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Melting Down 2010
What is Melt Down?
Melt Down is an Annual festival held in Darrington, Washington each August. It celebrates west coast music in the beautiful foot hills of the Cascade Mountains. This is my first experience at Melt Down, at a festival, and for the first time, living for me.
The gates opened just as the evening started at five, and within only arriving an hour later, most of any decent camping spots were taken. Hammocks were stealthily hidden in trees, artfully painted vans produced canopies which acted as the base of their open-aired housing set up. Due to the forest fires just over the mountains to the east, the air was muggy and hazy, causing many sticky hippies and ravers. Shouts of excitement bounced between trees – oh yes – it is 2010 Summer Meltdown.
This event is held every year in the Darington area of Washington state, surrounded by tall trees and even a river to enjoy against the heat of mid-August.
In the general camping area I chose, not one but two mini stages had been built for the music to continue on after the main stage and even later Tent had finished. A neon orange double-tetrahedron had been constructed and hung to the side of the road, and the local honey bucket had even been decked out in next to glowing hazard tape. All around black lights were attached to trees, waiting for night to fall. Indeed, I was in the right place.
Thursday was mainly set up for those who were volunteering to get a pre-party in before the scene became it's absolute craziest. Excellent bands such as Flow Motion, EOTO, and Acorn Project were what kicked off the beginning of the festival. As the sun sank, parents began evacuating their children from the play area for bed, and with a couple words of apology for the delay from EOTO, the dance area accumulated as drops of water do, to become a rolling sea. Energy was high, and I was stuck in the middle of it, feeding off the electric currents riveting through the crowd, receiving hugs from strangers at random intervals.
Dance! Dance! Dance!
As Acorn Project, a funk band local to Bellingham, Washington, were winding to their finish, the other two stages of my camping area became occupied, allowing me in my inebriated state a little confusion as to which band I was listening to, or if there were two on the go at all. Gaggles of people on anything and everything waved through the little lane on which I was camped, all shouting “Fuck yeah! Summer Meltdown!” until the morning broke free.
For what may or may not have been hours, I lay in my tent in the dark, watching the blades of grass just outside. A slight breeze ran through them, and I just observed the way the shadows from the flashlights weaved between each blade of grass, the small green matter dance vaguely in the night air. Finally, I desired to feel it, to run my fingers through the collecting dew, feel life between my fingers. I reached out, and gasped, which was quickly followed by a giggle. My hand met nothing but tarp, the tarp that was lining the floor of my tent, and a realized I was not feeling or witnessing grass at all, or at least, not soberly. It wasn't until much later that I realized there wasn't even grass outside my tent, just gravel and moss.
My first morning at Meltdown, the air was cool and threatening overcast for the day. I could hear parents readying their children for the day, and as I wandered from my tent, I felt I was the only kid my age without children that was up. B-lining for the coffee stand, I was served by baristas who were delightfully chipper, and doing their best to raise the bleary-eyed festivalers' energy at eight in the morning by dancing around and starting Meltdown chants. My hat goes off to them, though I'm sure I'd be that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed if I were working in a coffee stand. But then again, I would also be drinking all the profits.
As more trickled toward the coffee stand, instruments were brought, and the gathering crowed serenaded by acoustic sound-candy. A few danced to the rhythm and suddenly the cold I-wish-I-was-still-in-asleep morning became a thing of beauty. I could feel the chi of the Universe that was tumbling down like a cosmic waterfall and I was having my morning shower right there on the pavement. Through the slight mist of the acquiring morning, the evergreens green sharpened, pricking the gray sky – and I was surrounded by these glorious creatures!
Bands began to set up, and children were accumulating just to the left of the stage, where bubble stations were set up, and they ran around with their bubble wands, creating floating orbs of various sizes. One bubble, the large wobbly looking sort that want to go every which way (though knows that if it does try, it will inevitably die via bursting), trying desperately to maintain, drifted higher and swept across the stage area, and lingered momentarily in the center before making its way to the river to play. Delight.
Day one, complete.
The Second Day
After my camping buddy and close friend, Jordan, arrived, we managed to stealthily finagle our friend in with “ninja magic”, or rather, he sneaked himself in - we just acquired the pink bracelet which disguised him as a ticket-buyer. Shortly after, a guy recruited the three of us to smuggle his dog in. I was unaware of the mission – I was under the impression we were just going to meet said dog.
When we arrived at the recruiter's van, the friendliest pit-bull greeted us with wiggling licks and wags, but obediently stayed in the vehicle until her master was ready for her. Said recruiter pulled out what looked like a doggy push-chair, and had her – Petunia – lay down as he proceeded to put a board over the top, lay a blanket over and arrange the cart to appear as if it were nothing more than a load of camping gear. The main problem was the persistence of Petunia's tail poking out the back and wagging. Twenty yards from security, she poked her head out the side and while our friend and Recruiter jumped to the task of concealing the gleeful head, Jordan and I walked on, separating ourselves from the threat of getting thrown out. By the time we were some fifty yards from danger, we peaked back and were amazed that dog, friend and Recruiter were on the fun side of the gate. They had made it. Ninja Magic.
