We are standing in mud. And there is gravel, and beyond that there is grass and hills, and there are trees. A boy floats by us in neon green fishnet stockings, with a large set of opalescent wings exaggerating his thin frame. A white captain’s hat is his crown. Beside him, his companion’s thick white fur vest lights up from within, all the colours of the rainbow interspersed. She’s got glitter everywhere and not much else. It’s pretty chilly but no one seems to notice. Around us there are close to 2000 more just like these two. They wear anything that makes them happy. And that seems to involve lights and feathers and rainbows and capes and crowns and not much in the way of actual clothing.
It’s just gone dark and the throngs of tent dwellers are emerging, hovering, enchanted by the strange beats at the main stage. A light show radiates from behind a DJ.
We hover at the edge of the growing audience. Hoola hoops are gyrating, a couple are throwing fire sticks, many are just cuddling in groups on the damp ground.
I keep pinching myself. We are actually here on earth. On a farm. In central Tennessee. On any other weekend this place would have seen a few American tourists, popped in for a tour of the tiny moonshine distillery on the property, or a taste of the organic, local, grassfed food on the menu of their restaurant on the hill. There are mule cart rides around the green fields for kiddies and those who find the hike a bit strenuous.
The farm features a mountain spring where the distillery harnesses all the water for their spirits. But this weekend, the short hike to the source of the spring reveals a lot more than fresh water. Groups of tent dwellers with boom boxes and towels are showering and laughing and splashing and generally frolicking here.
Today nature meets neon, quiet meets chaos, old world meets psychedelic.
It’s amazing. It’s an adventure we never expected and one we will never forget.
We’re not here by choice really. When we bought our cute little camper in August, we joined Harvest Hosts. A website where thousands of farms and attractions across North America offer up overnight spots for RVs, with the hope and understanding that we will support them in some way and hopefully review and promote their place or products. So far, between traditional camping in state parks, we’ve been to a CBD farm up in the Blue Ridge mountains, an Italian style winery and bistro and now Short Mountain Distillery. Only this time we got a call from the owner a couple days before arrival saying that a music festival had been cancelled last minute and they had agreed to take in a few of the revelers. So there would be some extra campers. Like at least 1000 extra…. Wow! We figured whatever happened, it would be a trip.
A bit of research since then has informed us that Bonaroo, a huge festival that has been running for close to 20 years, attracts a HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE from across the states. Cancelled at the last minute, a bunch of local farms had reached out to take in smaller groups, creating their own Bonaroo-go pop up festivals. And we happened upon this one. Four days of music, 1000 tents, 2000 partiers, mostly unpatrolled or controlled… and here was the most amazing part. There was no litter. No mess, no fights, no broken bottles. There was this massive group of strangers who’s gender bending, loving, understanding, helpful, fun, creative group mentality was something I’ve never seen in my lifetime.
Out front of many of the tiny tents were what they called ‘share pads’ – a little array of anything a stranger might need – to take for free. Things like tampons, energy bars, water bottles, hair ties… anything that person had spare to share. At a wild four day party!!! They walked around, hugging, greeting, complimenting, helping each other. Picking up every bottle, can, paper towel, wrapper. I am in awe.
We made a huge decision this year. To sell our beloved boat and take on some new adventures. It seemed time, as the boat and we crew were getting a bit tired and ready for change. Camping called us. But land life these days is scary in it’s own right.
Storms at sea don’t compare to Covid and it’s far reaching toll on the world’s levels of tolerance and understanding. There is an ugly, venomous rift developing between political groups, countries, communities, even within families. It terrifies me and makes me question leaving our peaceful blue existence, far far from the madness.
But this weekend. This display of humanity, perhaps partially fuelled by a love-drug called Molly, still restored my faith in this world. What it can be, what it doesn’t have to be at all.
We stayed til the end. We watched as tents and makeshift shelters were dismantled.
Hugs and more hugs. Sleepy eyed, matted hair, wrinkled clothes, the little beings gathered themselves up and headed back to places like Ohio and Kansas and Arkansas… back to the realities of their own communities. I sat there in my $10 Walmart camping chair, almost in tears. If these are what the future brings, count me in. Even if their music sounds like R2D2 burping and farting and goes on til 4 am, I’d be back next year in a heartbeat. Though at first, the whole thing seemed such a contrast, a juxtaposition of the beauty of nature with all that glitter… in the end I learned they were connected in the most beautiful way. They respected and filled right into their environment. They are the buds of future trees.
That is the kind of unexpected adventure I welcome! And as a bonus, we got a bottle of the distillery’s finest Apple Pie Moonshine to take on our merry way.
‘Shiloh shore’ adventures have begun!