I actually like working festivals. I do. This may surprise the majority of you. It certainly will surprise my peers.
Sure, it’s the money: I can’t say that doesn’t matter, because let’s face it, it does. Partly it’s the rush that comes from working really hard for 8-16 hours straight with no breaks in an action packed environment. But it’s more than the adrenaline rush and it’s more than the monetary value.
I love witnessing how my body grows in strength over the season. Lugging 70lb tents and all of theneccicary gear is the best damn workout, I have the triceps to prove it. And I love the culture. Each spring I look forward to seeing my friends on the trail; we are a strange family of sorts. with family renuions built into the package each summere. Because let’s face it, quick bonds are formed when you are working inside a giant sail, in a long row of other sails ready for flight, and your job is to keep that contraption on the ground with a smile on your face all the while. You learn and share key snippets of information, such as how to deal with gale force winds, what will work in securing your small 10 x 10 craft from blowing to the next township. How to keep spirits up when sales are low and weather is bad. Not to get all biblical on you, but you learn the true meaning of the words “love thy neighbor.” It’s even more nuanced than that however. There is something ancient about setting up, what are now called “pop-up” shops. Setting out your wears in the marketplace and the sense of freedom that offers is something I don’t know that I can fully describe.
Sure there is plenty to love-not. Did I mention the sails and gail force wind? Because this can not be understated. You don’t understand the power of wind until you have spent day upon day trying to keep binders and fabric, signs and chairs not to mention a whole tent from taking to the sky and landing on a customer’s head. This is not hyperbole.
I would guess there is more to love-not about doing festivals than there is to love. I am sure most do it because of the potential for “quick” money. In fact, when I am sitting hunched over the hundredth person that day, and they are in need of my full and relaxed attention as they climb in and out of my chair, kicking my shins on the way, I sometimes doubt my choices. Why would I want to touch each person’s sweaty feet or sunscreened shoulders?
To explain we have to veer slightly from our original topic and once again reference the bible. I am not religious, Christian, nor Jew, I swear. In fact, I am sure if I was a theologian I would be able to pull to mind something similar from many faiths. But as I was raised both Jewish as well as by an Episcopal priest, my references lie there. So why the sweaty feet? Can we be honest: I don’t love the sweaty feet. But I do feel honored to honor others. I do understand, at least a little, how Jesus felt as he washed his followers’ feet. There is something both humbling and powerful about being in such close physical connection to strangers. It is, quite literally, my job to touch people. To hold their hands and exchange energy. For the record, this is something I would put both in the love and love-not category.
Being in a 10 x 10 tent with hundreds of expectations, wants and experiences coming through – in the form of people – builds character. Yes the stories I could tell… Like recently, the woman who demanded I redo her daughter’s henna for free after she smooshed it into a hideous blob. My offer to redo it for $5 (a third of the price of the original) was met with what basically amounts to a tantrum from the woman. But with a smile on my face, I explained, “Can you understand that if your daughter dumped her ice tea on the ground you wouldnt then expect to be given a free tea?” To which she responded with this exceptionally astute comeback: “That is different.” While I did not and do not agree, I calmly told her the $5 was not worth it and applied her daughter’s henna again for free. Should I have held this story from all of you to protect her in the unlikely event she comes across my blog? Well, as Anne Lemott says in her TED talk entitled 12 things I know for sure: “If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” And luckily my story has multiple happy endings. The young woman who had squished her henna, of course by accident, got a nice fresh design, the mom got a lesson on how to treat others, and I got big fat tips from the next 10 people in line, who had witnessed this silliness.
So yes, the list of love-nots is long. But in each of these moments I learn. I learn that to share a smile and be a professional feels damn good. As does making so many people happy in such a relatively short time. I learn how to practice self care by always making Monday a day of rest. I learn that, for the most part, people are kind and will respect each other. Even when they are in “group overload” festival stupors. Yes, I love being a festival nomad, laying out my wares in the market as so many have done for thousands of year before me.
But more than anything else what I have learned by working festivals is this;
Bungie cords were made by the angels and knowing where they are is far more important than knowing where your towel is.