. I fumbled through the pockets of our camping chairs for our phones and chargers. I started over to my car to run the engine and charge our phones. Upon turning the key in the ignition, a green time appeared across the digital clock on my dashboard. “9:32” it read. I put the windows down to air it out while charging our phones.
Wondering where else I could charge the external battery, I walked over to the General Store and the volunteers manning the shower station. “Know where I can plug-in?” I asked, but no one seemed to have any suggestions other than “maybe The Saloon?”, a covered stage in the festival grounds which wouldn’t open until 2:30pm. Standing by the gate where two security guards were posted, I noticed a power strip under a table next to the wristband scanners. “Can I use that power strip?” I asked the guards. “As long as you don’t pass through that gate, sure.” I stretched over the gate, literally bent in half, reaching for the cord, and snagged it with my fingertips. Niki 1, Gate 0. I set it on the table, plugged in my external battery and turned around to take in the morning views over my coffee. A line was quickly forming at the store where campers purchased french fry and chicken tender breakfasts, ice, cases of beer, and more. Two runners ran by on a morning jog. At a festival. In the morning. On purpose. …
The year previous, Summer Set had shuttles to take campers water tubing down the local Apple River. There had been app notifications and reminders, but this year, we had heard and seen nothing. Was it happening or were they just rumors? I ventured over to the main street where another line was forming at the fence line, and I saw campers with coolers and bathing suits. A promising sign, I thought. A real sign read “Apple River Tubing Shuttles, $20 per person”. Confirmed! Squad tubing was a go! I ran back to unplug, finished my coffee, and frolicked back to camp singing “Good Morning!” to every passer-by. “Tubing? Tubing?” I started calling out to the Neighbs who were still asleep. For the rest of us already up, I cracked open the fresh bottle of Jose Cuervo Ready-to-Drink flavored margarita and prepared to rally.
I’m a teacher by profession and some would say that’s rather obvious if you met me at a festival. I’m usually the first to offer water or food to new friends, remember names like it's my job (because it is…), check-in on everyone, over prepare with hand sanitizer, etc.. It’s not uncommon to be referred to as “Mom” or “the Fairy Drug Mother”, and I embrace the loving nicknames. I packed my first-aid kit fannypack with medical supplies, plastic bags for personal items, and a waterproof phone case for any emergencies. Armed with a towel in my backpack and shades for the day, it was time to rally the troops!
I insisted everyone started drinking margaritas and poured shots left and right. I checked-in with each person as we all got ready for our field trip! I lovingly made sure everyone had shoes that could get wet, applied sunscreen to backs and shoulders, prepared towels for our return, and shared extra sunglasses with those who didn’t want to lose theirs. We all contributed while packing a cooler of libations, changed into our suits, and eventually, had a squad of 10 neighbs ready to go. I assigned each person a number and we practiced counting off, a great way to check that we had all 10 of us and an awesome way to build team spirit! As we stood in line for our field trip, we finished the bottle of marg and practiced count-offs in front of other people waiting, loud and proud!
We got on the bus and set off to get our tubes. We took another bus to the drop-off. There, we found twine to tie groups of tubes together. We decided a huge circle of 10 would suit us, with the cooler on its own tube in the middle. We worked together to knot the tubes together and set off on our Apple River adventure. We had a blast! Over the course of our 3-hour trip, we encountered a number of challenges, including low-hanging trees, low-water levels, big rocks, and figuring out which exit to get out at. Number 10’s tube popped 5 minutes into the float, so we shared tubes, later discovering that we could swim along or lay in between the tubes quite comfortably. Number 6 lost his left shoe early on, but found another shoe (that fit the same foot!) later downstream. He also lost my sunnies in an intense rapid moment, but I didn’t mind. Number 9 was almost beached on a rock with the weight of our tubes pulling her higher and higher, but she made it back in her tube thanks to Number 2’s additional rope which we used MANY times. Whether pulling tubers to join us or redirecting each other from obstacles, the rope proved to be one of the most important items we brought on the river. The cooler had some trouble staying afloat in its own tube, so we took turns holding onto the handles as we floated along, trying to “lessen the weight” by crushing cans along the lazy parts.
