I Went On Vacation (Almost) By Myself, And It Was Great
This weekend marked the third year I’ve graced Zilker Park with my presence for Austin City Limits Music Festival. I’ve only done all three days one year, and had a few bands been a little more spread out on the schedule I might have done it again this year. But circumstances conspired to give me an hour plus drive both ways and day 3 bands I like but didn’t love. Such is music festival life.
If you’ve never been to one of the big four festivals - ACL, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza - they are intense, and fun, and addictive. (Even though this cartoon is pretty much the truest thing about them.)
But the thing about this weekend I discovered is that they are one of the best things you can do if you want to go on vacation by yourself. Let me tell you why.
1. Everyone’s festival experience is different. I had a blast 2 years ago when I went with a group of friends, but you know something? When I was on the festival grounds, I spent most of my day by myself anyway. I wanted to see different bands, or to be closer for some bands. I wanted to watch the Cowboys game in the sports tent on Sunday. So even though I had a lot of fun with my friends when we WERE together, I spent a lot of time alone. But that’s okay, because when you’re watching a band, everyone’s got something in common. I chit-chatted with a nice couple waiting for Kings of Leon. Me and the guy next to me at Queens of the Stone Age kept stealing sideways glances at each other and mouthing “OMG this is SO COOL.” (If you don’t have horrible and awesome dirty thoughts during and after QOTSA plays their set, you don’t deserve to see them. That was the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in music.)
If you’re eating alone, no one looks at you weird. You can move quickly through the festival grounds and make all your decisions and not justify them. Yes, I’d rather be with friends. But if I’m not, that’s fine. It doesn’t stop me from seeing the same bands and eating the same food and buying the same stuff.
2. You’re not going out after. Child, please. All you want at the end of the day is a shower and a sandwich and to crash so you can go again the next day. (And you want to go again the next day, believe me.)
3. It’s not just about the music. C3, who puts this shindig on, pays attention to detail. The music is the centerpiece, but there’s so much more. The shopping is really great. You could get all your holiday shopping done there, seriously. The food is AMAZING. Every booth is a local Austin based restaurant. The water is free. There are cell charging stations. There’s a booth where you can get ibuprofen and baby wipes and anything else you forgot to bring (not for free, but you know).
Yes, I was close for some bands. That’s totally part of it. I sweated in the sun for hours (thanks, Twitter, for keeping me entertained) to get a good spot in the crowd for Jimmy Eat World and Haim and Portugal. The Man. I sat in the cold waiting for Kings of Leon. I did not regret any of that. But you know what else I did? I laid on the ground on my blanket in the shade and ate a watermelon agave popsicle and listened/sang along with the crowd to fun. during “Some Nights” and “We Are Young.” I picnicked with jalapeno brisket tacos and a Stone IPA from the craft beer hall while I danced along with a lighter crowd for Vintage Trouble. I watched the sunset over the massive crowd at Passion Pit while I jammed to “Take A Walk” in the middle of the park. I stared in wonder from the back of a crowd at the spectacle of Muse. The experience is both of those extremes, and it’s great.
4. People are (mostly) super nice. Sure, you get the occasional drunk bros who don’t mind running you over to get to the front of the crowd, but mostly people say please and thank you and excuse me and smile and take a picture for you and share a laugh or a dance with a stranger. Even the people working the shuttle line are smiling at the end of the day. I don’t know if the other festivals are like that, but it’s something I always notice and appreciate.
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I said “almost by myself” because I stayed with my grandmother an hour plus away, and with the Day 3 schedule not overwhelming me, I opted to spend Sunday with family and cry-watching the Cowboys. But my grandmother watched my dog and waited up for me and made my breakfast and my midnight sandwiches after I got back, which was a pretty nice alternative to a hotel despite the drive.
So now, it’s the vacation I’ve basically taken the last 2 times I’ve been on a real vacation, and I don’t see any reason to do it differently, because it’s an experience I’m in love with. I like that I got to share it with friends last time out. I didn’t mind doing it alone this time either.