the better day at Sound on Sound
Sunday, September 25 2022
location: room 401, Motel 6, Milford, Connecticut
I again woke up before Gretchen, though this time the first thing I did this morning was to take a bath (with my work-issued laptop; I've never dropped one in the water yet). Our motel room was so ghetto that I was forced to use a wad of plastic as a plug for the drain, since no plug or plugging mechanism had been provided.
After my bath I went down to the lobby to fill my travel mug with coffee, which I brought up to the room to drink, since it was already 9:00am and Gretchen probably wanted to be awake to begin what was expected to be a very long day. Fortunately, we wouldn't have to worry about Joanna today. She would be riding with her soon-to-be ex-husband. And it turned out we didn't need her expensive parking spot either; we'd seen plenty of parking on the street much closer to the festival. There were also private residences selling parking for $40/day, which also seemed unnecessary unless, that is, there was a concern about people breaking into cars; Bridgeport is notorious for its high rates of crime and we would be having a couple thousand dollars' worth of electric bicycles in our car (along with our wallets and a four year old laptop that had once been expensive).
After doing an abbreviated version of our usual morning weekend routine (during which I downed 150 mg of recreational pseudoephedrine), we checked out of our motel and drove to the nearest Whole Foods, which was a little northeast of Milford. Knowing the food situation at the festival, Gretchen wanted some baked goods, some form of fruit, and an oat milk cappuccino. She managed to find a vegan scone, and I got a bagel, for which I also bought a small tub of vegan cream cheese. And then we got some Naked-brand smoothies (I like the mango one). A woman working there saw Gretchen's tee shirt reading "Vegan is Feminist" and assumed she was there for some sort of feminist conference being held nearby. But no, Gretchen didn't know anything about it. All she knew about was the Sound on Sound festival and how very white and mainstream it was turning out to be. "Some of them music is good," she allowed, though she was disappointed that the Black Pumas had canceled their performance (actually they'd canceled a whole tour). "It's sort of a Dave Matthews crowd," I agreed.
When we got coffee, Gretchen decided to get real coffee, since it was likely we'd be driving home late tonight and caffeine in her system would be more of a blessing than a curse. Whole Foods makes a very good oat milk cappuccino. Everything is expensive at Whole Foods, but having just paid festival prices for things, it seemed cheap.
On the streets of Bridgeport, we found a good place to park in front of an old school near the corner of Lafayette and Atlantic Streets. The walk from there into the festival was less than 2000 feet.
We arrived at the festival a little before it opened, giving us time to chat with fellow festivants. We discussed how long and slow the lines had been yesterday and how difficult it had been to walk through fields completely covered with blankets. The festival organizers had sent an email this morning admitting that mistakes had been made yesterday on the first day of their first festival, but that they were learning from these mistakes "in real time." More employees had been hired, blanket-and-chair-free walkways established, and somehow more room had been made in the general admission area. We'd have to see it to believe it, and in the meantime we weren't going to stop making Fyre Festival jokes.
The first band of the day, The Funky Dawgz, could be heard off in the distance performing even before the entrance was opened. The woman doing security for our VIP line was a noticeably more thorough than the guy who'd checked our stuff yesterday. When Gretchen saw her going through the pockets of unworn jackets of the people in front of us, she panicked; she'd filled those pockets with spicy pistachios and granola bars. An easy solution to this would've been for Gretchen and me to simply put those jackets on, but instead I told Gretchen to stuff what she could into my back pockets. That worked okay, but Gretchen missed a few things and the security woman told us we had to either eat or throw away the stuff she'd found. I managed to stuff the pistachios into my pockets unseen, but Gretchen was forced to throw away a single granola bar. Fortunately, though, I was able to smuggle in three three-ounce plastic bottles full of gin. Two were in my socks and one was in my left pocket. This was plenty of liquor and I wouldn't have to buy any alcohol at all today. Instead I would be buying soft drinks to use as mixers, and these came with ice. They were "only" $5 each.