We encountered a party on a sand bar two-thirds of the way through the trip and decided to post up. We stashed our tubes in the tall grasses, shared beers, and met at least fifty new people. They were jamming to country music from a homemade speaker-cooler unit, which seemed out of place from our EDM-based music festival vibes, but we obliged. There was a contest to see how many times one could benchpress a log. Upon arrival, the record was 11. By the time we left, we had seen many victorious, record-breaking attempts, setting the final bar at 20 presses. Finding a lone tube off in the grasses, we stole it, tied it to our group’s, did a 1–10 count off to make sure we were all ready, and set off to finish our tubing journey. During the last third of the float, we encountered some gnarly rapids which flipped Number 3 and Number 7 overboard. I was pulled through it vertically, waves crashing overhead as the force from the others ahead of me propelled me directly through the water. Thinking it was over when we saw the “Apple River Float Rite Exit” sign, we then saw one of the tallest, steepest hills we’ve ever seen. After all 10 of us exited with our 11 tubes and cooler, we had our final count-off of the field trip, and took a bus back to camp.
Returning to camp, we took turns rinsing off under the cold water spickets with shampoo, conditioner, soap, and face wash. We shared bottles of water to regenerate, combed through our wet hair, and hung our wet clothes up on the line I had run earlier. While we each took to our tents to rest from our day-drinking adventure, Number 6 passed out, overheated and drunk, in a hot car. It became a small medical emergency in which we involved the local medical services to help monitor and assess his condition. He walked back to camp an hour later, hungover and tired, but just fine. I returned to my tent and proceeded to cook as I napped a much needed nap.
JmaC in the houseeee
I awoke to an official SSMF notification. “Manic Focus set at the pop-up stage starting now!”. I grabbed a bottle of water as I left camp, along with two others who had woken from the news. I felt like I had risen from the dead, but we were off! Hydrated, cool, and ready for Day 2 jams! We set off to the pop-up stage to find a 4-piece band with a female DJ mixing some crazy, awesome sounds. “Thanks for listening! Who’s ready for Manic Focus?”, she said, amping the crowd. When her set was finished, I went right up to the rail and asked “Hey, what’s your name?”. “Megan Hamilton,” she said, “and the Bermudas”.
I saw JmaC enter stage left and immediately knew it was him. Sporting a fitted Grassroots hat, I could tell he had recently had a haircut, though I thought it suited him well. He played some of his most recognizable songs as well as fresh mixes of old rap and hip-hop classics from M.I.A. and Ludacris. He dropped new tunes and even played his first track from his first album, a special moment for Manic Focused Minds like myself. It was a small, intimate set, and probably one of my favorite moments of Summer Set this year. We stayed until the last song and then trekked back up the hill to squad up before nightfall.
We returned to find that some had left for Ookay already. As I munched on some Xtra Cheddar goldfish, I could hear Ookay play his most recognizable song, “Thief” from the Grove and knew it was almost 8pm. Charmander and I decided not to wear our onesies, rather dress warm for the cold night ahead. Wearing a black-mesh hoodie and flat brim, I freshened up with glitter, eyeliner, and a touch of mascara. Charmander wore a graphic iHeartRaves sweatshirt and OnePiece hat. We grabbed beer and ciders for the walk and headed over to the Mainstage to catch the end of Brother Ali. There, we met up with some more camp fam who wanted to pregame for RL Grime. About halfway through Zomboy’s set, we raced back to camp to meet up for the pregame. We passed around the plastic bottle of whiskey, a bracelet flask with tequila, cold cans of beer, and orange juice from the carton to chase. We returned to the Mainstage just in time for RL Grime’s set of grimy, bass-heavy dubstep. We jumped and jammed ourselves to exhaustion.
Normally, I aim to be on the floor, upfront, raging for every set, and work hard to pace myself to do so, but by 11pm on Day 2, both Charmander and I were beat, and I still had Manic Focus’ after-party to make it to! We indulged in a treat I don’t enjoy frequently enough: sitting down at a concert. From the food vendor-side of the hill at the Mainstage, we sat together, nestled and snestled in the (tall) grasses, and watched Zedd. It was refreshing, for once, to not be jostled and pushed around, stepped on, and lost in blaring sound and overwhelming lights. From our perch, we could see Zedd mixing as well as his whole light show, visual set, and hear (with marvelous acoustics) all of the classic remixes we had hoped to hear. We took it all in, the raging crowd, the god-like producer’s show, and marveled at the number of flow artists, hoopers, and poi performances on the dark side of the Mainstage. From LED hoops, to glowing glovers, and one exceptional man swinging flaming fire poi, we were amazed at the incredible setting we had the pleasure of being a part of.
Post-set, Charmander went to sleep. It was already freezing, cold enough that we could see our breath. I grabbed my soft, patterned scarf, and wrapped up looking somewhat like a wook, but I was doing my best to stay warm without going full-Spyro for JmaC’s after-party. My phone was dead, so I sat in my car, charging it, staying warm until it was time to go. “What are you doing?” Number 10 said to me. Don’t you know Manic Focus is playing first tonight? He’s on right now!” Truth was, I didn’t. I didn’t know the other artist, Louis the Child yet, and figured that JmaC was headlining the after-party. I double-checked my phone to find she was right… I was almost 30 minutes late to his set.
