On Community, Nostalgia, and Attending Furnace Fest

The last time that Furnace Fest happened at the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, I was thirteen and music festivals weren’t even on my radar, let alone any band on the 2003 line-up. As I sit here eighteen years later, it’s hard to chart the trajectory of how the 2020 (er, 2021*, you know why) reincarnation of Furnace Fest came to embody every aspect of my life in the interim years, but I’m going to try and do my best to explain what that weekend meant to me.

It is almost a week after the event and I still haven’t gained my voice back, my neck throbs, and my lower back is coiled tight. My feet hurt, my legs are sore, and I’m a little sunburnt. I am definitely not eighteen anymore. Every second was worth it. Copeland wrote about love on 2014’s masterpiece Ixora saying, “I can make you feel young again,” and there is no time machine like a set list full of songs you love from your youth.

My buddy sent me a screenshot of the Furnace Fest line-up the day it was released in March and I assumed it was fake. I mean, look at it. One-time reunions of old favorites, first time opportunities for bands I’d been listening to since discovering these genres of music at 14. Even after attending two of the three days of the festival, numerous line-up drops and even more band additions, it doesn’t feel quite real looking at it or the final line-up. We made plans to go and I used my last remaining Biden Bucks set aside to have fun to purchase a two-day pass: Friday and Saturday were can’t miss days for me. A couple of artist announcements down the line and I bumped my ticket up to the full weekend, including a Thursday night pre-show.

I didn’t know what attending a music festival during (what at the time felt like the tail-end of) a pandemic would be like, but I knew that I needed live music, the vaccines were rolling out at light speed, and for my mental health alone buying the ticket was worth the risk.

After attending Thrice’s Vheissu anniversary tour early on in 2020, I proceeded to have four concerts canceled and refunded for all the well-documented reasons we’ve lived through together as a planet. A particularly rude TikTok recently told me that trauma isn’t just the bad things that happened, but also the knowledge of the good things that didn’t. Not entirely sure how data-based that is, but after the last year of canceled vacations—I literally had plans to swim with dolphins paid for—and endless arguments, broken friendships, and strained family relationships over a deadly disease, a social movement, and an election…it rings true to me. In a year of encouraged isolation and social distancing, I had never been more alone even in my safest bubbles.

Fast-forward through a Delta-variant surging summer, mask mandates rescinded and reinstated, and all I could hear in my head was Taylor Swift singing “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.” But then a little good news trickled in from Lollapalooza: out of nearly 400,000 attendees, of which over 88% were vaccinated and the remaining had to have a time-sensitive negative test, only 203 tested positive for the virus. Festivals all across the nation embraced these entrance policies and plowed full-steam ahead, Furnace Fest among them. I felt like I could breathe: I was getting live music back.

The Pre-Show: Thursday

As the festival crept closer, two pre-shows were announced: Zao or Norma Jean, and a host of other similar bands supporting both. Between these two, it was an easy selection for me: Norma Jean, always. Not only was their incredibly overlooked 2019 album “All Hail” my album of the year that year, they’d continuously been one of my favorite heavy bands releasing genre-pushing monsters since their inception.

A few weeks later, Emery announced “Labeled Fest” with Hopesfall, As Cities Burn, and Terminal. I instantly felt like I’d made a mistake, but I stuck with Norma Jean as I would be able to catch those four bands during the actual festival.

Then I learned (most likely) the reason why Norma Jean was not playing the main festival despite being integral to the history of the event: the lead singer is, at best, an extremely misguided MAGA-ite… you get the picture from there. Every Time I Die, amongst others, have refused to ever share an event or stage with Norma Jean again because of comments he made during the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. Or, rather, I didn’t know how to walk it out. Being an adult is messy. I’m a white adult in the Deep South who marched in local Black Lives Matter rallies while family members mocked the cause around the dinner table. I attended a city wide Juneteenth celebration while coworkers “worried about my safety.” I knew where I stood politically. I knew that the hours I spent reading The New Jim Crow or The Color of Law (among many, many others) had changed how I viewed the country I called my own, our history, and how we should shape the future for a more equitable and equal society.

