Ive been a fan of music festivals for about as long as I can remember. Sadly I don’t remember my first one, but I don’t think I’ve ever NOT enjoyed one. In college, it was no big deal to hop in a car for the weekend and jet off to a festival somewhere in TN or NC. Most were 1000 or so people, lots of great bands and new bands. I logged many hours in my maroon tent and sleeping bag so big my friend named it Big Mama. When I brought it along for a camping trip one time, my friend gasped at its size and said I was going to have to pay gas for two people: me, and Big Mama. But to my parents’ defense, they weren’t real familiar with mummy bags and REI and all those high-dollar outdoor stores that sold stuff sacks and sleeping bags so small a toddler could carry one on his back.
All that aside, I love festivals. I’ve been to some of the biggest festivals in the country like Bonnaroo, Jazzfest and Phish’s Big Cypress. And I’ve been to some tiny ones with bands playing on palettes for a makeshift stage. I’ve been to festivals around mountains, lakes and by rivers and on a farm with no shade and dirt so hot my feet almost melted. I’ve camped in tents, cabins and at times, just under the stars with nothing over my head. The morning dew wet my face and I must say, it wasn’t the worst thing.
All of these musical weekends introduced me to new friends, new beers, new philosophies on life, new ways of thinking and the best, new music. I could go and be a part of like-mindedness for a few days and just soak in the fact that at a festival, I was not unique or like my mom has said, “not normal.” No, at a festival, everyone is similar and there for the same reasons. We’re all looking for some enlightenment and escape. It’s a chance to be one with nature and get away from the office, 9-5 life.
So after having a child, I knew taking him to a festival would be inevitable. I wasn’t sure at what age this might occur, but knowing my husband also loves live music and celebrating nature, it was a must-do on our list.
Enter the Lake Eden Arts Festival. I started seeing advertisements for it months ago. #1 festival for families, #1 festival for kids, it was 1.5 hours away, it had an entire kids village, family camping (aka..moms and dads who had to put their kids in the tent but wanted to sit around and swap stories and drink beer together by campfire). It had babysitting even at $5 per hour where kids could make crafts, play, watch concerts. Oh, and it had new bands, bands we’d never heard of and bands we loved. It had art and contra dancing, vendors that were selling more than hemp necklaces or five-minute massages. It had food from local growers and best of all, it benefitted a cause I highly support: keeping arts and music in the local schools. I was sold.
We packed up the night before and ascended to the mountains near Asheville, N.C. Sadly, we hit the 5 p.m. traffic and our one-and-a-half hour trip turned into a three-and-a-half one. We pulled up into LEAF in the dark. Oh.my.God. How in the world would we set up camp with a toddler in the dark at a festival we’d never been to? To say it was a stressful situation was an understatement. One of us had to drop the car off and the other had to stay with the baby and put up the tent at the same time, in the dark. Enter iPad. I was hoping to keep all electronics out of the weekend but at this time, we had to occupy our son while we set up camp.
In true festival fashion, we immediately made friends with some camping neighbors who helped my husband put up the tent and watch out for our son. They had a great roaring fire, which provided some much-needed light to help us construct our bivouac. I on the other hand had to drive for miles to park the car. I hoped the shuttle would come get me but it was full. Thankfully, I found a nice guy on a golf cart who saw me walking the seven miles in the dark and picked me up.
My son was nearing sleep when I returned and we got the campsite up and running. After 30 minutes he went down like a champ and I could hear the opening notes of my favorite band. Our new neighbor-friend told us the stage was about 15 min walk away but because of the lake, we could hear it over the water almost crystal clear. My husband decided he’d stay with the tent and our son so I could go watch the music. Thanks Sean!
That night I saw lots of friends, great music and fell asleep in nature. The next morning we woke up to a beautiful scene of mountains, kids running around and the smell of dew and campfire. I was in heaven. Adjacent to our campground was the Kids Village. I cannot say enough about this place. If you hate live music you could still go to LEAF just for this. It’s several acres of kid activities, almost all of which are free. Puppets, live bands (that are kid-friendly), circus, instrument petting zoo, trapeze, face painting, train table, live art parade, animals, etc. It was better than Toys R Us, because kids really could be kids, and no one was crying or screaming. Parents were happy to leave their kids to just being themselves and running and playing. And if you weren’t into kids, you could never even interact with this area. It was great.
We finally were too tired for the kids area and my son took a nap like better than he does at home. When we both woke up (I was tired and a bit hungover) it began to rain. The three of us hung out in the tent playing games and I began to feel like I finally got the hang of the mothering thing. I was still doing what I loved to do yet was with the one little boy that brings me so much joy I can’t contain myself.
That entire afternoon we spent seeing more live music, making new friends, trying new foods, and best of all, expanding our minds. We weren’t watching TV or doing our same old Saturday routines. We were totally in a new environment and our son was in heaven. I never heard a tear all weekend, and especially never saw a tantrum. I realized that evening that this was what having kids is all about. Teaching them new things, allowing them to explore, and supporting creativity and nature, music and life outside of electronics.
We spent the next day back at the kids’ village, dancing with some drumming kids, trying out the trapeze and playing puppets. We finally packed up and said goodbye to the lake. I could not have asked for a better weekend. Not only did we survive taking a two year old camping, but we loved it. I can’t wait to do it again and we WILL return to LEAF. Life is about so much more than mundane routines. It’s about getting out and exploring and leaving your comfort zone. Except for me, festivals are my comfort zone!