The Fool on the Hill – Hinterland 2016

This is a year late. I also did not take pictures. Please see above. Yes, I have an entire folder of just Toru Yano pictures I use as reactions on social media. Everyone should.

But yeah, this is very late. I didn't plan it that way. I planned on attending a music festival. I planned on enjoying myself, then writing some sort of overwrought piece that ties in how music festivals can save America and bridge the gap between and highlight the similarities of city life versus country life. I had planned on breakfast in St. Charles on Sunday to see the interactions of the locals and the festival crowd. I had planned on somehow talking my way into a moment of Willie Nelson's time to tell him about my Grandad's record collection.

It didn't happen, though.

Night one I went with my wife because she loves Ray Lamontagne. We rarely spend alone time because of our kids and it was even more rare last year because I wasn't working. In April of 2016, I had a mental breakdown and ended up in the hospital and unemployed for a bit. I was slowly recovering, though, and excited for the time together.

We got there a bit late and missed San Fermin and heard Houndmouth from way up on the hill because of our need for food and the huge variety of gourmet choices. Cold War Kids were excellent. I was surprised how well the early stuff really held up after being dulled by some lackluster follow-up albums. We were hyped for Ray Lamontagne, although that ended up a bit of a disappointment.

In short, Ray had My Morning Jacket minus Jim James as his backing band, but it ended up being more like a Ray Lamontagne fronted MMJ than a MMJ backed Ray Lamontagne. It was neat, but not what we wanted.

Day two rolled around and I was prepared to go it alone. I took the shuttle bus from Des Moines and sipped on a 20 ounce Pepsi that I spiked with rum and I chatted with my fellow attendees. In my backpack, I smuggled a six-pack and a small bottle of cheap whiskey (about 10 total dollars), because I was too poor for festival pricing.

At the gate, my bag was checked and the whiskey was spotted in a side pocket. I played it cool, and the guy let me in. I played it so cool, in fact, that he didn't look in the main part where I had wrapped up the beers in a picnic blanket and we joked and high-fived as I passed.

Still, I felt bad. I felt stupid because I failed at sneaking something in (and failing at anything always blows) and I felt stupid for trying. I felt like I had broken a major rule and got caught and when that happens I feel like I let everyone down as if I'm not being the best type of person I could be. I also felt guilty for not just buying drinks at a festival friends of mine worked very hard to put on. Even if it was only $10, it should've been their $10.

I slugged down one of the Coors from my backpack. An hour-ish trip from store cooler to the festival grounds mostly wrapped inside of a blanket had mostly thawed the frost brewed chill. I drank a second one. I say drank, but what I mean was inhaled while slightly gagging on room temp macro-brew. I kicked myself further because my stupid plan pretty much collapsed anyway thanks to a lack of proper cooling.

I sat as William Elliot Whitmore played and started to think about how I had messed up. Then, for some reason, I thought about a time in fifth grade where a few of us stole candy off the teacher's desk when he wasn't in the room. He came back and some kid told on us. I got detention and cried right there in the middle of the classroom. I heard about my outburst the rest of the school year. I was the crying kid.

I tried to shake it off but then I thought about a time in high school when I went t.p.'ing on homecoming weekend, but only on the "approved night" and this hoodlum kid made fun of me.

The third beer, at this point, was roughly 85 degrees. I couldn't stop thinking about fifth grade. I couldn't stop thinking about high school. I couldn't stop thinking about how I'd feel bad if one of the organizers saw me with unapproved beer, even though it was the same beer sold there. I couldn't stop thinking about how dumb an idea it was to wrap cold beer in a blanket stuffed in a backpack on an 80 degree day and then try to drink it. I couldn't stop thinking about how much I sucked.

I started to think of how I was at this fest alone. How I couldn't find one person to take the other ticket. How, despite the fact that there were a lot of people there I knew and several of whom wouldn't have hated having me around, I was convinced they hated having me around.

I couldn't stop thinking about how much of a failure, in general, I was. How the whole reason I didn't have money for drinks was because I was unemployed. How I couldn't keep a job and was too weak and packed with excuses for why I couldn't write for a living. How I was forcing my wife to work odd jobs to make extra money and how I had to pull my 3-year-old son from his preschool and doom him to life as a left behind dullard. How, in reality, it shouldn't matter if I have alcohol at all, and yet it did and I couldn't fix that, which worried me.

Then my stomach began to turn.

