It was at the Rotbury Music Festival that we first met, and then it was a few weeks later at Camp Bisco that Sasha won Rachel over with a Ring Pop, his fashion sense, and his killer dance moves. As such, music festivals hold a special place in our hearts. We’ve both been going to festivals for quite a few years now, we’ve both worked at many of them, and we’ve even hit a few fests outside of the US. There’s not much we love more than camping out for a few days, raging with a bunch of crazy hippies, and checking out live music day and night. Whether you’ve never been to a music festival and are looking for some tips, or you’re a grizzled vet just looking to relive the memories through stories, pictures, and videos, we’ve got something for you here. First, here’s a little run-down of our festival experiences:
- 2003 – Bonnaroo
- 2004 – Summer Camp, Bonnaroo
- 2005 – Jam in the Dam, Summer Camp, Bonnaroo, All Good
- 2006 – Summer Camp
- 2007 – Summer Camp, Bonnaroo, All Good, Camp Bisco, Dunegrass, Caribbean Holidaze
- 2008 – Langerado, Bonnaroo, Rothbury, Camp Bisco
Seeing as how I loved concerts so much already, you can imagine my delight when I found out about music festivals – 3-4 day concerts where you could camp out and see tons of different bands. In the summer of 2003, I got in the van with a group of kids from my school and headed down to Manchester, TN for the 2nd annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Unfortunately, a little run-in with Johnny Law kind of spoiled that trip, but I still managed to enjoy myself as I spent most of the weekend wandering around by myself checking out new music. During one particularly late night, I fell in love with the music of Sound Tribe Sector 9 and even saw them bring out Phish’s bassist, Mike Gordon. Down but not out, I vowed to make my next music festival much better.
Almost a year later, I got the chance with the Summer Camp festival in southern Illinois. Instead of going to my senior prom, I headed to the festival with a few friends. We camped out, drank heady beers, tossed the Frisbee, and rocked out with bands like moe. and Umphrey’s McGee. It was a life-changing experience and I’ll never regret skipping some lame ass dance for a weekend of good people and live music.
A return trip to Bonnaroo was much more successful in 2004, and it featured a performance by The Dead as well as an insane all-night show from the UM boys. The summer of 2004 wrapped up with Phish’s Coventry festival up in Vermont. It was a muddy disaster, the concerts weren’t very good, and we had to ditch Pete’s car on the way back when it died. Caked in mud and reeking of patchouli and veggie burritos, we had to fly to Chicago, sleep on the floor of the train station, and catch the train back to Detroit. We were willing to do all that just to say goodbye to our favorite band. Little did we know they’d be back five years later.
In 2005 I was off on my own living it up at MSU, and I wanted to go bigger and better with my live music experiences. Well, once I heard about the Jam in the Dam festival over in Amsterdam, I knew I just had to be there. I convinced a friend to join, and we skipped a week of class to head across the pond to see UM, the Disco Biscuits, Keller Williams, and Particle. Exploring this incredible new city on the other side of the world with a marathon of live music every night truly ignited my passion for travel and live music, and I never looked back. For the next three summers, I would attend multiple music festivals across the country – Summer Camp, Bonnaroo, All Good, Camp Bisco, and Dunegrass. Those summers of epic long drives, camping out with friends, meeting new people, rocking out to the bands I love and discovering ones I had never heard of were definitely some of the best times of my life, and they inspired me to put together a documentary for my final video project at MSU, titled “Daze to Remember.” Check it out below, split into two parts:Part One includes the ridiculous drives you need to take sometimes.
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Part Two starts out with the interesting characters you meet.
It was also in the summer of 2007 that I learned about volunteering at music festivals. In previous years, I had busted my ass to be able to afford tickets (they can be expensive), so I was thrilled to find out that there was a way in for free. Through friends, I got hooked up with Shimon Presents, a promotional company that manages teams of volunteers for tons of festivals. That summer, I worked with them at both the All Good and Camp Bisco festivals, and I had a great time. Little did I know at Camp that there was also a cute blonde girl from Tennessee volunteering (get it… Tennessee Vols?); we wouldn’t bump into each other until the next year.
