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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