I can't believe I did it. I spent three nights and four days out on a mountain, camping amidst strangers, friends, family. I stayed 100% sober and clean. I conquered my fears and anxieties. I left my city. I made amazing friendships. I saw wonderful musicians and acts. I sampled delightful foods and rekindled my long love-affair with churros (mmm!) I was organized. I even remembered to practice self-care after a day of a killer migraine, whoops!
I left on Thursday afternoon. I thought to myself that if I didn't go then, I never would. I had no idea what to expect, or where I was sleeping. I packed my car with food, clothing, toiletries, blankets and pillows, intending to just wing it and most likely sleep in my car. There was no real set plan. I was freaking out. My friend Emily called me and asked if I would drive her up with me. I initially wanted to go on my own. The drive is two hours and I wanted to be alone with my music and my thoughts in case I needed to pull over to freak out. Luckily, Emily gets my anxieties, and I get hers. I decided, fuck it, I'll drive one of my best friends and we can be each other's support. I'm so glad I did!
The fun part about Port Renfrew is there's no reception. I had opened Google Maps when we were out in Victoria and followed the signs to Port Renfrew, and once we got there we were totally lost and had no way to find directions. We ended up out in Botanical Beach, we turned around, we were just laughing. We had music, we were having a grand old time. Finally, FINALLY, we found the sign. We began the descent up the mountain and joined the line of cars waiting to enter. It was both of our first years so we had absolutely no idea what to expect as far as the layout, where I was going to be parked. I dropped off Emily at the festival roundabout with all of her camping gear and I was directed to my parking spot and began to hike back up the mountain. Only about a ten minute walk from the entrance, but up a mountain. My legs and body are still aching.
The view didn't disappoint.
We walked in and got Emily's temporary camp set up and ran into the main stage where The Dudes were playing. I was transfixed. I quickly found an old friend of mine who I hadn't seen in YEARS and we decided we were going to be Tall Tree Buddies! Like myself, he's sober, so it worked perfectly. Quickly, Emily found her crew and Trevor and I watched The Dudes and then hiked down to my car and grabbed my blankets and clothing. This was it. I was really committing to this idea of camping. I hadn't been camping in over a year and I struggle with anxiety around the idea of camping - especially amidst hundreds of people and multiple stages of music. I wouldn't say that I freaked out, but I definitely had moments of anxiety. I did what I always do in moments of anxiety - I disappeared into the tent and retreated from the crowd. It helped. I slept and I eagerly awaited the next day.
The Thursday night Trevor and I had discovered this little nook with a sign that said Be Kinky and we laughed. We wandered down and found a single hammock surrounded by trees. It wasn't visible from the main stage and it was secluded and amazing.
The next morning I woke up around 10. Trevor had started on his volunteer shift from 9-3, so I woke up, did my makeup (this was the first and only day I bothered) and got dressed and headed to the main stage for a coffee. I wandered up the hill and saw Trevor and another volunteer Diego right by the fence. I asked what they were doing and they said setting up hammocks. No way. I grabbed my coffee and headed down to where the single hammock was and saw them setting up more - awesome! All told by the time the project was done there was about eight or nine hammocks set up in this little grove. One of the volunteer supervisors came by and said he really wanted to paint the walls going down to it. We'd started calling it Hammock City, so I followed him and grabbed a tray of paints, rollers, and brushes. While the boys set up the hammocks I painted the walls.
Behold, Hammock City!
Music was playing on the main stage, on the Valley Stage. There was music everywhere. Right near our newly-created Hammock City stood a large teepee, the Wishing Tent.
I was intrigued. I had to go take a wander inside. The sign outside the door said no shoes, so I took off my shoes and I walked inside. I felt like I was inside a different world completely. The music was still playing but I couldn't register it. There was an atmosphere inside the tent that existed solely within its walls. I was transfixed and I was solitary, standing between the wishes of strangers and probable friends. I started reading and was overcome with a plethora of emotion. I picked up the pen and a piece of paper and wondered to myself what I had to wish for. I stood for a few moments and my mind drew a blank. I filled an entire piece of paper explaining that I wished I hadn't spent so much time regretting in my life, regrets about my anxieties. I wished for things to always stay the same, whether they be good or bad. I placed my wish on the wall and I walked away from the Wishing Tent, full of mixed emotion and a sense of change. It was a beautiful experience.
I stayed in Hammock City until one of my best friends Ghosty was going to play on the Stump and Stone stage at 3:30. I ran to the Stump and Stone stage and danced my ASS off with my best friends in the front row.