But, and as I type this out it sounds childish, I’d also already spent the money, couldn’t get it back, and wondered what those songs that have meant so much to me for the last decade and a half would sound like where I am today. Just because something has broken your heart doesn’t mean it’s easy to let go of. It feels far more human to admit that I still wanted to scream along to “Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste” in a crowd of hundreds after the last year’s anguish than to try and pretend like my newfound knowledge made me able to just drop over half a life’s worth of memories.

Earlier in the week before leaving for the festival, I texted some of my closest friends: “Weird thing to say, but… I would honestly never take my own life, but lately, most days I just don’t really feel much like living anymore.” At some point, between the 2016 and 2020 elections and the COVID-19 pandemic in all its facets, I couldn’t deny the truth anymore: I’m just a broken guy, more alone than not even when surrounded by those I love most, who was tired of having things that mattered deeply to him being taken away, no matter how valid the reason.

So when I woke up last Thursday morning, I still didn’t know if I was going to the concert. I’m related to and work with more people that think like their singer than think like me. I’ve had friends abandon me because I don’t think that way. When it comes to these comments, this way of thinking really stands out because of how unlike the rest of the community his views lie. But he does represent the community I live and work and love in every day. Those songs and albums still represent some part of my past.

There’s part of me that needs to believe that I can meet my closest people somewhere on my side of the middle, just to have a little bit of influence. I know how selfish and “I’m right, you’re wrong” that statement comes across…but people’s lives are at stake. My faith and my conscience demand of me to stand in the places I’ve chosen to stand. I can think of no better selfish cause. And after all the times that music has saved my life, even a silly metalcore song like “A Grand Scene for a Color Film” or an album called Meridional, it felt like Norma Jean might deserve that chance, too. After all, I didn’t exactly think he would have the crowd chanting “Make America Great Again” or “Blue Lives Matter.” We may have been in Birmingham, Alabama, but we were all still hardcore kids.

Being a fan requires you to figure out where your line of “separating the art from the artist” lies. I’ve found that every case seems to have a different answer and that it always falls short for some people and always goes too far for others. I feel like I get it wrong more than I get it right, but it is never anything that goes without serious thought on my part.

Two hours into my drive to Birmingham and I still hadn’t made up my mind; so fate, destiny, God—whichever concept you’re most comfortable with, I tend to land on God—made the decision for me. I got on the road almost an hour late due to work and my chickens, so I offered the ticket for free to someone who could go. Upon arrival at my hotel, I looked at my watch and realized I could have probably made it just for their set. But after a thirty-minute line to check in to my hotel, I found out that despite my reservation, I no longer had a room for the weekend. A couple hours and a couple hundred dollars later, I was eating some of the worst fast food fries I’d ever had, and suddenly doubted even coming to the festival. A slew of events that left me wanting to be screaming at a concert.

I think, had the timing worked out, I would have gone. I looked up the setlist: “Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste” was right there as the encore, as I knew it would be. I think going forward that I couldn’t spend money with a clean conscience, not without a public and noted change of heart on the BLM issue. But I also know I would’ve really loved unleashing to that song one last time because of the years of memories. And, after all, this was a weekend for nostalgia.

Day One: Friday

When I first attended Cornerstone (FL) and Warped Tour in 2006, I was ravenous with trying to discover as many bands as possible. I was there before doors opened listening to albums on iPods as band members would ask, “So, do you like my band? Wanna buy a CD for $5?” I remember proactively listening to every opener of every tour during those years, scouring the AbsolutePunk tour forum for set lists, and learning as many songs as I possibly could. I wanted to sing and scream along from the first song of the opener to the headliner’s encore.

You know how it is when you’re striving to find a place in the world and you think to yourself, “Finally, this is it. This is home.” The crazy little “emo” “scene” (side-note: these are really the names we ended up with, huh?) of the mid-aughts continues to feel like one of the most misunderstood and magical cultural waves of my lifetime, and I’ve never been happier to be caught up in the currents.