I locked the car and ran. I ran to the Grove entrance. The line was the longest I’ve ever seen, camper after camper finishing drinks and getting pumped for Louis the Child. I took a wild guess that there was another entrance over by the pop-up stage. As I ran, I double-checked the map on the app. I was right. Two guys followed me over to the other entrance, also excited for Manic Focus, and even more excited I was sure we could get in another way. The line took two minutes. I stood hands holding my phone and my hat, ready to get pat down, listening to an All Good remix from the Grove below. As soon as I was through, I bolted for the crowd, snaked my way through the totems and settled dead center, about ten rows back. “Bangers,” I thought to myself, knowing every song. It was warmer in the crowd, and even warmer when I was dancing. The set was over before I knew it, though, sadly. The crowd thinned in between sets. I was cold again.
I wandered up front wondering if I’d catch JmaC heading back or word of a late-night, pop-up set in the woods. No luck. I thought I’d head back and catch some Z’s but I knew the neighbs would be trekking down the hill for Louis. I overheard someone say they were from Chicago and was intrigued. I took a seat up on the hill, wrapped in my warm scarf, watching what few snaps I had from the Manic Focus after-party, wondering why he didn’t get a unique Snapchat filter likethe next act did.
The beginning of their set was unique: reggae meets melodic grime. Louis the Child’s sound was noticeably different than anyone else I’d heard. The show was great as was their energy, jumping on stage and dancing to their own tunes. It wasn’t long before I saw Numbers 7 and 8 striding down the hill, also amazed by the energy of the Chicago-based duo. I caught up with them. We played with the fire towers (upgraded to look like rainbow dot candy) wondering if we could turn them on and off like last years’. We moseyed around on the floor of the Grove before returning to rest our legs and sit on the hill for the end of Louis the Child’s set. Then, we returned to camp, warmed our hands over candles, wished each other a Happy Grizmas Eve, took to our tents, and drifted off to a sweet, peaceful sleep.
I woke up to loud noises coming from the Mainstage. It sounded like South Park, but then I heard the saxophone. “Must be soundcheck…” I thought, then I bolted up “… on Griz day! Oh my god, that’s Griz and Muzzy.” I scrambled out of my tent, throwing on a dress and grabbing a cold coffee from the cooler. It looked like all my neighbors were still sleeping. “How could they?!” I thought. “It’s Griz!”. By now, I could now hear “Can’t Hold Me Down” clearly and wondered how close I could get. I wandered over to the fence behind the vendors and bathrooms and followed it towards the North Camping area. I found a nice perch in the brush where vines and thorns grew through the fencing. I could make out Griz’ body as well as Muzzy standing next to him at the mixing table. “If only they let fans in already,” I thought. I wondered how many people would actually get up and join me for Griz’ soundcheck. I saw the two joggers run past me again. I was all smiles, returning to camp only when I heard Yolandi and Ninja from Die Antwoord get on the mics.
Numbers 5, 6, and I journeyed to the local liquor store early in the morning. We walked past the parking and past an old, local cemetery. “Those who didn’t survive Nectar last year,” we joked. We picked up fresh margarita and a small, plastic bottle of vodka. As we trekked back to camp, we saw two Red Bull cars scoot past. As we returned to camp, the Red Bull girls were already passing out cans and offered us each a cold can of red bull. “Will go perfect with my vodka, thanks!” Number 5 said, flirting with the promoter.
We took it easy Day 3. It was the last day of the festival: many people were already packing up and preparing for the rain the forecasts predicted. Charmander and I had only eaten a few goldfish since the cheese curds on the drive in. We took a trip to the General Store and ate some real, hot food. It tasted great, but I honestly wasn’t hungry enough to stomach much of anything. I still forced myself to eat a chicken strip, a few fries, and two nacho chips covered with meat and cheese. We drank fresh margaritas, the remaining whiskey, and vodka red bulls. We packed up everything we wouldn’t need, charged our phones, and repositioned our canopy right above our tent to double-up on rain protection. Our crew decided to walk around the campgrounds and check out the other campsites. We saw Griz flags and Zomboy flags and met people from all over the midwest excited for Griz day. We met the Jell-o Shot Man, who passed out jello shots while soliciting his merch. We played beer pong on a table in South campground and corn hole with a group near the north campground. It began sprinkling when we headed back to our campsite and heard about Griz’ pop-up set inside.
