I stand alone in an audience of thousands. Bodies press against me, their sweat mixing with my own. A man behind me lights a joint. The smoke floats up into the sky, intermingling with the cloud of marijuana fumes already hovering above the crowd.
I’m ten short feet away from the stage. I’ve been threading my way through a sea of bodies for the last two hours to get here. The rest of my friend group left to see the Sremmlife crew at another stage, but I stayed.
Erykah Badu is 30 minutes late. Everyone around me is waiting with growing impatience. We bond with each other over our shared frustration and excitement.
And then, without warning, the intro to her song, “Hello,” begins to blast from the speakers. Lights come up. A red tophat-clad Erykah Badu walks on stage as the crowd cheers.
The next 45 minutes are a cosmic journey of passion and glittering neo-soul. I can feel the energy flowing through the crowd as we sway, together, eyes closed, mouths parted in wide grins.
Shows like these are why I love music festivals. It’s more than just seeing your favorite artists perform live, more than just bathing yourself in the loud sound. It’s the crowd dynamic. It’s the knowledge that you’re all there, standing in the heat with sore feet and tired limbs, for the same purpose: to enjoy the music.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get that feeling very often during the two days I was at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival. The festival, hosted by Tyler, the Creator, that happened Nov. 12-13 at Exposition Park in downtown Los Angeles. The lineup featured a plethora of famous artists, including Chance the Rapper, ScHoolboy Q, Lil Wayne, Death Grips, The Internet, SZA, Toro y Moi, Anderson .Paak, and Kamasi Washington.
Don’t get me wrong: the music was incredible. Gallant blew me away with his amazing falsetto. Kali Uchis blessed my ears in both Spanish and English. Yuna proved to be an up-and-coming woman of color vocalist with incredible talent. There wasn’t a single act that left me disappointed.
However, as a low-income student who only chose to pull from her personal savings to attend the festival after months of deliberation, I guess I was expecting more.
The summer after my freshman year of high school, a friend bought me a ticket to Bonnaroo, a music festival in rural Tennessee. I had no idea what to anticipate. I knew I loved music, but as a fourteen-year-old my tastes weren’t exactly developed. The festival was four days long and we camped out on the campgrounds–or as Bonnaroovians call it “The Farm”–for the entire duration of the festival.
I didn’t shower for four days. It was hot. It was dirty. But there was an incredible community energy of peace and love and all that good vibes stuff that was supposed to have died out in the 60s. My first night I played light-up Frisbee with a group of strangers. Another day, my friend’s younger sister befriended Paul McCartney’s son while in line for the inflatable “Big Ass Water Slide.” Positivity and genuine love for music were everywhere, and it was contagious.
The crowd at Camp Flog Gnaw felt, in a word, fake. A friend from the Los Angeles area told me that it’s an L.A. thing. People seemed to care about the clothes they were wearing and the drugs they snuck into the festival more than the music.
Crowds can be dangerous. It’s easy for someone to fall over and get trampled, or pass out in the midst of the heat and confined space. I’ve been in punk rock mosh pits where people were more considerate than the crowd was at Flog Gnaw. At Camp Flog Gnaw, it felt like people were only looking after themselves, not each other.
And that’s fine. I’m not an idealist who expects everything to be “peace n’ love” all the time. But the thought of dropping $200 on a ticket just to get good photos for Instagram is mind-blowing to me.
So, please, if you’re going to a music festival, take care of yourself and those around you. Watch out for people in crowds, even if you don’t know them. Stay hydrated. Make conversation with strangers. Check out bands you’ve never heard of before. And above all: go for the music. Enjoy the beauty of the moment because it’ll only happen once.