Needless to say, attending a music festival at thirty-one had me reconsidering my gate-busting approach…especially when my first must-see act wasn’t until 3:05pm. Due to the hotel mishap, we had to transfer to a different hotel on the other side of town the morning of the festival. We audibly said things like, “We can get there by 2 to give us time to get lunch beforehand, get through the COVID line, and check out the merch.” And yet, a little after noon and well before we ate anything, my buddy and I were parking. 

After passing through COVID-clearance, we were quickly into the festival itself. I’ve attended Music Midtown in Atlanta, by all accounts a much larger festival, and while extremely fun, it didn’t feel like a shared experience beyond a few precise moments along the way. Almost from the very start of Furnace Fest, you could sense that this festival was going to be something everyone in attendance shared and participated in together. 

Standing in line to purchase a Fest-exclusive variant of Thursday’s Full Collapse, I spoke with two college professors who were attending to (a) see their favorite bands from their college days and (b) talk to people about the aspect of community in relation to the hardcore music scene from fifteen years ago for a research project. The word community stood out to me because of how music has always been about community for me. It was a pretty direct pipeline from discovering bands on Fuse and PureVolume to discovering AbsolutePunk to somehow writing for Chorus now. Every one of those steps was fostered by this community at large.

I’ve always been someone who feels quite alone. Eighty percent of my friends in highschool couldn’t have told you that Thursday is a band, and the percentage has only gotten worse as I’ve moved through high school and into the workforce (drowning). And yet, here I was standing in a line almost an hour long of people invested in Thursday’s music, specifically an album almost old enough to buy alcohol. I had more in common with these strangers than people I spend my daily life with.

In that sense of community, after snagging Full Collapse, I found myself wandering from stage to stage and checking out bands that I’d seen mentioned by friends in my online community. A couple songs from Across Five Aprils and SeeYouSpaceCowboy at a distance, half of an immensely great set from Defeater who have already entered listening rotation now that I’m home, a not-for-me detour by If I Die First as I snagged lunch, and the last song of Narcissus before filing in for that first moment of the weekend that felt for me.

Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest by As Cities Burn is well-documented as my favorite album of all time. About a month out from the festival, they were announced as a surprise addition playing the album in full. You can read my words on the album in the above link, but they felt more true and more real than ever before. 

Even though as we’d watched Defeater I’d turned to my friend and said, “You know, this feels normal. This feels right,” as ACB were playing the indoor stage, I slipped my mask on. A small, subtle reminder that no matter how much music lets me disconnect from the world, things were still very much happening outside of the festival fences. 

From the very first lyric, the place erupted. Voices echoed off the old metal walls matching TJ and Cody word-for-word. You could almost see from their faces that they did not expect such a reaction. The thunderous “Are you the man now?” in the middle of “Bloodsucker, Pt. II” recalled seeing them in 2005 in dank music venues. By the time we were singing “I’d like to think that this is love, lost in second chances without end. This is romance” from the album closer, tears were rolling down my cheeks into my mask. It’s beautiful how quickly singing a song in a crowd can remind you that you’re not alone. Music matters. Music can still save your life.

Judging by the crowd reaction, ACB played far too early in the day. But I personally couldn’t think of a more apt way to truly dive into this weekend. 

My buddy and I switched stages, arriving in time to hear Silent Planet’s last thunderous song before sneaking in for a good spot to see Emery. Since Emery’s triumphant ascent with The Weak’s End and The Question, questionable fan reaction to the under-rated I’m Only A Man, and a return to form on their best album In Shallow Seas We Sail (I said what I said), they have settled into a hard-fought niche where they continue to make (pretty good) music while also indulging the whims of their nostalgia-laden fans. Considering the popularity of their multiple podcasts, their continuous sold out shows in person and online, constant merch, and numerous other ventures…I think they’re doing just fine and what they want. I was still curious what sort of set they’d bring to a festival specifically geared to their early years.