It's a familiar feeling. It's my body's way of letting me know I was having an anxiety attack. I recognize it as old hat at this point. I got it any time I thought about that cubicle at the big bank that I once worked that sent me to the hospital or when I thought about any mistake I've ever made, ever.

This was different than the bank meltdown, though. This was literally about nothing and I could recognize that it was about nothing , which made things worse. This was me talking myself into being panicked and then being panicked. Which then scared me more because while I did a hell of a job bringing it on, I couldn't control it once it was here and because I didn't want to go back to the hospital. Yet, here I was, bringing it on.

The cherry on this melted sundae of sadness and angst was this was supposed to be my comfort zone: live music, people I know, cold, er, warm beer and a beautiful day. An almost holy place where my tears were dried and my fears assuaged. Yet here I was, sitting on a grass hill, as Pokey Lafarge played songs I knew and could singalong to, with my head between my knees hyperventilating, for no reason. It wasn't because I smuggled beer because who actually gives a shit. It was because I was still sick. I wasn't better just because I cast off one demon, I still had lots of other ones with which to deal and that terrified me.

I fell apart completely. My mind wouldn't stop racing. My toes wouldn't stop tingling nor my stomach stop tumbling. I started to nervously rub the top of my pinky fingers with my ring finger, a nervous tick I picked up a few months prior that I thought was long dead, and I did it with such vigor that I was removing skin via friction.

Pokey ended and they began to switch acts, so I really had nothing else to direct my focus. I started texting people, just in hopes of a distraction but without letting them in on my struggle.

Then I started sobbing. Big, loud tears. I finally calmed down a touch sometime during "KMAG-YOYO" by Hayes Carll. I sat on a grass hill among a crowd of thousands on a perfect, sunny August day and I'd never felt so dark and alone.

I packed up my bag, hopped back on the bus and went home. I left 3 scorching Coors cans behind.

Returning home early to the surprise of my family, I slumped on my couch and thumbed my Facebook feed. Tons of pictures rolled through of the rest of the day. Pics of Shovels and Rope, Lake Street Dive, Grace Potter, and Willie Nelson and I felt foolish. Foolish that I couldn't control my mind, foolish that I couldn't just stay and experience things, foolish that I was this way and foolish that all I could do was just poke at my phone like a loser.

So that's the story of my 2016 Hinterland Music Festival, a beautiful, magical place that unfortunately was the setting of me descending into a hell of my own creation.

If you're curious if you have to wait another year for my 2017 review, I'll save you the trouble: I didn't go. Despite the solid line up, the beautiful setting, the perfect weather and nearly a year of improvement in damn near every aspect of my life, I couldn't do it.

For all of the jokes we make about being "triggered," it comes from a very real place. For a lot of us with mental health issues, being triggered is a constant hazard. I spoke of it previously on why it's hard to go back to my hometown. I feel it every time I see the office building where I used to work. I get hit with it by certain posts or articles. It's an actual thing.

Honestly, it's been hard to go to any show, period, since because I feel like one of the few places I can still feel right was torn down that day and I still get hit with it just by seeing a band and a stage. Things have gotten better for me on a lot of fronts, though. One particular improvement is knowing when I'm putting myself into a real predicament. There's a fine line between immersion therapy and punishment.

I didn't go this year because I was petrified of that hill. I think I will be for some time because this will never go away, completely. People posted their pics this year, too, and I could feel my stomach ever so slightly wince. The best I can do is fight and hope.

So let's set a goal.

I'll be on that hill in 2018. I'll even buy my drinks there. Or, maybe I won't need the drinks at all…maybe I should save a goal for 2019.

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Mitski with Half Waif – 7/17/2017 Vaudeville Mews

On the afternoon of my 37th birthday, I sat chest deep in the brown water of an Army Corps of Engineers created lake in the middle of a state park while being pelted with sand by my seven-year-old daughter, who sometimes does jerk things. This lake was about 4 miles south of my hometown, but it was the first time I had taken my kids there. I don't deal much with my hometown nowadays. I tie too much of my mental scars to it. I'm so far removed from that place that all I remember of it is the anxiety of trying to survive it.

I never went out to this beach much growing up, either, even though I've always really liked it. It was a fairly popular spot where cute girls in my high school went in their cute bathing suits, alongside their cute boyfriends and their teenage football player physiques. I was too skinny and I had bad skin, so taking off my shirt was out. I couldn't swim in a shirt either, because that would make things too obvious. So, I just never went to the beach because I didn't want to deal with the hassle no matter the joy I'd get from the activity.

