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Anything can happen!

Anything can happen!

Anything can happen!!!!!!

My best friend Rochelle and I roared this joyful refrain along with Ellie Goulding at the top of our lungs, having squeezed and elbowed our way through the crowd to the foot of the stage in a sweaty, drunken frenzy. Many a foul glance were cast upon us by the female teens peppered throughout the audience (sorry, girls). Prior to this ecstatic revery I now found myself in I had all but written off Goulding as a gifted songwriter with a slightly irksome voice that always turned me off when I listened on the radio or in a club. But in this magical instant, Rochelle and I truly believed that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN (eeee-eeee-eeee-EEEE!!) having galloped back to the ’Which Stage’ on Saturday night, Bonnaroo ’16, after being evacuated from the festival grounds in the onset of a flash thunderstorm just one hour previously (“Ummm…Is Tennessee in Tornado Alley?”). Coincidentally, this EXACT same meteorological bullshit had almost derailed the Field Trip festival in Toronto, where Ro and I were also in attendance, exactly one week prior. In both cases, the festivals miraculously continued with minimal casualties in the setlist, and Ro and I returned to marvel at the headliners with renewed vigour, affirmed faith in the rock n’ roll gods, and a considerately higher BAC. Ellie Goulding, by the way, is an INCREDIBLE performer (and virtuoso singer!) who’s humility, heart, and sense of humour and play are deftly augmented by a killer live show. I have never been so delighted to eat my words, and could not dream up a more awesome, cosmically majestic way to teach my ass that, truly, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

If I had to sum up the good ship GROstival’s maiden voyage to Bonnaroo in a single sentiment, it would be those three electrifying words. In the following account I will attempt to capture, as succinctly and entertainingly as possible, the countless, bat-shit-crazy synchronicities and serendipities that made our trip the #adventureofalifetime.

It all began at midnight on the Tuesday leading up to ‘Roo, when Gertie’s engine light began to flash. Gertie is Rochelle’s 2005 silver Dodge Caravan – a rusted, busted, old girl who has been the faithful chariot to the Douris clan for over a decade. Funnily enough, Ro had just picked her up THAT DAY from the garage after she had been fitted with a new A/C and stereo for our road trip. Now, only two hours out of Toronto, she was lurching and flashing in desperate protest and making our blood run cold. Before we knew it we were squawking and tripping out of the moving van to stumble behind her ON THE HIGHWAY and PUSH her UP THE MOTHER-%$#@ING OFF-RAMP. The podcasters we had been listening to just before this catastrophe had been regaling us with stories of fascinating, albeit idiotically-named, “godwincidences” (i.e. coincidences of incredible scope/timing and possibly divine origin). Strange, considering the road where Gertie had broken down was named ‘Graham Road’, and stranger yet considering that the garage where we wound up (and slept) after PUSHING GERTIE FOR TWO AND A HALF HOURS was called ‘Conway Auto Repair’.

My name, dear readers, happens to be Graham…

…wait for it…

…Conway.

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(Perhaps the strangest and spookiest detail of all, however, is the fact that during my last road trip with Rochelle I admitted to her, in a moment of vulnerable lucidity, that I want to get sober. That, “All I want to do right now in my life is stop the car, lift up the hood, and really take a look at what’s going on…”)

Was the karmic name connection a sign? Maybe in the long run.
But, not that day.
Despite eight hours of effort by the mechanic, (who, God bless him, had ignored as many hours worth of booked appointments) he could not diagnose or repair whatever was ailing Gertie. At 5pm another tow-truck was summoned and we were towed one hour (back the way we came, mind you) to Eagle Dodge Chrysler in London, Ontario. Ro staggered through their door, literally two minutes before closing, and was greeted by nothing less than an angel – a true-to-life angel named Lori who said, “Don’t worry. Leave it to us. Enjoy your evening in London, and come back tomorrow. WE ARE GOING TO GET YOU TO THAT FESTIVAL.” Lori’s co-worker, a cherub named Tilley, drove us to our hotel in her own car, and the next day, Lori (albeit reluctantly) sent us on our way. Apparently, Gertie showed no signs of ANYTHING. She was tested, probed and driven around the lot for six hours. We were instructed on everything the mechanic had done to get Gertie going and sent on our way. Lori wasn’t happy. She wanted a clear diagnosis. But she knew the festival Gods were calling. So, like a mom sending her way-too-niave kid to her first house party, she let us go, knowing the evening may very well end in tears.