I was not disappointed. Roaring through the fan-favorite cuts from The Weak’s End, The Question, and In Shallow Seas We Sail, one of the largest main stage crowds of the weekend belted along to every song. I even got to see “As Your Voice Fades” for the first time after seventeen years, long my favorite Emery deep cut. By the time “Walls” faded out over the field, my euphoria (and nostalgia) was already at an all-time high.

We caught the rest of Terminal’s set. In the historic roster of Tooth & Nail bands, they were always one I should’ve spent more time with. But to see a group of guys who hadn’t played much music together over the last decade just get so much joy out of being on the stage again with people singing their songs back to them, it brought me a lot of happiness. As a creator myself, even if writing poems and books is quite different from a song, there’s always a craving for acceptance of your art even years later. 

One of the main drawbacks of the weekend was the food situation. We proceeded to stand in line through both Cave In and Terror for the best garlic fries cheesy nachos I’ve ever had. I would have liked to have seen Eighteen Visions over Terror and snuck in some of From Autumn To Ashes before Every Time I Die, but the food line situation/location derailed that. Multiple food truck vendors, I think I read that the number was seven, but it could’ve been more, backed out at the last minute and it showed. However, standing in line through those bands, I let myself people watch. No one was visibly upset at the food line lengths. Everyone was bobbing their head along with the breakdowns (especially for Terror) and laughing at the stage antics. People exchanged stories of who’d they seen, who they were excited for, where they’d come from. 

After dinner, Every Time I Die blasted through eighteen career-spanning songs in fifty-five minutes. It was a monster of a set. I was nine weeks out from a marathon and had done a training run that morning, so I sat down a little ways back and just absorbed the music and the crowd noise to conserve some energy. Even on the ground, I turned to my buddy and said, “they make me just want to run through a wall.” By the time the set got around to “Ebolarama,” I found myself on my feet against my will, bouncing and singing along. 

It should be noted that one of the best moments of the entire festival happened during the ETID set: a guy crowd-surfed in his wheelchair. Keith Buckley lost his mind with joy and euphoria. This was the community I was proud to be a part of. This was the community that meant so much to me in action.

Up next: Thursday. What is there to say about Thursday that hasn’t been said already? In a word: timeless. They’re legends. They have some undefinable aspect in their live show that sets them apart from just about anybody. Not only do they indulge the nostalgia of their fans, but they respect it and play those songs with as much professionalism as possible (this will become a topic of discussion for another band).

“For the Workforce, Drowning” remains as prescient as ever as I’ve settled into meaningless office work over the last two years. Songs from Full Collapse and War All The Time still feel new. As a long time hater of cover songs in reduced-time sets, even them playing a Texas Is The Reason cover (with the guitarist from TITR helping them out on their songs) felt like something worthwhile. Singing into the starless sky felt like those punctuations against the night we sang about.

As much as I would have liked to have seen at least a part of Converge, there was no way I was leaving the Underoath stage as I was in a really good spot.

Friday’s headliners were Underoath. I swear that every time I see them, they’re somehow bigger and more popular than before. We’re fifteen years on from Define The Great Line and what many would call the peak of their popularity, and yet they easily had the largest crowd of the entire weekend on the first night of the entire festival.

While not the biggest fan of their new singles “Damn Excuses” and “Hallelujah,” I am always in for whatever Underoath are doing. It’s the way it’s been my entire fandom. We’re from the same hometown, DTGL saved my life, and they are far and away my most seen live act. As usual, they did not disappoint.

As much as I would have loved to see “Returning Empty Handed” for the simple pleasure of screaming “THIS IS GETTING OLD!” into the universe, it is hard to complain about any fragment of the set. I receive more serotonin from thousands singing the bridge of “It’s Dangerous Business…” than I ever did from Lexapro. 

True to the nostalgia of the festival, Underoath brought out “When The Sun Sleeps” for the first time in seventeen years…and (supposedly) the last time ever. It felt like a celebration of the journey that both Spencer, Aaron, Tim, Chris, Grant, and James had taken since retiring the track and embracing the band as theirs and the journey we had taken as fans with them along the way.

