The four of us set out for Bonnaroo on Thursday night. Everything seemed to be going perfectly: we had bought our tickets months ago, packed our sleeping bags, and were planning to stay in Sarah’s RV. We made every green light and drove seamlessly into the Smoky Mountains. The road smelled of summer as we pulled down our windows, ripe and fresh and green.
So it was a big surprise when the RV broke down on the shoulder of the road. Boris, an Austrian exchange student who had begged us to bring him, began cursing in German under his breath. We were all pointing fingers at each other when Kaitlyn pulled up her phone and flashed it above our heads.
“Guys, shut the fuck up. I found a Spot we can stay in.”
She explained to us that Spots was an app she had downloaded a few months ago, and that there was a host we could stay with in Sewanee: The University of the South. Although I was relieved that we weren’t stranded, I couldn’t just shake the glitter and Glo-Tats from my shoulders (literally). We were all upset to be missing Bonnaroo.
We called a towing truck to take our RV to a repair shop, then we made our way to the Sewanee campus. The place was prettier than we’d expected, littered with gothic-style buildings and lush green quads. Our host was a guy named Andy who lived in an apartment overlooking the creek.
“Hey, there,” Andy ushered us in with a thick Southern accent. Disappointed and hungry, we ordered Chinese takeout and told him about our dilemma.
“No way,” he replied. “I was going to wait until after dinner to tell you guys, but you can only stay for tonight.” His pine-colored eyes glinted excitedly. “Cause tomorrow I’m going to Bonnaroo.”
We were ecstatic. Andy agreed to take us with him; he was traveling with a group of friends and had plenty of room to spare. The next day, we set out for Bonnaroo for the second time, and this time we made it.
I had been to concerts before, but never to a music festival this big. Immediately, we were struck by the magnitude of it all; there were people dressed as aliens and juggling balls and sunbathing outside their tents. We made our way close to the stage where Tame Impala was performing. I could feel the bass shaking all my internal organs, my heart rattling against my ribcage and my mind racing.
On Sunday, we were all huddled outside our tent when Andy sat down in front of us, staring at his phone with a desolate look on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me about the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. We had all been so caught up in this glimmering alternate universe where music and love dominated, we had forgotten about all the hate that existed in the real world. Andy told us that it could have been him, and he recounted the touching story of how he had come out to his parents. It was hard to believe that there were people out there who hated him simply for who he loved.
By the time we left Bonnaroo, we had no more snacks or Gatorade or shampoo. But we left with much more than we came with: we had gained a new friend and taken a glimpse into a world where the only religion was rhythm.
We were sad to say goodbye to Andy and make our way into Chattanooga, where Sarah’s RV had been repaired. We were charged much more than we had expected, but we didn’t even care. As we drove back to DC that night, we could still see the fluorescent flashing lights and the giant arc at the entrance that read Bonnaroo.