Once in the festival, we made a beeline for the VIP section in front of the smaller stage, where the Funky Dawgz were performing. They are a brass-based funk/hip-hop band, and Gretchen was so relieved not to have to see another band of "white guys with facial hair," that she took her shoes off and danced as close as she dared given she didn't have hearing protection. But when they covered "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder, she stopped caring about the future of her sense of hearing. Stevie Wonder will always be Gretchen's favorite musician. As for me, musical diversity isn't something I used to notice one way or the other, though Gretchen has made me more aware of its importance. And even I'd found yesterday's relentlessness of white male performance oppressive. So I too was enjoying the Funky Dawgz in my own understated way, though I'm even less of a fan of brass music than I am of hip hop.
The next band, Trousdale, began seemingly with the last beat from the Funky Dawgz' drum kit. I was went off to get my first soft drink, a Sprite, during their song, running across Joanna on the way. I then brought my Sprite, my gin, and my travel mug to a sparsely-peopled segment of the barricade separating VIPs from the hoi polloi and secretly made myself a very stiff mixed drink containing the full 3 oz contents of one of my three gin bottles. As I was doing this, the three women in Trousdale were covering Neil Young's "Old Man," and they hit a high harmony so beautiful and other-worldly that I knew I would have to watch the rest of their set from closer in. Gretchen was totally digging them by then as well. They're cute 20-somethings who were wearing different-colored pastel pantsuits with matching eye shadow. On of their moms was also there, and you could tell who she was because she was an older woman in a Trousdale teeshirt (the only such teeshirt I saw) who wasn't acting like a superfan, or (really) any kind of fan.
During the Main Squeeze, Gretchen and I rested on one of the VIP couches and dicked around with our phonesm for awhile before returning to the main stage to see Jade Bird, the one-woman British folk/blues-rock powerhouse. She started out without a backing band, just wailing on her guitar and singing. (I especially like her song "Uh Huh.") She was having so much fun (despite the often angry tone of her songs) that her joy was infectious. Eventually she was joined by a couple other musicians (but no real drummer) and there were some more three-part harmonies and an amazing cover of Stevie Nick's "Edge of Seventeen."
We returned to the VIP area so as to avoid the Spin Doctors, one of my least-favorite legacies of the 1990s (a musical decade that I mostly like).
At some point Gretchen went to one of the restrooms, and on the way back ran into someone she knew. She yelled at me from fifty feet away in an effort to introduce the people, and I couldn't tell what she was saying. It seemed like she was acting like I should know the people, but they looked completely unfamiliar. But I have something akin to face blindness, and if someone shaves off a mustache, ages twenty years, or changes up his or her hair, there's a good chance I won't be able to figure out who he or she is. So I decided not to get up and walk over. If this was someone I was supposed to know, I'd just make a fool of myself by not knowing him or her. And if it was someone new, well, staying where I was within protocol. They should come over to me. It turned out that his person was someone I didn't know, a woman named Lynne whom Gretchen had befriended at the Woodstock bookstore over the subject of menopause. Gretchen had no idea Lynne would be coming to Sound on Sound and was surprised to find her in the VIP section. Lynne was there with her schlubby husband and her college-age daughter. Eventually they all came over and Gretchen introduced us to each other. Lynne told me she and her family had come to Sound on Sound mostly to see the Black Pumas and was disappointed that they'd canceled their tour.
Later Lynne and her daughter came with us on our first food-getting foray of the day, which was out to the place that makes the tofu wrap we'd noted yesterday. While I waited in line to buy one (and some sweet potato fries for Lynne), the Spin Doctors were ending their set with the inevitable "Two Princes." The Gen-Zers nearby instinctively bobbed their heads along to its infectious groove. But as for Gretchen and me, our heads remained as steady as the Moon.