Such high levels of silly stress required soothing tranquil sounds of the river, which I had yet to visit. The path down was rich with green, and thick, lush moss covered the trees like a warm, suffocating blanket. Without even having to be involved in any substances which might alter my perception, I felt lost in a fantasy world where gnomes or fairies were giggling at the dumb humans behind coated trees.
The river bank itself held its own charm. The mouth of the trail opened to a gray surface through which the water carved, and the shore was speckled with stacked zen rock towers, offerings to the land. There were hundreds. People swam through the chilled water to reach protruding boulders on which to create their own rock towers. The zen abundance inspired me to create my own, though it was incredibly mini, and knocked over within minutes. Well worth it.
As night fell, the anticipation and excitement was becoming electric in the air, and the gathering toward the main stage began; the Presidents of the United States of America were about to appear.
“We are the real Presidents of the the real United States of America!” they declared. If music was our leader – the vibrations and emotions which it stirs could make the world, the country, the state, the individual, far more beautiful.
Their set filled the space until well after midnight, wile they played around with “Dune Buggy”, “Kitty”, “Video Killed the Radio Star”, and of course their very own famous “Peaches”. We, the audience, so entranced by their vibrations, jumped, sang, waved, shouted, crouched and wiggled upon their command. Oh the power the musician doth hold.
After their set and their en cour set, and their “pee-pee in the potty” break, the main stage and beer garden stages were shut down, and we wandered toward the source of the laser show which scribed against the towering trees. It wasn't difficult for us to become “stuck” under the lasers, laying down on the bear earth in the dark to watch green sparkling jets of light dance over our faces. Jugglers with glowing juggling balls gave illusions of multiple arms, while a man with a glowing cage at the end of a stick dangled a large color-changing-balloon-ball above us, then lent us his toy – foolishly, for a little while. Who knew a bunch of lights in the dark could extract so much fun?
Eventually, we broke free of the lights' spell and made our way back to camp, where many randoms came from every direction; voices in the dark to make friends with the other voices.
“Hey you!” the ring leader of our little group shouted to the girl sitting on the bench next to me. “You spilled your giggles! You'd better pick them up! They're everywhere!”
“Oh no!” she exclaimed. Moments later she held her hands out in front of me and said to Ring Leader, “I think I've got them all. I've found all my giggles.”
I swept my hand across hers and exclaimed, “They're mine now! And now they're in my pocket!”
“But-but - “
“Don't worry,” I assured. “I'm only keep them there so they wont' be spilled again. They will be safe with me.”
“Oh good! My pockets are not secure enough for giggle-keeping.”
Eventually the Randoms began to disperse, and my crew decided to “see what Meltdown is up to” at sometime before dawn. I stayed behind for sensibility sake, but soon threw off that gown and went to find my crew. My feet dutifully took me toward the dance tent, the party tent, the main stage, the laser show, the tents in the woods, and all over back again. By the time of my second round it was light out, and I was being blanketed in bubbles I wasn't entirely sure were real. There were so many they couldn't possibly be real. They not once even touched me, and I seemed to glide through them as if in my own bubble-resistant bubble. Thankfully, a friend bumped into me in the bubble forest and assured me they were in fact real.
Finally, I gave up on my search and meandered back to Ring-Leader's camp only to find the crew there, saying they had been waiting for me for ages.
We sat in the dirt, watching the world around us grow lighter and brighter. A woman danced through our camp singing “It Takes Two” and paused at each of us, kissing us each on our third eye before disappearing into the swarm of tents. I regaled my tale of the bubble sea and as I completed my story with, “The world needs to always be a sea of bubbles,” a Random passed by and asked, “Do you want some bubbles?” and gave us a mini-bubble bottle. Manifest!
Our sitting turned to laying in the dirt, and smells of bacon began to waft through the tents, and more randoms began to wander through again. The randoms prompted the giggles, which became a tittering mess along the ground.
Eventually, the idea of nap time became appealing as nine am was swiftly approaching. Three of us crawled onto a mattress in Ring-Leader's van and promptly passed out.
Second day, check.
We woke not two hours later. I woke without even a smidgeon of a voice, but could see the girl whose giggles I “held for safe keeping”. I opened the window to yell at her, but no sound came out. I banged on the window, then finally caught some one to acquire her attention.
“I'm so sorry,” I whispered to her. “But I used all your giggles.”
“That's all right. At least they were put to good use. You seem to have lost your voice. Here, have some of mine.” She flattened her hand in front of her mouth and blew in my direction. I grinned and thanked her. I dozed a few minutes longer before forcing myself up, and discovering I indeed have a voice again! I soon after bumped into the girl, and her voice was not gone, but horse. Oh Universe, you are a tricky being.
Somewhere in the background, Polecat was playing their sound, and I was dancing while breakfast was being made. I began to wander toward their blue-grass noise-making and happened upon a mossy knoll, upon which three hippies slept peacefully without pillows, blanket, tarp or tent.