As I drove down the interstate to my hotel afterwards, I could feel the smile tugging my face. I hadn’t felt this way in such a long time; I hadn’t felt like I belonged. I hadn’t felt like, even by singing the words back to them, that I’d been listened to. And it was only day one.

Day Two: Saturday

Similarly to Friday, we checked the schedule for Saturday and marked the first “must-see” act at 2:30pm. We arrived mere minutes after noon. After grabbing a quick lunch and some merch from To Write Love On Her Arms—an organization I will always love since meeting Jamie at that very first Cornerstone event, we listened to an immensely great Evergreen Terrace set to start off our day. They even threw in an amazing cover of “Mad World” that challenged my hate of cover songs. We hopped over to see The Classic Crime, a band I think I would dig so much more now than I did at seventeen and plan to revisit their discography soon to see if that suspicion is true. 

He Is Legend opened the mainstage and I’d been waiting since the first time I heard “I Am Hollywood” in 2004 for this moment. And with the opening chords, that was exactly what I heard. I’ve kept up with He Is Legend’s career enough to know that they don’t particularly care for the I Am Hollywood songs anymore, but I think they knew that the album opener and closer were nothing short of required for this festival. And my inner teenager and outer thirty-something were both ecstatic about it.

While roaring through both “I Am Hollywood” to open and “The Seduction” later in the set, I was struck by how captivated the audience was by the band. Songs that many of us (regretfully) had never spent enough time with blew us away live. I’ve listened to every He Is Legend record once or twice and know that they’re of a high quality, but somehow I never gave them the respect and time they deserved. This was a set that demanded I grow with them past “Hollywood.” 

Afterwards, I cut back across the grounds to watch hopesfall and the first two The Appleseed Cast songs. Both bands mark spots on my journey where I should’ve been bigger fans of the first and I always pretended to be a bigger fan of the second than I actually was. Growing up in an online community of mixed tastes and preferences and as a teenager just wanting a place in the world, I’d pretend to love things I only liked and I’d pretend to dislike things I probably would’ve loved. This is not to say that The Appleseed Cast is not good; they’re phenomenal. I just wish I had discovered them the right way.

I hustled back over to the mainstage to watch Cartel. Damn, Will Pugh can sing better than pretty much everyone else—even after not playing a show for almost four years. Chroma was the album I bought the night my first girlfriend and I broke up in high school. Cycles is one of the most under-rated pop rock albums in the scene. This set was a delight from start to finish, rolling through the hooks, choruses, and feelings of all those years.

Up next: Mae. My first “show” ever was Mae, Circa Survive, and Mute Math. I was fifteen and had to leave two songs into Mae because I was going to miss curfew. Somehow, I went sixteen years without ever seeing them again. Mae were always special to me because I could share them with my friends who didn’t like most of the same music I did and they were a band I shared with my first girlfriend. I didn’t realize how ingrained that first relationship was to my music listening until I heard these songs live and could remember all those nerves of first holding hands or making that first mix CD. 

They were beautiful, if feeling a little disconnected from the rest of the line-up. But they, like Copeland, always seemed to have that niche in this world and I think this world is better for it. The Everglow was one of the first albums I ever fell in love with and the set was heavy with my favorite cuts. Finally singing “Anything” and “Suspension” as the sun began to set just felt right. 

Afterwards, The Bled reunited on the main stage. The Bled were never a band I spent too much time listening to, but they were solid enough while we waited for dinner. Had we not decided for food, I would have probably skipped The Bled entirely to catch pieces of Jeremy Enigk and Deafhaven. Deciding on food turned out to be a mistake. After ordering, we waited ninety minutes before abandoning our orders—still 27 orders away numerically—to watch Anberlin.

While my buddy had waited for our food, I ran across the festival to watch Touché Amore open with “Come Heroine,” my favorite song off Lament, before coming back over to the main area hoping that my dinner would be ready. This is a set I wish hadn’t been placed where it was; I wanted to watch it. I also wanted to watch Beloved at the other side stage at this exact same time. 