When made with hot sauce (the only vegan sauce available), tofu wrap proved to be the best thing I would eat at the entire festival. But Gretchen wanted roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower tacos, which meant hiking out to the distant concession area behind the pond where TryVeganNJ's food truck was (though this stuff was to be had at the neighboring food truck). I ate my tofu wrap on the walk over there, which proved to be a mistake, because it was very messy and dripped red hot sauce all over my sage-green trousers. I then had to stop at the outdoor washing-up area in front of a cluster of port-a-potties to clean myself up. While Gretchen was getting her brussels sprouts and tacos, I got my second soft drink of the day, a cherry Coke. I didn't add gin to it until we got back into the VIP section.
The weather today was more unsettled than it had been yesterday. The sun only broke through briefly, and occasionally a few raindrops spit from the sky. While we were sitting in a VIP tent with all the food Gretchen had bought, I was concerned the strong winds would dump it all on the ground. It was in a little paper tray with another tray acting as a lid, but the only way to keep it from blowing away was to weigh it down with a smart phone, obviously not a good solution should we both want to go see a band. Had we had a rubberband, that could've held the two paper trays together. But the festival was low on such everyday resources. I couldn't even find a piece of string. Eventually, though, I devised a solution that required no additional materials. Using a bamboo knife we'd smuggled (as a utensil kit) into the festival, I cut slots into either side of the bottom tray. Then I carefully tore trapezoid-shaped tabs into the upper tray. After folding the tabs so they could fit through the slots, I then unfolded them. The tabs' wide ends then kept them from pulling out of the slots, securing the trays and their contents so well that we could go off and watch another band. We skipped a few (though Gretchen watched a little of The Head and the Heart) and then went to see the Roots, the famous funky hip-hop force of nature. The Roots were so energetic and relentless, it was hard not to be sucked into their world, though I couldn't make out what the rapper was rapping about and wasn't familiar enough with the material to do, as the many very white people around me were doing, that is rap along. But I nodded my head to the beat and watched as the musicians executed all kinds of impressive synchronized movements and other acts of virtuosic stagecraft.
A highlight of the festival was to be Brandi Carlile, an impressive folk-rock sensation Gretchen has been gradually exposing me to for the past year or so. I was now familiar with the music, but none of the songs had really stuck with me. But I definitely wanted to see her performance tonight. We were a little slow getting into the crowd, but it wasn't as dense as the Stevie Nicks crowd, and we were able to get to a pretty good spot behind some short people (the average height of the people crowding in to see Brandi Carlile was definitely less than the that of the Stevie Nicks attendees). Nobody makes any introductions when musicians take the stage at Sound on Sound, but there was an amusing introductory scene set by the two cowboy-hat-wearing Hanseroth twins, her collabortors of over twenty years. They took the stage and dueled back and forth for awhile playing heavy metallic riffs in what looked (and sounded) like a parody of the kind of music that comes out of toxic masculinity. But then Brandi took the stage and the crowd went nuts.
I don't know what it was about Carlile's music, but at a certain point her sincerity and expressiveness started affecting me emotionally and tears started streaming out of the corners of my eyes, something I hadn't expected. Then, in the middle of her impressive slate of songs, she did a couple familiar covers: David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Radiohead's "Creep," and they were so perfect she had me completely hooked. I hadn't been a fan before, but now I would have to admit that I was. Her set was one of the day's two long ones, and she ended with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" while the rainbow flag was displayed on the screen behind her (she's an out lesbian).
After that, the National played on the smaller stage, and we rushed over to join that crowd. The National is the only band I'd been excited to see, since it's the only one playing music I am very familiar with. They're a mainline indie rock band fronted by grizzled singer who writes highly-original lyrics. Their rhythms, though, tend to be harsh and robotic, imbuing the music with a coldness that I know Gretchen doesn't like (think Joy Division or Interpol). Tonight Matt Berninger's deep gravelly voice was a bit lost in the mix, though I could remember some of the lyrics, such as the one about being carried to Ohio by a swarm of bees and the one about owing "money to the money to the money I owe." As a poet, I thought Gretchen should be aware of these things, so I shouted them into her ear. Eventually, though, she said she couldn't stand in the crowd any more and would be heading back to the VIP tent. But she ended up sitting on the grass between the two stages and watching the National on one of the big screens, where one could actually have a better concert experience.