In my last year of college, one particularly buzzed night (thanks to Pete’s bartending), the two of us hatched a genius plan to go to Jamaica for the first Caribbean Holidaze event. Held at an all-inclusive swinger’s resort on the beach and featuring sets by both UM and the Biscuits, it just seemed like paradise. A few financially irresponsible decisions later, and we were on our way to Jamaica. We even convinced Dave to join in the fun. The three of us had way too much fun dancing in the ocean, drinking Dirty Bananas, and jamming along to a few of our favorite bands under palm trees.
For our senior year spring break, a group of us decided to rent a van and drive it straight down to Big Cypress in Florida for the Langerado festival. Let’s just say the van never made it back, and it was a huge fiasco (thanks, Pete). Despite that, we had a huge crew and a great time enjoying the sunshine and great shows in southern Florida. We also once again found a way in for free, as we did some marketing and promotions with a company called UG Strategies from New York.
After graduation, I made the decision to move to China to teach English. Of course, I had to get a few more festivals in before leaving. I made my 5th trip to Bonnaroo and then got ready for the first ever Rothbury festival in Michigan. I worked at both of those festivals, doing stuff for UG at Bonnaroo and volunteering with Shimon at Rothbury. At Bonnaroo, I finally got to cross Pearl Jam and Metallica off my live music bucket list, and I also saw great shows from the Biscuits and Widespread Panic.
The Rothbury festival over the 4th of July weekend was a magical place to be for two years in 2008 and 2009. Being the first big festival of its kind in the Mitten, most of my friends, siblings, classmates, and just about anyone I knew were in attendance. We had a small hippie village with our Womp family campsite near the front entrance. Most of us worked pre-festival, decorating the tripper’s paradise of Sherwood Forest and setting the place up for the thousands of festivalgoers. Once the place came to life on Thursday, it was just an incredible few days of hanging out with my favorite people and seeing my favorite bands. It was also here that I finally met Rachel, as she was bouncing on a trampoline and I was carrying around a bag of wine. Check out some footage from our wild campsite in this short video I made:
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The legendary WOMP campsite at Rothbury ’08.Before flying to China, I managed to squeeze in one last festival with Camp Bisco. Before going, I bought a bag of Ring Pops; I figured the girls there would like them. Knowing that Rachel was going to be attending, I made sure to save one for her. We hung out for most of the weekend, and we had to say goodbye until the next summer. That is, of course, until I went and booked a last-minute flight to Atlanta to see her before leaving.
I was living in China for the next 10 months, but when I came home we picked up right where we left off.
I don’t have anywhere near as many festivals under my belt. My hometown of Johnson City is very much under a rock. I thought music festivals and hippies were a thing of the past until all my friends disappeared for a weekend in the summer of 2004. When they resurfaced they told me of a crazy festival in middle Tennessee called Bonnaroo. I promised myself I would go the next year and I did. Here’s a rundown of all the festivals I attended before meeting Sasha:
- 2005 – Bonnaroo
- 2007 – All Good, Camp Bisco, Echo Project
- 2008 – Langerado, Rothbury, All Good, Camp Bisco, Trinumeral, Loki
- 2009 – Wakarusa
I went to Bonnaroo with some old high school friends. All I had was an air mattress and a sleeping bag. Luckily my friend had a tent big enough for all of us. When we finally got in and got to the campsite it was dark and none of us had ever set up this tent before. Luckily our neighbors were kind enough to help us. We were all total n00bs as this was the first music festival for all of us. I was basically clueless. I knew I wanted to see Dave Mathews Band and Widespread Panic and that was about it. I had no idea about late nights or any of those things and I was only 19 years old at the time so I thought booze wasn’t even an option. I had no idea people sold it out of their cars in the campground. What a concept! I left the festival on Sunday as I was taking summer school courses at the time and I definitely left feeling unfulfilled. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to any festivals in 2006 and I didn’t really mind since my Bonnaroo experience hadn’t been all that great. Thankfully in 2007, a good friend convinced me that I should go to All Good and I had the best experience. It was much smaller than Bonnaroo which I loved and at that time it was on a beautiful mountain top in West Virginia. Everyone I met was so friendly and it was my first time seeing Grateful Dead songs played live. It was certainly an unforgettable experience that changed the direction my life was heading in.