After Ghosty I stuck around the Stump and Stone stage to catch Band of Rascals. It was my third time seeing them perform, and I've gotta say they've officially become one of my favorite bands. I fucking LOVE Band of Rascals, these guys have amazing stage presence and wonderful energy and their sound is so solid and unique. Even though it was pouring rain, the stage filled up and the energy of the band amplified the crowd - people were going crazy despite the rain. Of course I bought their CD, and you can find them on Spotify and purchase their album on iTunes. Here's Held in Thought, my absolute favorite song by these guys.
I have to admit that by this time the festival atmosphere was starting to get to me. It was raining, I was tired. It's hard to get a good nights sleep when the party is going on all around you. Again I retreated to the tent for some well-deserved rest and crawled out once again when Current Swell hit the main stage at 10:30. Current Swell is such an amazing band to see live. The stage was packed, everybody from the festival dropped what they were doing to go see these kickass headliners and they provided an atmosphere that made me feel right at home. I watched the crowd and felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself. It was so beautiful.
Eventually my exhaustion caught the best of me and I headed back to the tent for a night of what I thought would be good rest. Wrong! I forgot, I'm at a music festival. Stages go until 3, 4, 5AM, and start at 10AM. Oh well, that's what coffee's for ... right?
Around noon on Saturday I decided to crawl out of bed. Screw makeup, coffee. I found my roommate finally! She'd made it up the night before but of course among hundreds of people I wasn't able to find her. But I finally found her! We grabbed coffee and decided to wander about the campsites in the light of day, exploring and finding friends. I walked around with this sad but relieved feeling - it was the last day of the festival. In some ways I wasn't ready for it to end, and in others I was completely exhausted. In the end the exhaustion won around 2PM and I headed back to the tent but the noise followed me and I couldn't sleep, I couldn't relax. My head started pounding. I made the trek down the mountain to my car and pulled a blanket over me and charged my phone. My head was truly killing me and I had a bit of a "duh, whoops" moment when I realized that even despite the rain I wasn't properly hydrated. All I had drank for two days was coffee. So I pulled out a water bottle and started chugging. Eventually I felt well enough to go back up. I couldn't miss Kytami performing at 5PM at the Stump and Stone stage. Headache or no headache, I could not miss this show.
The first time I saw Kytami perform was at Rifflandia of last year. One of my friends Deriek from Spaceboots was performing with her then and it was his first performance with her. In the months since Rifflandia, Deriek, Kytami, and Phonik Ops have gone on to do countless performances around Canada and the US and have just killed it. The Tall Tree performance was no exception. I don't know where she gets her energy from, but this girl kills it, every time. At the end of their set Kytami and another violinist had an unrehearsed 'violin-off' that amazed and stunned the crowd.
I was exhausted and I felt ... musically complete. Is that a thing? It's now a thing. I still had Hollerado to watch at 8:15 and Mother Mother to close the festival at 10:15. I went to rest in the tent and went back down to the main stage to go see Hollerado. About halfway through their set it finally kicked in that I was literally festivaled out. THAT is a real thing.
I relied on coffee and my sense of adventure to get me through the weekend but I had actually had enough. I was still having fun and loving the atmosphere but it finally had gotten to me. I went to the tent and I stayed in there even through Mother Mother's set. I could still hear the music perfectly and I knew the crowd was going nuts. I was content to listen to it through tent walls.
Near the end of their set, the band started speaking and I can't remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of being proud of yourself, your bravery, and your courage. "You climbed a mountain," was the line that stuck in my head and brought me near to tears.
Maybe I didn't spend as much time out and about as I had anticipated. Maybe I hadn't taken enough photos, or had taken too many. Maybe I had felt anxiety and exhaustion. But I did it. I fucking did it. I realized I had climbed not one mountain, but two. I had climbed the physical mountain that the music festival was on, and the mountain that exists inside my head every day - anxiety. I had done this sober, surrounded by the people I love and the people who love me. I had seen some of my best friends perform and felt pride and awe. I had experienced beautiful and spiritual revelations. I had spent the weekend in nature and just going with the flow. I learned that you don't always need a plan, and sometimes things happen out of your control. I had remembered to take care of myself first and foremost and show myself the love that I had needed. I had genuine and authentic fun.
I conquered Tall Tree.
I conquered my fears.
When the festival lineup was announced in April I had thought to myself, "I need to be a part of this, I need to go," but the voice called anxiety in the back of my head asked me, "Wait, can you really go? Can you really camp? Can you really spend all that time surrounded by strangers? And finally, can you actually do this sober?"
Screw you, anxiety! I did! And I can do it again!
Tall Tree 2016, thank you for the memories. Coming down off of that mountain meant coming back into reality, into real life. It wasn't until I hit Sooke that I realized I was back in the land of the living, reception, my phone started going off with messages, traffic lights, WiFi, pavement, electricity. The music still flowed through my veins, and even today, it still does. Coming down from Tall Tree feels like coming down from a drug trip, but I will remember everything.
Tall Tree 2017, I'm coming for you, again.