But then Matt Berninger unexpectedly left the stage, walking in the fenced-off escape route directly in front of it, then either climbed the barricade or was let through it and started walking through the VIP crowd, trailing a surprisingly long microphone cord behind him. A camera man was following him so this was all shown on the screen, but I couldn't tell where he was. But then there he was, in real life, on a trajectory right for me. I stepped out of the way to let him pass. Eventually some guy on stage started reeling Berninger back in, looping the dozens of feet of mic cord around his arm as he did so. I'd had enough of standing by that point, so I got out of the crowd and found Gretchen seated on the grass. She said she'd seen me on the big screen as Berninger came through and I'd been one of the few people not holding a fucking phone in his face.
Berninger announced from the stage that a coming storm was forcing the band to cut their set short, though the gusty wind was making his hair look amazing. (I later tried to find photos of Berninger as a young man, back before his hair turned grey, and I couldn't find any. He was apparently born looking like a handsome man in his 50s.)
Then the final act of the festival took the main stage. I'd had it in my mind that it would be the Dave Matthews Band, but tonight the performance was a stripped-down act of just Dave Matthews and another caucasoid musician named Tim Reynolds (who was reportedly Dave's musical mentor back when they both worked together at Miller's in Charlottesville) sitting in chairs strumming on guitars and singing. This was what most of the people at the festival had come to see, but not me. About two minutes after he'd started, I said what I'd been thinking I would say at about this time all day, which was, "we can go." At that point I think Gretchen was more interested in watching Dave Matthews than I was (she likes his song "Satellite"), but she was agreeable. We'd discussed this before and she'd been thinking we might stay for a whole half hour (mostly just to see some of the video that plays on the screen behind him, some or all of which is put together by Jessika's husband Aaron) and then bug out early so as to avoid being carried out by the end-of-festival crowd (and then inevitably getting stuck in traffic). But now Dave Matthews was doing that percussive vocal thing he does and I was very much wanting to go. So away we went. There was a steady stream of others doing what we were doing, likely people who had come to see the National, which has a very different fan base from Dave Matthews.
When we got to our car, I was delighted to see that nobody had broken into it. I'd been drinking as late as when the National had been playing, so I thought it best that Gretchen drive. I suggested we travel on big roads so as to get home faster and have a lower chance of hitting a deer, and Gretchen was a agreeable to that. As we drove, we listened to a series of weak radio stations, some of which were probably coming from Connecticut's many well-endowed colleges. We happened to catch the banter between two DJs that followed a song by Clutch. With regard to Clutch's lyrics, one of the DJs said that they're often perfect, though sometimes, and he knew this wasn't a socially acceptable word, the lyrics seem "retarded." Gretchen was loving this banter, but the next song was some variety of speed death metal, and she wanted to change the station. But she toughed it out (the song wasn't long), and the next song was in a genre I would call "operatic death metal," with vocals that even impressed Gretchen. Eventually, though, she had me change the station. Soon we heard a beautiful song that sounded like Super Furry Animals but was sung in an unfamiliar Latin language. It turned out to be Manha Submersa by a Portuguese band called Xutas & Pontapes. I'd been wanting to know the Spotify popularity of all the bands we'd been hearing, but Xutas & Pontapes isn't even on Spotify; they have zero monthly listeners.
Soon after we crossed into New York, the station we were then listening to played a live version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," the second time we'd heard it performed today. Gretchen was so delighted that when it ended she asked me (rhetorically) "what just happened?"
We got home a little after 11:30pm, which was much better than the 3:00am Gretchen had predicted on Friday (which assumed we would watch all of Dave Matthews and drive home on the same small roads we'd driven to the festival on).
Gretchen enjoying the non-white-dudes-with-facial-hair stylings of the Funky Dawgz. Click to enlarge.
Gretchen with Trousdale. Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
White people loving the Roots.
The National. Their video feed was black & white of course.
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