After such a wonderful experience at All Good, I was itching to get in one more festival that summer. When my friend Ben told me he was going to Camp Bisco a month later I totally got in the van. As we were both running low on cash we decided to volunteer at the festival in exchange for our tickets. The volunteers were being organized by Shimon Presents. I had no idea this was the Disco Biscuit’s festival nor had I even heard of them. I was going to see Sound Tribe Sector 9 and fell in love with the Biscuits too.
In the fall of 2007, I was back in school at Appalachian State really getting into my role as a Music Business major. At this point I just wanted my life to be all about music festivals so I was stoked when they announced the Echo Project just outside of Atlanta. It was even better that it fell during fall break.
Shimon Presents was organizing the volunteer team again so naturally, I signed up. Once you get a taste of being there in exchange for helping out it’s hard to go back to paying for it. Some of the highlights from that festival were the Disco Biscuits, Thievery Corporation, the Roots, and Phil and friends. Unfortunately, no pictures exist from this one.
Next up was Langerado in the spring of 2008. It fell on the first weekend of my spring break. I volunteered with Shimon Presents again and this time I arranged to intern for them that summer. By this time I was getting pretty good at going to music festivals and this was one of the best yet. Highlights include the Beastie Boys, the Disco Biscuits, Phil and Friends, Umphrey’s McGee, and Sound Tribe Sector 9.
Summer 2008 came and I graduated from Appalachian State and started my internship with Shimon Presents in Atlanta. Part of my responsibilities included contacting, organizing, and supervising the volunteers. Rothbury was the first music festival for me that summer and that’s where I met the Womp crew.
It was at this point that I decided my friendships were more important to me than my internship. So I moved my campsite from the volunteer site (which was really far away) to the general admission site with all my new friends. I spent most of this festival working so I didn’t see that much music but the shows I did see were phenomenal and I met Sasha. But to be honest I didn’t really remember him because we only spoke for five minutes while I was seeing stars.
Unfortunately, I had to leave Rothbury early on Sunday morning because I had to meet the volunteers doing pre-festival work for All Good on Monday. So I drove myself, two other interns, and one of our bosses from Michigan to West Virginia and jumped right into All Good. I was again busy working so the weekend was a bit of a blur. From here I went back to Atlanta but only for a few days and then I was off to Camp Bisco. This was my time to party.
Shimon Presents was not organizing the volunteer team but they’re friends with the promoters so they were able to get me on the guest list. When I made my plans to go I didn’t know anyone else going so I arranged a ride from the airport with a friend of a friend of my boss. Unfortunately, let’s just say he had some expectations that I was not willing to meet. Some friends I had made from the Womp crew were there and I set out to find them immediately to alleviate the awkwardness between me and my ride.
As the weekend went on my ride just became more and more strange. It got to a point where I just needed to get away from him. In stepped Sasha, my w00k in shining armor. He proposed with a ring pop and we spent the rest of the night seeing music and talking until the sun came up.
That fall I went to two more festivals, both at Deerfields in North Carolina. There were some great musicians at both but it was more about cultivating friendships for me. The next summer started off with me going to Wakarusa. I was no longer interning for Shimon Presents but I still thought I wanted to do some sort of job involving music festivals so I volunteered again. It was a very fun experience that set the tone for the rest of that summer.
