Saturday morning: Soggy muffin
To start the day, I have to be honest and let you all know my partner, Jessie McCann, and I showed up unfashionably early. Doors opened at noon, the first set started at 12:30 p.m. and Jessie and I were in line waiting at 11 a.m. For context, I had been asking all morning to hurry up because I misread an email about timing.
We left separately from all our friends — they wanted to show up at a reasonable time — with only a Costco chocolate muffin, courtesy of the parents who let us stay in their home for the weekend. As we were leaving, they asked us if we’d seen the weather forecast and if we wanted rain jackets, to both of which we answered no.
Once we were at ZONA Fest, an hour early, there was nothing to do but wait in line. Among us were the first people of many to be soaked and uncomfortable on Saturday. My blazer was already sticking to my skin, and the muffin I was still holding was dripping.
Eventually, it was noon, people were being let in and I remembered my muffin was contraband they wouldn't let me bring inside. Originally I had planned to eat it until it got all wet and started dissolving in my hands, so I began to look for a trash can, but there weren't any. With nowhere in sight to throw away my muffin, all I could do was hold my head up high and hope they didn’t notice my criminal smuggling of soaked goods from Costco into their festival.
When it was my turn to go through security, the guard looked at me immediately and told me I couldn’t come in with a muffin. I explained I had no actual desire to eat or even carry this muffin anymore and that there were no trash bags. At this point, I had to pull my first big shot move in my journalism career and flash my media pass, which got a manager security guard to come over in response.
“She has a muffin she’s trying to bring in but she’s press,” the guard said, to which the manager said, “OK, then I’m going to need you two to step aside and call someone inside to come to get you.”
So finally, Jessie and I got inside and because we are both good Samaritans, as well as believers in the honor system, we immediately threw away the muffin.
Saturday afternoon: How to make mud
After getting inside and buying ourselves each a ZONA Fest jacket — honestly, money well spent during our wet desperation — Jessie and I made it to our first set of the day: Pariah Pete, which is like Mariah with a P.
Pariah Pete is a local. I only knew of him through my friend who grew up in Phoenix and met him during a photoshoot years back. She told me Pete was the first person to show her Erykah Badu’s "Mama’s Gun" and it changed her life. I, however, had already listened to "Mama’s Gun," so I wasn’t expecting my life to be changed.
Despite how it may have looked I loved Pete’s set. The guy standing in front of me loved it even more. He was adding ad-libs to everything.
“Oh yeah Pete! OK Pete, I see you! Peeeeeteeee!” just like that the whole set. Another person in front of me was dancing so hard, I overheard a security guard telling someone to watch him because he looked drunk.
Pariah Pete is a hip-hop artist and the only musician within that genre at ZONA Fest so far as either of us knew. His set was vibrant and fun, backed up by an incredible band. I was so mesmerized by Carly Bates on the keyboard during their new song "Sunkissed," I didn’t take my eyes off her until an umbrella enemy at the front blocked my view.
After Pariah Pete, we met with friends who brought my neon pink rain jacket for me. It was an unfortunate color to be wearing the rest of the weekend as a journalist standing in front of the barricade, but it was what I had and better than being wet. Together we walked with every other person at ZONA Fest toward the main stage to see The Garden. After Jessie and I said goodbye, she went in front of the stage to take photos, and I went to the pit.
Right before the start of The Garden’s set was the last time anyone saw green grass at ZONA Fest.
Every mosh pit has its own type of etiquette. The fans at the mosh pit at The Garden didn’t have rhythm, they didn’t have organization, they didn’t even know how to dance, and I had the time of my life with them. As soon as Wyatt and Fletcher Shears began playing the crowd was wild. To explain to you what it was like to be in that mosh pit I’ll say it was similar to going down a Slip ‘N Slide. With my giant pink fluffy jacket, I had no slip resistance whatsoever — wherever I was pushed, that’s where I was going.
I went on slipping n’ sliding until the people standing next to me started to look down. A couple thousand people danced in the rain in a confined space, and we all had to face the consequences. Mud was everywhere. My shoes and socks, covered. There was mud two feet up the bottom of my pants. It wasn’t that we ignored it, there just wasn’t much anyone could do, so the solution to the growing mud problem was “don’t look down.”
At some point during The Garden’s set, Jessie followed a pack of photographers into the mosh, and if you are wondering how the photo people made it from the barricade to the pit, I’m not at liberty to disclose their secrets. I gave Jessie a giant shove which translated to “Hey, how’d it go? Glad to see you down here. Missed you while you were gone!”
The Garden had a 45-minute set, and they performed every second of it. There were backflips and banana peels being thrown between the stage and the audience. None of the fans I saw walking away after the set were disappointed.
If there was ever a moment that would make someone who just watched “Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99” worry, that would have been it. Putting aside the image of mud everywhere, no one should really be making that comparison. ZONA Fest was wild, and then before too long, it was calm again. The few times I saw people fall in the mud or just want out, the crowd was there to help them to the front, and a medical team was somewhere nearby.
