Of all the experiences one can have with culture and communities, none of them quite stack up to the experience of a music festival – especially the experience of working at one. Whether it’s Austin City Limits, or Coachella, or Bonnaroo, there’s nothing quite like camping out with 80,000 others for a weekend full of peace, love, and music. Personally, I worked security at Bonnaroo this past summer and immensely enjoyed it. I got to discover new bands, re-acquaint myself with old favorites, meet people from all over the world, and experience things in a new way I never would be able to without it. I saw performances from bands like Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, fun., Flogging Molly, The Roots, The Antlers, Ludacris, The Shins, Bon Iver, and dozens of others – but more importantly I saw community in action.
In the course of just a few days, from people all over the country and all over the world a community formed. People laughed, and danced, and ate together, and shared the (fairly abysmal) bathroom facilities. They formed a community eighty-thousand strong, of every race and religion and creed and nationality imaginable, together to have a fun, safe, and happy weekend. As a security guard, my perspective on it was fairly unique. I was mainly in charge of the barricades – mosh-heavy punk bands like Bad Brains or Flogging Molly were especially chaotic in the security crew trying to help out crowd-surfers and contain the crowd. Even with thousands of people thrashing around to loud, angry music, they still did so to have fun and enjoy themselves, creating their own community through that music. We were also responsible for helping to give directions for whoever might need it, and for handing out bottles of water – a necessity in the 95+ degree heat! And those bottles of water were shared by the community as well; people would take a sip and pass it to those who needed it. Together, as a community, we looked out for one another and provided comfort and safety.
Another interesting community was the way the performers shared in their camaraderie with one another and the crowd. I walked backstage once to find Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers enthusiastically talking to Alice Cooper himself. Fitz & The Tantrums had an ASL interpreter/dancer on stage with them, translating all their lyrics into sign language for the hearing impaired. Nate Ruess, lead singer of fun., literally threw himself at the crowd, trusting their community to support him safely as he surfed across their fingertips.
But looking back, as great an experience as it was, the most defining aspect of it from a community perspective is that we, as security guards, were not called that at all. We weren’t security, we were “safety”. We wore bright pink shirts with SAFETY emblazoned on the back so that people would come to us if they needed anything. Even in the craziest of mosh pits, we helped to make sure everyone was still happy and safe and healthy. We provided the community a service, and the community responded to us, incorporating everyone so that we truly did have a safe community.
Community brings safety and happiness. It’s the basic backbone and definition of it. When a community comes together, it doesn’t matter how big – it can be eight people or eighty thousand. As long as they work together for each other’s best interests and safety, the entire community will benefit. Four days at a music festival taught me that, and it’s an attitude that has truly influenced me in my work with OurPangea. It proved to me that no matter what happened, and no matter how out of control a situation could get , as long as there was a strong community, we would always be safe.