After I spent a year living solo in Beijing, we joined forces for an epic musical journey that took us across the country seeing shows and festivals. Since we moved to China together in 2010, we’ve slowed down a bit when it comes to festies, but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped! Here’s a rundown of all the festivals we’ve hit together:
- 2009 – Bonnaroo, Rothbury, All Good, Camp Bisco
- 2010 – Yi Xian, In Music Festival, Great Wall Festival
- 2011 – All Good, Camp Bisco
- 2012 – Mayan Holidaze
- 2014 – Gathering of the Vibes
- 2015 – Spirit Tribe (Kunming, China)
Summer of Bruce
It’s been mentioned before, but we’ll say it again. We met briefly at Rothbury in 2008 and then spent most of the weekend together at Camp Bisco a few weeks later. Then, I bailed for China for 10 months. When I got back in June 2009, we kicked off the epic Summer of Bruce with Bonnaroo, and we also made return trips to Rothbury, All Good, and Camp Bisco. We’ve also put together a little gallery of some of our favorite pics from the “Summer of Bruce.”
Live in Asia, Rage Everywhere
In March of 2010, Rachel decided she wanted to give Beijing a try. After the cold winter subsided, we wanted to get out and see some live music, China style. Well, our first attempt was a hilarious fail where I ended up dropping my pants in a karaoke bar that we had to spend the night in. Thankfully, our next try out at the In Music Festival in the grasslands of Hebei province turned out to be far more successful, as Rachel started a dance party and was crowned Queen of the festival. Just see for yourself in this short video:
The Zhangbei Grasslands Festival in 2010.
In the summer of 2011, we headed back to the US for a few weeks to see family, friends, and of course festivals and Phish. We once again worked with Shimon at both Camp Bisco and All Good, and we had a great time even though our crew was much smaller than it had been in 2009 – some of our friends decided to grow up, apparently.
Back in China, we worked hard for a few months and stashed our money away for a tropical, musical getaway. During the Spring Festival holiday in early 2012, we flew all the way to Cancun, where we spent a week taking in the Mayan ruins and then we raged on the beach at an all-inclusive resort for the Mayan Holidaze festival. With sets from three of our favorite bands – Umphrey’s, the Biscuits, and STS9, it was a dream vacation for two hippies like us!
Unfortunately, 2013 turned out to be a festival-free year for us. That’s not to say we didn’t do anything cool that year – we camped on the Great Wall, went skydiving in Utah, and embarked on a year-long backpacking trip. There was plenty of music, too, with a bunch of nights out in Beijing, ten Phish shows in three states, and Halloween with UM in Milwaukee.
After a 3-year hiatus from American music festivals, we knew that one had to be on our itinerary in the summer of 2014. When we saw the lineup for the Gathering of the Vibes festival in CT, it was a no-brainer – with Widespread, UM, the Biscuits, Lotus, and so many more of our favorite bands, we weren’t going to miss it for the world.
In 2015, we had the chance to take part in the first-ever Spirit Tribe festival outside of Kunming, where we were living and teaching English. With just 250 fans and two small stages, it was a nice change of pace to be at a small and intimate festival. Although psytrance isn’t exactly our thing, we had a great time grooving under the full moon, and we even got to spot a partial lunar eclipse. See what a trance festival in China looks like in the short video I put together:ARVE Error: need id and provider
A psy-trance festival in the mountains of Yunnan.
We’ve had so much fun at music festivals, made so many great friends, and had experiences that just can’t be topped. If you’ve never been to a music festival, please do yourself a favor and check one out this year! For those who need more inspiration, just check out this gallery of some of our favorite pictures from festivals we’ve hit since moving to China in 2010:
Thanks to our wedding festivities, summer 2015 is going to be without big music festivals. Don’t worry, we’re still getting plenty of shows – the “Fare the Well” Grateful Dead shows in Chicago and five nights of Phish in the southeast. As for the future, we’ve got our sights on the Fuji Rock festival in Japan, the Exit festival in Serbia, the Jisan Valley Rock fest in Korea and much, much more. Oh yeah, and we’ve still got to get to Burning Man one of these days!