So, only two weeks after this earnest declaration, I found myself squinting through billows of steam, waist deep in the guts of a Dodge Caravan, flashlight gripped between my teeth, detaching and re-plugging a tangle of wires in a tearful, futile attempt to raise the dead. (This was our SECOND breakdown of the trip by the way: just outside of Nashville, having already missed one day of the 4-day festival, huddled around Gertie’s hood trying to resuscitate her with the help of a highway patrolman while the first rosy streaks of dawn coloured the night sky.)

Would we be forced to admit defeat, mere miles outside of the festival grounds, and return home to Ontario with heavy hearts and haemorrhaging bank accounts? How the &*%$ were we even going to GET there?!?

No sooner had these dreadful thoughts begun to creep into our minds than they were banished by a flashing row of lights soaring triumphantly down the I-75. Rochelle tossed a freshly filled piss-bag into a ditch (yes, you read that right. See picture titled ‘Golden Sunrise’ below as evidence. Affectionately titled ‘piss-bag is in fact a PEEBOL purchased online from SHEWEE. Perfect for you port-o-potty phobic campers and festival-goer’s! Check ‘em out!) as we hopped out of the van to greet Ryan, our SECOND tow-truck driver (and passionately outspoken Trump supporter! Welcome to Tennessee!) and hitch a ride to the Murfreesboro Dodge Dealership.

The sun, now fully risen in its glorious, southern splendor, magnificently showcased the state’s lush green and rolling hills which flanked us as we drove our overstuffed rental car to the Bonnaroo gates. Behind our sunglasses, Rochelle and I shuddered with jolts of caffeine, bridled excitement, and the total awareness that with our luck we could very well be struck by $#@%ing lightning at any second. Flag-waving youths directed us to security, where the only bad news was that we had to ditch our helium tank before entering. (“WHATEVER ROCHELLE JUST $%&ING FORGET ABOUT THE &*^%ING BALLOONS LET’S JUST GET THE @#$^  INSIDE”). Gravel crunched under the slow-moving tires as we inched inside the camp ground and heard the most sublimely beautiful song of the entire weekend- the two short ‘beep’s!’ that rang out as our wristbands were scanned and we were finally permitted entry.

The young festival employees respectfully turned away while we whimpered and full-on ugly-cried for a good 40 seconds.

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In those doubtful, final moments of our #pilgROOmage,  I reflected somberly that the trials leading up to our arrival had humbled me in a very profound way…to the point where any of life’s small remaining pleasures felt like utter bliss. There have been blessed few times in my young life that I have been forced to my knees, thoroughly defeated and downtrodden by a cosmic ass-whooping, but this was undoubtedly the worst. Looking back, however,  it is clear that this epic struggle afforded us the perspective and gratitude that elevated what would have already been an awesome weekend to a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime ADVENTURE. One of my favourite souvenirs from our journey is a bandana from American jewellers Alex and Ani, emblazoned with a golden phoenix that was CHOSEN for me (based on some new age hippie iPad survey), as a reflection of the spiritual rebirth I had experienced in those few days on the road. That bandana hangs proudly in my bedroom, as a treasured reminder of our festival-metamorphosis. (Rochelle got a Scarab Beetle on hers and forced them to exchange it for something prettier because she “Doesn’t want one with some ugly BUG!!!”)

