As soon as I hear the first chords of the set I came for, everything else quickly melts away. The lights flash and glow, and I feel the drums in every part of me: from my teeth to my toes, vibrating through my entire body. Here I am, listening to my favourite band, far from home and all alone, in a crowd of 20,000 strangers. I listen and dance and scream and try to log every detail of this moment. I want to keep every second tucked behind my ear like a strand of hair.
I’ve always been a huge believer that the best way to truly know yourself is to be alone with other people. This can happen on the train, in museums, classrooms and even at music festivals. There is something so freeing about being so alone yet so connected to everyone by one common thread. I’ve been to countless festivals, some blanketed in snow, some sloshed in beer, all of which I will never forget. Everyone has a festival crew—they’re your roommates, your best friends, your coworkers or your siblings. No matter who it is, everyone has their crew. So what did I do when I found out about a festival I was dying to go to and no one from my crew could make it because they had a wedding, a real adult job, university courses? I went anyways. I went alone.
Lots of times, if you wait for someone to be free, to have the days off, the extra cash, the mirrored passion, you might just end up waiting forever. I’ll admit that my greatest fear is waking up one day and realizing that the list of things I wanted to do is longer than the list of things I jumped into headfirst. This fear drives most things I do. It may seem like a lonely way to travel and to experience the world, but I’ll always have the crazy stories and the short-lived but deep friendships I’ve found along the way.
I made some friends at a show and they were floored that I had come so far all by myself just to hear some bands.
When I first saw the festival lineup, I knew in my heart there was no way I could miss it. Even though it was 4,500 kilometres away on the other side of Canada and not a cheap journey, I had to go. As a university student, dancing the summer nights away isn’t always possible when you have to work, but I bought a wristband anyway. What was the worst that could happen, right? It seemed like a long trek from home for a few bands, definitely seemed irrational, but irrationality just so happens to be my speciality. I spent the next couple of months relentlessly texting my friends, reminding them which bands would be playing, sharing my festival playlists, Instagram contest tags, you name it—any effort to persuade them. It didn't work. Although I understand why they couldn’t make it, I was disappointed to be going to the festival alone. Eventually, the day came, and I set off to the airport on my own, backpack chock full of nerves and sunglasses.
I’m still not exactly sure what it was, but something about a solo festival felt different to me. I love doing things alone. I’ve travelled, trekked, gone to movies and restaurants by myself, but something in this felt different to me. At first, I felt awkward, like I was the only one there without a squad of friends to laugh, take photos, drink or dance with. I felt like I was back in high school, and I figured this must have been how it felt to sit in class or eat lunch alone, and I hate to admit that I felt out of place and a bit self-conscious because of this. I needed to get out of my head, and a couple beers was a fine way to ease the overthinking. By the next night I was already getting comfortable. I made some friends at a show and they were floored that I had come so far all by myself just to hear some bands. This made me smile, I like surprising people, and it reminded me to be proud of myself for my bravery. By night three, I had it in the bag. I was there alone, and I didn’t even care anymore. My favourite band was on that night, and there was no way I would be anything but in the moment for that.
Unsplash / Maxime Bhm
I made sure to get to the stage early enough to secure a good spot near the front. As more and more people arrived for the headliner and the unbelievably hot afternoon sun began to set, I could feel the energy in the park start to build. The elbow room diminished, and the excited debate of what would be the opener or encore could be heard in the crowd. I could feel the jitters around me.
Then it happened. First, I heard a chord strummed on a guitar, then the outburst of cheers, the sudden combustion of hours of waiting. All of a sudden, we collectively forgot about how tired we were from dancing in the heat all day, the blisters on our feet, the sunburns on our shoulders, because we got to experience this. It was so comforting that it felt like a memory, but the lights and the noise and the thrill kept me present, keep me grounded, while I danced to the songs that mean so much. I spent the next 75 minutes feeling like I was on top of the world with thousands of my closest friends. The encore came, and my throat was hoarse from scream-singing, my feet had been stepped on, danced on and spilled on, but I hung onto that last song like it was one of the most important things I had, and to this day it still is. After it was over, I strolled off, ears ringing, eyes glowing and brain buzzing. Collapsing into my bed, I drifted off to sleep, music still whispering in my ears.
Unsplash / Marvin Meyer
After Sunday night begrudgingly shifted into the flow of Monday morning, I hopped in an Uber to the train station. I reflected on a weekend of music I will never forget: even though I never expected to feel so alone, even when I was exactly that, I was proud of myself for my quick adjustment and for not letting my minor discomforts measure the success of the weekend. Sunburnt, dehydrated and sitting in the train station, barely keeping my relentlessly heavy eyelids open, I signed onto Instagram. As I mindlessly scrolled, I stumbled across another unmissable festival, with another incredible lineup in another city, just a couple weeks later. I was already across the country with no return flight or particular interest in returning home, so without a moment of hesitation, I bought a wristband. What’s the worst that can happen, right?