Saturday became shopping day. Jordan and I meandered around and studied the structure of the beautiful dresses, colorful bags, artful jewelry, feathery head bands, tasty bee pollen, polished pine-cone slices, and general 2010 Summer Meltdown paraphernalia. I was shocked at how decently priced everything was. I bought my Meltdown hoodie at a cheaper price than I would buy a generic hoodie at any other store in the mall or elsewhere. While at the stand I found myself purchasing a Manooghi Hi CD, which had been playing in the background of my shopping. Their beautiful Hindi-singing mixed with electric guitars and fast beats made for an amazingly unique sound which had definitely snatched me.
Then it rained. And rained. And rained. It was a drizzle at its best, and no more than a sprinkling at its worst, but was enough for some festival campers to dissipate, and to soak the innards Jordan and my tent, as well as my clothes which had been strewn about haphazardly. Eventually I gave up caring about the chilled wetness of the weather and sat at the steps of the main stage and watched children and adults attempt to hula-hoop, kids play in the dream net, and the two face-painting stations along side the creativity hut.
Rain or not, the experience of Meltdown was so far beautiful, no matter what the age or the sobriety of the person. I was in a place which I originally perceived to be only about music and getting as fucked up as humanly possible. This perception had now been warped and molded into the realization that this event was where like meet like, where love becomes the goal of the game, and drum circles grow and collect like a light bulb collects moths. Groups roamed about passing out flowers and burning nag champa as gifts for the smiles, and people would thank others simply for existing.
This was not just a music festival. It was a place where those who were too shy to do so normally could let their weird out – wear tails shamelessly, cross-dress, be neon, dance through camp sites of strangers while singing and be offered breakfast in the process. This place, this event, was an outlet for the locked-up.
Dalhi 2 Dublin was the main event Saturday night. I had never heard of them until earlier in the day, at which point it became the buzz word. They played in the beer garden and I was shocked at what I heard. A band from Vancouver, they combined the fiddle with a middle-eastern sound and techno – they even had a sitar! I jumped around so much with them I could barely watch their entire set due to my exhaustion.
The evening slowed to a slower pace, generally hanging out in the dark and munching down on dry foods. A full night's sleep was even acquired – and it had even stopped raining! Good night Meltdown.
The Final Chapter
Sunday everyone seemed to be in recovery. All except Ring-Leader, who bounced around, cooking breakfast of bacon and saltless eggs for anyone and everyone who neared the campsite, all the while holding a bottle of vodka in his hand. Sharing is caring, after all. It was a slow day of clean-up and general meandering. Jordan bartered with the venders, using her tarot card readings as currency. While she was away, a random, far drunker than our breakfast chef strolled into the camp, generally harassing everyone in his highly inebriated manor, until he eventually wandered off. When Jordan had done her bartering duty, she began to paint faces, with a severe limitation of colors. During this time, a random came to the site and said:
“You have to come and see this!”
Reluctantly and with eyes rolling, I meandered around the curve of the lane near the school bus. As I moved further out of earshot, I could hear Ring Leader explaining to the group who remained behind, something about the drunk kid who was in the camp earlier. I knew just where I was meant to be when I saw a gathering crowd of perhaps twenty people, giggling at a pile of trash in a chair.
The trash was the passed out drunk kid.
He had gone from our camp to some one else's and fell in the strangers' chair. For all the junk piled on him, he slumbered peacefully. It didn't take long for him to become a photo-op for the audience and cars – which were stopped as they crept by and asked to honk their horns, though it did little to disturb him. Eventually, after group pictures had been taken, three signs had been displayed (most important of which exclaimed “fuck yeah!”), a fake ass covered his face, and so on, we meandered back to camp.
As Jordan finished her face-painting, the time was drawing near to be gathering our things to go home. Though there was one more night to be had, Jordan and my time at Summer Meltdown was at its end.
I weaved through the lettered lanes, saying my good-byes to those I already knew, giving hugs to new friends made, and even creating new friends along my plight of fair-wells.
I pit-stopped at the main stage, overjoyed by the stilt-walkers I had yet to see. I even took a last moment to dance to Hot Buttered Rum. I've always been a sucker for stringed bands, and for dancing. The two combined was almost too exciting for me.
I arrived at Meltdown having never been to a festival with the exception of Wakestock in North Wales. I expected a mess with music in the background. I expected mud, vomit-slick porta-potties, and cranky hung-over ravers, and an over-priced weekend. What I experienced was – well, yes, a bunch of partying hippies and ravers – but people who were gathering to extend friendship and love with others. People sold their art and were able to express their own individuality.
It was almost a safe haven for those who spend their every day working for their surroundings instead of enjoying themselves. Would I go again? It's likely, though not imperative. Would I bring a tarp next time and not camp on a hill? Damn skippy. Regardless of if my time was enjoyable or not, it was an experience had, with lessons learned as accessories, therefore will always be worth my time.
“All life is precious. From the highest to the lowest, existence is to be respected. If ever blade of grass is charged with the priceless energy of creation itself and matters just as much as every star in the sky, where does that leave us? Do we count for any more or less? Who can say? But what's inarguable is that we count. We matter. We are blessed...and we should act with the dignity and grace that truly blessed beings should always manifest.” - Johnathan Cainer, Aug 12, 2010 Daily Mail