A Bedside Love Song For a Chosen Few – 80/35 2017

I wish I was a good photographer. I wish I had the sense and keen sight they have to capture the world around them with the press of a button. Were I, I'd have been able to capture the look in that kid's eyes.

I say kid, because at 37 years old, everyone at these events looks like fucking children to me, even the people older than I. He may have been my age, he may have been late teens or early 20's. His dirty blond hair was a mess and sweat was matting it to his forehead. He was crammed into a group of people at the front so tight that it was tugging his red t-shirt and stretching his collar.

I stood to the side of the stage and watched him for a few moments. He moved with the cluster of people. Sometimes it looked like he was in control and sometimes it looked like he was just part of a clump of amorphous humanity. Just a dangling cilia on a giant human protozoa.

The rest of the mass would move and headbang or scream to the sky. But his gaze never left.

Standing directly in front of him was Jeffrey Eaton, a lanky figure dressed in all black, the lead singer of hardcore band Modern Life is War. He wore a sleeveless shirt, but the ink on his arms filled in for the missing fabric. His pompadour flopped in front of his eyes perfectly as his head moved. He stood with one foot on stage, another on the thick fencing that was supposed to keep Eaton and the crowd separate. He stood inches from them. Reaching out to them. As much a part of them as security and three inches of an iron barrier would let him.

He sang with passion and anger. The kid looked at him and matched Eaton lyric for lyric on "The Outsiders", the opening track to MLIW's genre classic Witness. A lot of people did, but this kid had this look in his eyes. It was of reverence, of love. It was a look of understanding and pride and acceptance and being accepted. It was a look that said this was exactly where he wanted to be at that moment in time.

I wish I had gotten a picture. I wish I had the wherewithal to capture that moment. But I didn't. Instead, here's the back of my friend Phil's head moments before this scene.

The thing that gets me about this is I know Eaton. He's a DJ in town and co-hosts a monthly party at Gas Lamp. We aren't friends by any stretch, but we've had cordial conversations and share mutual friends. On most days when I see him, he's just a dude at shows I attend or at parties I'm invited that also happens to front an important band.

But to that kid, on this day, at this moment, he was everything. Equal parts messianic and comforting. He was this blistering machine gun of a person who unleashed his pain to a kid that not only feels it, but shares it. Because their pain is understood. Because it isn't wrong or bad to feel the way they do. And because it's nice to not be alone in it.

This is the 10th 80/35 music festival. We know what it is now. What types of music to expect, the experience, all of it is old hat. The people that hate it are the same people that hated it then for the same reasons, but their complaints get fainter and fainter as the years go by. The people that loved it in 2008 are aging, but hold strong. They…I…we have gotten older. We don't party like we used to. The heat gets us a little bit more and our feet hurt on the Sunday after.

We've gotten "real" jobs and had kids, and those kids are getting old enough to go to the fest. Maybe we find a band we like or we play in the concrete stream that runs through the grounds, but the kids that were a twinkle in they're…my…our eyes 10 years ago are beginning to appreciate this more and more.

And the kids from year 1? They're old enough now to play the festival. Like Glitter Density, who were roughly my daughter's age in 2008 and now get a spot on a big stage.

In 2012, I wrote that when they are teenagers, my then 2-year old daughter and 3-year old niece would only know this city as "what we think it could be," and I still believe that to be true and I still see it happening, but I also see the struggles. I see a city still struggling to burst out creatively. I feel the stagnation and the rut.

I see a city that wants to be open to artistic expression handcuffed by puritanical laws, as if a 17-year old kid couldn't get drunk just as easily at 7pm as they could at 10 pm if that's what they really wanted.

I see a city as the capital for a state government that cares more for shutting down the arts while trying to protect "businesses" (among other atrocities) as if you can't make a career in art.

I see this city landlocked in the middle of a country where people have to fight everyday to be treated like a human and get laughed at for "safe spaces" as if every person on this overheating orb floating in a vast nothingness just wants nothing more than to just be accepted and mainly to just be.

So yeah, it feels like somehow we're getting closer while simultaneously being shoved even further away from that utopia. It feels further away because the stress of being 37 with two kids in 2017 is different than the stress of being 28 in 2008 with none because our cares and our fears are different and they feel insurmountable. I feel the stagnation and the rut because I am the stagnation and the rut.

That's why moments count. Moments where you don't feel so alone and your…my…our problems aren't so insurmountable.

Like, talking to a teenaged family friend in the crowd, who's been playing in bands for a couple of years, being inspired and setting a goal to play on one of the three stages.

Or, spending your formative years as a mid-2000s hipster who won't admit they're a hipster and being inspired in part by Garden State who won't admit they were inspired by Garden State because now it's gauche to admit that, and being mere feet from The Shins like, well, a whole lot of us.

Or, that rare moment when you're pushing 40, but you get front row to a new band you fell in love with just this year like you're still 22 and you sing all their songs and you bounce into the people next to you and then take a selfie with the band because for one damn moment you don't care that you're pushing 40 and the world around you is going to hell because that band you like played songs you like and you had fun, like uh…someone.

Apropos of nothing, here's A Giant Dog and I…

But the moments that 80/35 does best are the moments that really matter. The ones that actually help. Not just a diversion or a distraction. The kid looking into Jeffrey Eaton's face wasn't using him as a distraction or as something to just have a good time.

That moment, that look in his eyes, that was hope. That someone speaks to you, feels like you, thinks like you. That in this trash world, you have people on your side and you can fight whatever evil is destroying you. It was hope.

It's even better to know that those moments of hope can be provided by people within your community, fighting and struggling with you. It should happen more often and we should fight for and find that same hope wherever we can.

Even as the world turns and generations age, hope always remains. Sometimes, it just needs to be found, anyway they…I…we can.

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