Decked out in rain gear, we prepared to head out when Number 4’s car wouldn’t start. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the windows were down. We prepped the duct tape and garbage bags, but the lock-out servicemen volunteering at the festival doing their rounds soon rolled through, jumping his car and saving the day. It was from this lovely human being that I found out that jumping a car or unlocking it usually costs $68, and this weekend he was volunteering, and only charging $40 per jump or unlock. He had served somewhere between 50–100 cars over the weekend. Imagine that hustle… Jumped and windows rolled up, we rolled through the grounds.
Operation PROsecco: Return of The Dragon
It’s now 5pm. I am a purple dragon. I have an iridescent glitter highlighting my cheeks and my lashes are long and strong. Datsik is going on in 20 minutes and there’s a bottle of Prosecco in my cooler that needs to get to the main stage for tonight. Operation: PRO-secco. Earlier this weekend, security did light searches, barely touching me and not checking my backpack. But now, they’re doing full pat-downs in lines organized by boy and girl, sifting through bags, pockets, and fannys. If we’re getting this bottle in, it’s going over the fence. I need an excellent team of trusted associates to help ensure the success of this mission, and lucky for me, I know just the squad for the PRO-secco job!
Squad on Deck, Prosecco No Ice
Charmander, Number 3, Number 5 and I had a meeting to discuss Operation: PROsecco. We planned at camp, cheered “team” on three, and then, they took off without me, walking right through security into the festival. As planned. Nice. I, dressed and recognizable in my Spyro onesie, sauntered up to the fence I had peered through earlier this morning during soundcheck. I saw a security guard posted at the North campground. It was still dusk and light enough to see, so I hugged the brush line and edge of a dumpster as closely as possible to avoid being seen. I waited until I saw Number 5’s red hat pass through the fence, behind the merch vendor's tents, by the boys' bathrooms. Charmander and Number 3 were fifty feet behind, dancing and distracting security on the other side. They’re in place, time to move.
I darted out from behind the dumpster, walked straight into the thicket, got as close to the fence as possible, standing just across from Number 5, jumped as high as I could, and tossed it over. He caught it ever so gracefully, giving into the catch as not disrupt the carbonation. He immediately dipped and was soon standing over to the others. Roll Out. “Hey, you okay?”. The Security Guard up ahead had seen something but I was already out. I never looked back. Dragon, out.
As I crossed through the security gates, it wasn’t hard to find Charmander and the boys. I put my hands in my pockets and froze, staring at them with smiles and pure glee written across their faces. My phone was gone. I turned and raced for the exit. Number 5 was right behind me. “I’ll check camp”. I told my security friend as I rushed back through the gate, “I lost my phone!”.
Maybe it fell out when I jumped? Maybe it was lost at a campsite I crossed between as I head over to the fence line? I doubled back, trying to hug the fence line while looking for a familiar outline of my iPhone 5s. Security saw me coming back this time. Great time to be the girl in the dragon outfit, recently spotted at the fence, right?
She stood and started walking towards me. “Hey, stay away from there!” she shouted, coming closer. “I lost my phone!” I told her, arms in front of me. “I’m not trying to jump it, I promise”. “Check lost and found,” she said, but I had already scanned “the spot” and saw nothing there. “You’re right” I mumbled, and retraced my steps back to camp. It was dark by the time I got there. Number 5 was standing over the grill, making a hot dog. He said nothing when I got there, just looked at me, and held up my phone. Silence did the talking. “I was hungry,” he said a moment later. “Want one?” The prosecco was inside and Griz was going on soon, but I had almost gotten busted returning to the scene of a crime and was an obvious suspect. Sure. Ketchup only please.
On the way back in, my friend at the gate asked if I had found my phone. I flashed him a huge smile and showed him the missing goods. “Come here, let me get you back in” he said, as he slid me past the line of guests and swiped my wristband green. Bless your soul, homie. Love youuu.
I returned to Charmander and Number 3, who had met up with Number 4 as well, and were sitting at the bottom of the hill, bottle of Prosecco as well. Datsik was going on in a few minutes and Number 4 had just gotten tickets for the swing ride.
A Wild Calm Before the Storm
What followed was a wild swing ride, Datsik’s grimy, noisy set, and Post Malone’s hilarious drunk antics. “I’m scared to walk over there, all the wires and s***,” he joked, “And it looks scary over there, so I’m staying right here. Not that I don’t love you over there, or over there.” He connected with the crowd, introducing more serious songs, remembering other artists, friends, and family passed. It was beautiful, emotional, and a good time. It was during Die Antwoord’s crazy, high-pitched, colorful set that I realized we had all split up. I moseyed over to the pop-up stage to catch part of SunSquabi and a minute of Snails in the Grove to see who I might find. I found Numbers 8, 9, 10, and 11 (our new friend!). When we returned to Die Antwoord to get ready for Griz, the boys weren’t sitting in the grass anymore, and the bottle of Prosecco was gone.