I still carry a lot of that anxiety with me. Doing, well, anything in public is tough, because what if they all laugh at you? What if you show up and people think you're strange? What if they talk about you, your hair, your skin, your teeth, your clothes, the company you keep or the company you don't keep?

To this day, I often find myself looking to avoid these situations by not bothering to go out. It's just easier. I use money as an excuse a lot, even though I could go to a show for less than $20 pretty regularly and often less than $10 (I need extra money to ply myself with booze in order to survive, so it's kinda true, but also not). I use the excuse of not wanting to go by myself, even though I have a pretty extended group of friends I rarely see and even more rarely invite anywhere. It's just easier to not try and so much less stressful.

I was sick the day of the Mitski show with some sort of stomach bug. It had floored me enough that my brain started to kick in. It told me that I should just stay home because I was sick and everyone was just going to laugh at the old man with the big gut singing along at a show he was at least fifteen years too old to attend, anyway, so I should stay home.

I didn't listen, though. I was determined. I knew this was special. I had been listening to Puberty 2 all year. I knew the next time she came back to town, it wouldn't be in an ~200 person venue where I could comfortably stand inches from the stage. I fought all of my inner thoughts and all of my usual demons and I showed up.

I leaned on the wall to the left of the opening act Half Waif, a solo electronic musician in a sparkly dress. I had gotten there a couple minutes late as I had to finish my drink at the restaurant across the street and wait for my friend Casey. Luckily, there was a spot inches from the stage.

We stood and took in the rest of Half Waif's set. She was quite the artist and composer. She moved from ambient to fierce with a press of a button and a strain of her voice. She was a humble mix of Grimes and Kate Bush with smart and emotional lyrics that forced the listen to pay attention. I found myself gravitated towards her between song banter which seemed so normal and sweet, with no hint of pretension or snobbery. Then she would hit another provocative and world altering song. It's nice to be reminded that these mind-bending artists are also just regular people.

Mitski and her band took the stage next and mesmerized. Not much for banter, they ripped through an hour-plus set featuring a bulk of Puberty 2, but older tracks, as well.

What Mitski does better than most is lyrics. Her wit and presence in the face of loss, love, depression and life carries her beyond many others that tackle similar themes. They're big, emotional moments that could be silly in the hands of someone less gifted, but instead come of as clever and learned, and even more so live.

Mitski is a charismatic performer, but not in a Mick Jagger way. She's soft-spoken and somewhat stoic, but also emotional. The songs are about a lot of trying things, so I don't imagine they're easy to sing, but the sullen expression speaks to me.

Listening to the album itself, I can take in the lyrics on their own. I can find myself seeing the performer detached from the lyrics; the author as a storyteller instead of an heartfelt, autobiographical release.

I get the intent and purpose in her songs, because I can relate. I relate to "Dan the Dancer" and his bedroom dance routine. I relate to "My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars" because I can't count the number of times I've repeated "I better ace that interview."

Live, though, it's impossible to detach Mitski from her lyrics. Here's someone using their words, their wit to show their pain and seeing her perform, you can tell how much these songs mean to her.

While I relate to the songs on their own, seeing her perform them live, I now relate to Mitski. I relate to the sadness and pain and trying to use a wry sense of humor to overcome all of that because lord knows I've done it. I can relate to wanting to talk about all of the things on your mind openly because you have a gift and a desire in the face of struggle.

I also relate to the fact that, were I to hazard a guess, she didn't want to be there either. I don't mean this as a knock. Her performance suggested an aloofness or even anger, but it absolutely wasn't. Her performance was a fight in and of itself. It's tough to put yourself out there and maybe I'm projecting, but anxiety is a bastard ghoul who sucks your soul, and it can sometimes be easy to spot. Seeing someone fight through discomfort really helped me to understand what I deal with daily because leaving your soul exposed in front of a crowd of strangers is way more nerve-rattling than just being in public. If she's willing to do that, than the least I can do is show up.

I'm glad I went. I'm glad I experienced this. I'm glad I didn't give in to my dueling sicknesses, both mental and physical. I'm glad Mitski was here and I'm happy I saw her perform and I'm glad she's so willing to give so much of herself.

Love and joy and inspiration and goodness and just relating to and interacting with the human condition is what life is supposed to be, even if your brain tells you otherwise. Because the more you learn to love others you'll see how little they actually affect your enjoyment. The more you let yourself go, the more you find solace and comfort in that same humanity that is also, like you, just trying to survive.