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Concert Chasing and Couch Surfing:

by Archives September 2, 2008

Gone are the days when traveling by Greyhound bus was a pleasant way to get from point A to B while enjoying the passing scenery. Oh wait, those days of enjoyable bus rides never existed, but neither did the chances of having your head decapitated by a fury-stricken schizophrenic.
After spending a significant portion of my time wedged between two stench-soaked seats while I zigzagged throughout the States, I came to appreciate traveling by Greyhound. It was cheap, convenient, and slowly grew on me like a friendly foot fungus – this is not an endorsement.
The story of my concert-chasing summer stint across five American cities begins in Brooklyn, hops from Nashville to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago and ends full circle back in New York.
Since my budget consisted of overdrawn bank accounts and maxed out credit cards, spending my nights at posh hotels was out of the question. What was a girl to do but log on to couchsurfing.com? Through this adventurous worldwide network, I found a dozen couches to crash on and met generous strangers who morphed into friends and violently shook cynicism out of ruthless sceptics to restore their faith in a hand-clasped humanity.
My sister’s red Brooklyn couch offered rejuvenating sleep for the first seven nights of my music pursuit, as I partnered up with a New York City photographer to review hooky beat boxers Thao and The Get Down at the Mercury Lounge, Toronto electro-rockers Holy Fuck at the Williamsburg Music Hall, and garage punk masters Titus Andronicus at Market Hotel.
Several nightly outings and one rooftop party later, the Greyhound bus scurried me to Nashville, where a rideshare with three musicians I met on Craigslist rolled us into the sprawling Bonnaroo Music Festival grounds.
Never in my life had I seen so much acid. Tie-dye shirted middle aged men passed by periodically with a buffet of mood enhancers: shrooms, acid, hash and pills of all colors were available to anyone with money to spend. Reluctant to drop acid for the first time among 80,000 strangers, I saved my green twenties for disappointingly un-potent brownies, and over-priced food. I did enjoy sober chuckles at my fellow molly-crazy campers’ wild epiphanies. “I can’t stop existing even if I die,” exclaimed Tyler, one of my camping buddies, after dropping two hits of acid, passing out, and waking from his flight through other realms to the realization of eternal universal continuity.
Bonnaroo, a music festival of colossal proportions, is a city built up and taken down each year for five days of existence on a huge piece of privately owned land in Tennessee. For an outdoor venue, the mammoth-sized speakers blasted music with surprisingly polished acoustic resonance. For five days, my head bobbed to legends and upstarts from BB King, Iron & Wine, Pearl Jam, Cat Power, Les Claypool, Sigur Ros, Battles, Ghostland Observatory, Willie Nelson, Vampire Weekend, My Morning Jacket to a heap of Grateful Dead-inspired jam bands. Shows started at noon with This, That and the Other Tents and Which and What Stages being booked until five a.m. most nights.
The display of patience I witnessed one night before was replaced by anger and “F— Kanye” T-shirts the morning after at Kanye’s much hyped up Glow In The Dark tour. Passing by the 80,000 capacity What Stage after Tiesto’s booming set ended at 3 a.m., I saw that Kanye had yet to take the stage, having been scheduled to go on at 2 a.m. People booed and complained, waiting to take in Kanye. Having neither patience nor desire to see the show, I walked back to camp, and heard Kanye bring in the early morning sunrise around 5 a.m.
After five days of dancing, karaoke, afternoon yoga, and drinking more than Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary, I hugged my camping buddies, and hopped on a bus back to reality. Four days, three trail mix packages, a heart-to-heart with a recently released convict (fresh out of solitary confinement for a crime I dared not ask about) and two swollen ankles later, the Greyhound bus dropped me off in San Francisco. I took my jacket on and off as I moved from a windy microclimate to sunnier weather a block away, hung out with tourists and locals at parks, quenched my thirst for sand at Ocean Beach, perused the Rasputin record store, and crashed at a friend’s place in the newly gentrified Mission District.
A midnight rideshare with a guitarist raced us into Los Angeles, where I jumped from couch to couch until invited to stay indefinitely with my third couch-surfing host. Next was the Devendra Banhart show at the Hollywood Bowl, and many others including The Muslims, We Are Scientists, and Princeton. I rode a bike to and from shows in the evening and did not appreciate being called a fan. A music lover, maybe, but fanatical groupie I am not.
Two weeks later, I flew from L.A. to Chicago. The Pitchfork Festival, tamer than its wild cousin Bonnaroo, was an indie music lover’s heaven. The nightly 10 o’clock curfew was strictly enforced – headliners Animal Collective and Spoon both finished their sets a few minutes before 10, leaving enough time to indulge the applauding audience with an encore and still stay on the Chicago PD’s good side.
Half a dozen shouts of “turn it up!” rang true in my ears during Public Enemy’s muted Friday night performance. “It was the same last year,” I overheard one semi-drunk hipster say to another. By Saturday acoustic imbalances had been polished up – the sets on the main Aluminum Stage sounded especially tight. Les Savy Fav front-man Tim Harrington’s crazy mud bath antics, M. Ward’s melancholy blues, The Ruby Suns, Bon Iver, The Dodos – this July weekend at Union Park was packed with Pitchfork darlings, art and food vendors, but lacked Bonnaroo’s spirit of madness. People came to hear the music, chill, and creatively smuggle in SLR cameras and pot.
After Pitchfork ended, I rode the bus yet again, this time back to New York and then back to Montreal. As I leisurely digest these summer events, I bite my thumb at myself for postponing past travel for lack of finances – waiting till retirement age to sail the world with a heap of dough and porcelain dentures that will never bite as hard as voracious young teeth is not part of my future. With a negative balance in my bank account, I lived the first chapter of a nomadic dream, through the graces of delightful people, couch-surfing, and fascinating encounters too juicy to be revealed in a university paper.

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