Saturday night: All smiles over here
After The Garden, Jessie and I had to make a difficult decision between The Happy Fits, who we met and loved, or TV Girl. In the end, we reached a compromise and split our time between the two bands, which is sometimes just the nature of a festival. Then we met back up again to get food.
Jessie and I used our VIP wristbands to get VIP tacos. For the vendors, being VIP looked slow. Of course, I wasn’t monitoring it the whole day but I never saw the lines for the food trucks in VIP get even half as big as those in general admission.
I should say the VIP tacos really were VIP levels of delicious, and I will also use VIP as many times as I want in this paragraph to reiterate I’m a Very Important Person.
Eventually, it was time for Bleachers to begin their set and for Jessie to cross the fence into the barricade while I went back into the crowd. Originally, I decided I was going to sit this one out. I could watch the show from the back and be OK with that. Wrong. I don’t know what it is that pulls a person to the front, but it was like every pocket of emptiness in front of me was an opportunity to get closer. With the classic “I’m so sorry, my friend is up there, I’m just gonna get right by, thanks,” I was 15 feet away from Jack Antonoff.
Bleachers had a good crowd dancing along to their music despite the rain. With 10 minutes left in their set, I was gone at the press tent waiting for an interview, although I heard the ending was amazing. Maybe because of problems with the rain, the speakers blew out and Jack Antonoff finished the set a capella. Fans went wild, everyone sang along, the crowd went crazy — that’s just what I heard.
To end the day, Bleachers was followed by Beach House. Writing about Beach House, it’s hard to imagine where I should even begin. Everyone was miserable, wanting to go home and still it was the biggest crowd I saw at ZONA Fest. My friend turned to me, holding her boyfriend’s hand to the left of her, and told me she was in love with Victoria Legrand.
Please note, serious credit is deserved to whoever was the gaffer for Beach House. Flashes of light made the band look that much more like mysterious secret agents of amazing music on a keyboard and drums.
After Beach House, thousands of people cleared out of the festival within minutes. My friends and I washed our shoes off in a pond on the sidewalk out of respect for the car we drove home in and finally made it back to get dry for the first time since 10:59 a.m.
Sunday: I can’t believe it’s over
“I am a complex, fascinating human being with a wide range of emotions, experiences and thoughts. There is more to my identity than one feeling or another. I can value all of my feelings without allowing them to contradict my actions.”
I started Sunday with a passage from a self-help book my mom gave me at Thanksgiving, because I kind of needed it. The Dec. 4 passage couldn’t have been more accurate to the way I’d been feeling. Saturday I was tired, uncomfortable, wanting to go home and at the same time incredibly grateful to be surrounded by amazing music and people. Every emotion was tense, overwhelming and temporary. It sounds like a lot for a music festival, but let me tell you, Saturday was a lot.
For every five things I could say about Saturday, I have one to say about Sunday, mainly because being dry cut the amount of drama in half. Sunday was all about the music, and everyone from the fans to the musicians felt it too.
Our first set of the day was The Red Pears, and after seeing the long line of fans waiting to talk with them, we felt incredibly lucky to have an interview already scheduled for later. If The Lumberjack could offer an award for biggest sweethearts of the festival, they would be a serious contender. The Red Pears said the best part of playing festivals instead of house shows was that the police won’t shut things down, and as two college kids, Jessie and I agreed wholeheartedly.
After The Red Pears, Jessie and I both went to work — she went to photograph The Regrettes and I spoke with Taylor, the lead singer of UPSAHL. Taylor Upsahl grew up in Phoenix and despite becoming popular recently, had a front row stacked with die-hard fans.
Sometime between Upsahl and The Regrettes, Jessie and I stopped to get food and people-watch. The outfits at ZONA Festival day two were a cross between insanely cute clothes that had been planned months in advance and people who experienced the rain on day one. My outfit was closer to the second option with a long sleeve shirt and the same pair of shoes as yesterday as to not ruin another pair in the mud.
By Sunday, the mud had traveled from the main stage, via the bottom of everyone’s shoes, and expanded to the entire festival. You wanted to walk to the bathroom? Stomp, slush, stomp, slush, bathroom. You wanted to walk to another set? Stomp, slush, stomp, slush, set. It didn’t matter if a seven-foot man with the world’s largest umbrella stood in front of you, sometimes you were better off just staying where you were.
The amazingly talented Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast was our last set of the day. Powers of the parking lords which were out of our control forced us to leave before we got to see Portugal. The Man.
On the ride back, classical music was playing on the radio, and I don’t think any of us had the energy to turn it off. Jessie took a nap, and I stared directly forward from the middle seat. Occasionally, I heard a muffled video from someone’s phone replaying one of the moments we had lived over the weekend, usually a clip from Beach House.
Music festivals are a society of their own, and once they're done, it takes a minute to adjust. The only thing I heard anyone say on the way home was “I can’t believe it’s over.”
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