“Where are you?!” Thank goodness for cell service, they picked up. They had gone back to camp to get water and refresh before Griz. They had taken the bottle with them. I almost cried. “Forget it,” Number 8 said. “We have six minutes before Griz. I don’t think we have time.”
Never underestimate the power of dragons. I had moments to think. We had already snuck it in once, and followed up post-crime. Security would know me and see me if I dared try again. Charmander knew what he had to do. We gave each other the eye, and moved into place. This time, I stood outside the vendor’s tents on the inside, trying not to look obvious. A purple dragon, sitting along the fence line, the only person within a hundred feet of anyone else. It took 10 long minutes. An intoxicated teenager was carried and dropped on a chair not far from me, her group standing around while she lay limp in the chair. I didn’t want to leave my post, but I could see this was a real medical emergency. I saw the beginning of a South Park episode begin to play on the Mainstage screens, just as I had heard during the morning soundcheck, signaling Griz’ set was starting. I tried to watch and keep an eye on the drunkeness at the same time. Then I heard a twig snap behind me. The orange outline of a fire lizard appeared. “Niki!” he shouted, the bottle was already in the air. I caught it, as if it were a child. I cradled it under my arm and dipped hoping no one had seen. He was gone, too. I slipped the bottle up my arm and went over to help the drunk girl.
“You really need to get her help,” I insisted. She was vomitting on herself, totally unconscious and unresponsive. “Yeah, maybe. It’s a good idea. We’re all stubborn though,” one girl covered in glitter said to me. Another rather large woman, dressed in a Pikachu onesie, responded, “I’m her big sister. Trust me, she’s fine.” “She won’t get in trouble, I promise. She needs help,” I pleaded, really worried watching some guy try to hold her up in the chair. “I’m sorry you disagree with me, but she’s fine, okay? We’ll be fine.” I couldn’t listen to her. I went right up to three gentlemen with walkie-talkies on their hips walking my way. “Sirs, can you please help me? This girl needs immeadiate medical attention.” I could hear the large Pikachu and glitter-girl groaning and exchaning nervous panic as if they were busted. “Does look rather strange, huh. Don’t worry, that’s where we’re headed,” they said, and pushed right past Pikachu.
Charmander was right behind them. We were in. Bottle and dragons and Griz had just started. If nothing else, I was already the happiest girl in the world. We raced down the hill for the last set of the weekend, approaching not one, not two, but all 8 of the remaining neighbor-squad who had rallied and gathered for Griz. We snuck up and sat next to them, bottle in hand. Griz was mixing Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” and we all sat and hugged, proud to be together and ready for an incredible set ahead. Right as Kendrick’s most popular, recognizable verse “my left stroke just went viral” played, I popped the bottle for Griz. I danced happier than I had danced all weekend. I may have been the crazy purple dragon on the hill, but I was the happiest purple dragon, singing and dancing to hits like “Wicked”, “The Anthem”, and “Let the Good Times Roll”.
Shortly after passing and finishing the bottle, we made our way to the floor and up front. I carried the bottle the whole time, beginning to dance with the bottle and rage with it. I slipped glow sticks into the bottle to light it up. It slowly became my totem, my rage stick, and a way for our GrizFam to extend our good vibes to others.
“Look out for the lightning out there!” was Griz’ final message to his fans that night. As the silence from stage washed over the crowd, reality set in. The weekend was complete. The last set was over. There was no more waking up to rally, afternoons of adventures and music, and walking up this hill would be the last time until next year. We took our time meeting other Griz Fam with similar sentiments.
That rain came moments later. The last of our camping chairs now formed a circle under our other neighbors canopy. The quiet pitter-patter of rain hushed us all. We had no lights or candles lit, only the Prosecco bottle filled with glowsticks. We traded favorite memories from the weekend, funniest conversations overheard, and craziest sights we had seen.
It wasn’t long before the cold crept in, the rain picked up, and the Minneapolis group decided to drive home. It left only Charmander and I, as well as Numbers 3–6. We were tired, it was cold, and the rain was really starting to come down. The last thing I remember was looking up at the top of our tent, listening to the pitter-patter of rain, being thankful for rain covers, canopies, and all of our warm, cozy blankets. Drifting off to sleep listening to real Rainy Sounds seemed just as magical and perfect as Summer Set 2017.