If the road trip to Tennessee was our spiritual rebirth, then the festival itself was a baptism in sweat, dust, righteous melodies, and food trucks. We camped among other latecomers in the hilariously-titled ‘Zoolander’ site (or were we in ‘Maury Ballstein’? It was hard to say. Why couldn’t they have parked us in ‘Billy Zane’?!?) As it happened, fate had parked us directly beside 8-time Bonnaroo veteran, PODCAST EDITOR and all-around hilarious dude Jerry Payne. Check out his info below and stay tuned for the GROstival interview! Rochelle and I probably owe Jerry, Jim, and the rest of the campsite an apology for the rather questionable appearance of our tent. Rochelle is uber-creative, masterfully resourceful, and hell-bent on civilizing the camping experience as much as humanly possible. (Pro-Tip: a flirty spritz of scented yoga-mat cleaner INSIDE your dust mask, to wear while walking past a row of port-o-potties! Or why not a little dash of peppermint oil on a wet-wipe in case, god forbid, you have to venture inside…) Our tent, therefore, was a decadent and silky castle, encased in vibrant, waving saris and bestrewn with garlands of gently glowing flower lights and Chinese lanterns…In other words, it looked like a goddamn harem. Our sincerest apologies, fellow Bonnaroovians. Please know that I am as gay as a 3 dollar bill, and that any suspicious rustling of our air mattress was entirely the result of me writhing in a sodden pool of my own sweat and drool. Asleep. (Ed. note- but with gentle wafts of peppermint oil and lit by the bejewelled tones of the finest harem scarves, one assumes…)

IMG_20160612_242020273ResizeStepOnAs far as the music is concerned, the lineup and setlists at ‘Roo were manna from heaven. Ro and I were fortunate enough to see a plethora of our favourites, as well as fall in love with some acts we had never heard of before. In my experience, LCD Soundsystem win the trophy for Most Ridiculously Fun Live Show, Grace Potter snatches the Janis Joplin Award for Rock Vocal Slaughterhouse, Most Adorable is a definite toss-up between Ellie Goulding and Shamir, Two Door Cinema Club and Haim both get Platinum High-Fives for sharing exclusive new tunage, and St. Lucia gets a lifetime supply of Gatorade for sweating out half his bodyweight under the blistering Tennessee sun, the poor bastard! My all night rave at the Kalliope stage on Saturday wins Sickest Party by a landslide, Ween are a slam-dunk for Unabashed WTFerry, and Prince (god rest his genius purple soul) lands the unfortunate title of Most Cringeworthy Onscreen Nookie for the late night screening of Purple Rain. (I’m sorry, your Majesty!!!)

The most sublime, transcendent musical revelation of the festival however, was 5-piece Brooklyn indie-pop outfit LUCIUS. Their set had already begun by the time we arrived, summoned from across a dusty field by the siren song of 80’s synth. The moment we glimpsed lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig on the monitor, sporting identical blonde bobs and bedazzled Elvis-capes while pounding on a drum set and keyboard at the foot of the stage, we fell hard. What followed was one blissful hour of perfect, soaring harmonies, devastatingly cool dance-party anthems and radiant, heart-wrenching country ballads. It was divine. Spellbound, Rochelle and I didn’t say a word the entire time. We were suspended, transfixed. We cried, we swayed, we gasped, we thrashed, and shook our heads in disbelief. Lucius had instantly become a new favourite, and jettisoned to the top of my best-shows-of-all-time list. It wasn’t just us either – there was a palpable sense amongst the crowd that this electric moment was pregnant with otherworldly magic; that the musicians onstage were pouring out their hearts to us and riding the swell of their toils to a new level of stardom. I cannot wait to see them perform again at Wayhome, and continue to follow their star as it rises. Mark my words: they are destined for greatness.

Thank you, Bonnaroo, for welcoming us (exhausted, broken, and half-insane) with open arms and high-fiving us back into a state of joyful revery. Thank you for your hilarious totems, your heavenly food trucks, and your genuine southern hospitality. You are a utopia…a musical mecca well worth the trip 🙂

Thank you to all the angels and devils along our rock n’ roll highway. Thank you to the Festival Gods.

Thank you Rochelle, my best friend and partner in crime, for spinning straw into gold and making all our festival dreams come true!!!

And now, I invite you all to lie back, gaze up at the stars, and feel the grass tickling your ears while paper lanterns carry fire, prayers, and melodies gently up to heaven. Listen to the Grateful Dead as they serenade a new generation of dreamers while all the old hippies sing along. We’re all in this field, together.

It’s a beautiful night, so let’s all #radiatepositivity and remember…

Anything can happen 🙂

By Graham Conway

Graham is Co-founder of GROstival, a real-life, realistic and real-time festival guide and a new podcast. Find GROstival on Twitter here and YouTube here.

All photos courtesy of the writer.

Bonnaroo website.