The Touché Amore-Beloved-Anberlin conflict was brutal for about 85% of the festival’s attendees and the main complaint I heard when talking to people about choosing who to see on the line-up. And, while I understand why they needed to spread out the crowd, it felt like it had an easy solution: Anberlin should’ve been one slot later and Touché Amore one slot earlier.

At the end of the day, I chose Anberlin over Beloved and the rest of Touché Amore because the last time I saw them I left feeling like I lost one of my favorite bands. After “The Feel Good Drag” went to number one, Anberlin shows felt different. I didn’t like it and I responded in an extremely childish way. I went years not listening to Vital or Lowborn (huge mistake here that I’ve since corrected) even for the first time. A band I loved deserved better and I felt like this was the perfect opportunity; people at this show weren’t going to talk over “Paperthin Hymn.”

I mentioned earlier that Thursday has some indefinable quality in their live show that sets them apart from their peers. Anberlin has it too. As they opened with “Time & Confusion,” much like my first girlfriend’s mix cd, I was swept up in one of the most powerful performances I’d ever witnessed. Every song sounded huge. Stephen Christian sounded like he’s never sung a day in life since the first time we heard his voice. They performed a new song, “Two Graves,” that left me speechless. 

At some point during their set, Stephen motioned to the family of the band besides the stage and to the crowd and said, “It’s important to remember this is what matters. The people.” As I’m almost 5,000 words into this recap and keep coming back to the idea of community, I’m sure you can gather that it’s been haunting my thoughts ever since.

I caught some of Mineral, most of Stretch Arm Strong, and the opening of Further Seems Forever in quick succession before heading back to the main stage to see Saturday’s headliner: Taking Back Sunday. (I know, I know… skipping Glassjaw performing all of Worship & Tribute in order is an offense to most people reading this. I just never got into Glassjaw. Sorry to let you down.)

At the end of TBS’s set, as my buddy and I walked to the car, I said out loud, “I don’t think I could be in Taking Back Sunday. I don’t think I could take knowing that people get annoyed by over half of my art.” I have never been so thoroughly called out by a set, while also having a pretty damn good time. I’ve spent days thinking about the relationship contract between an artist and a fan.

Taking Back Sunday sound better than they ever have… when they wanted to. “Tidal Wave” and “You Can’t Look Back” off the immensely underrated Tidal Wave were some of the tightest performances I saw all week: crisp vocals, energetic band, perfect sound. But the fans didn’t care. I even heard someone say after “Tidal Wave”: “Cool. Now only play old shit.” “Flicker, Fade” barely moved the radar for a well-received single and long-time set stalwarts like “What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?”, “Error: Operator,” and “My Blue Heaven” barely got half of the crowd involved considering they’re on the band’s best-selling album. 

Of course, at a nostalgia-bent fest like this, you can guess what people wanted. They wanted Tell All Your Friends—it even had a festival exclusive vinyl variant (that I also purchased). “A Decade Under The Influence” and “MakeDamnSure” were the only songs that registered like the four TAYF tracks did with the crowd. And I felt for the band. But I was also part of the problem.

The lack of “Set Phasers to Stun,” “Bonus Mosh, Pt. 2,” or “One-Eighty by Summer” put a decisive line in the set. There were the TAYF songs, and there were the rest. “You’re So Last Summer” and “Timberwolves at New Jersey” were the monsters they always are. “You Know How I Do” got some of the loudest sing-a-long chants of the festival. I don’t even think I need to mention how “Cute Without the ‘E’” went over: pandemonium. One of the things I noticed, though, was that the band didn’t play them as tightly. Adam didn’t sing them as whole-heartedly. The crowd was allowed to carry the songs they loved… unlike when Thursday carried the songs we love for us. Maybe I got too in my head and these observations are wrong—people were clearly having a great time around me—but I’ve never been so distracted into thought as I was by this set.

I think Taking Back Sunday are needlessly burdened by the nostalgia that surrounds them at a frenzied level not really attached to many other bands. Adam as a frontman is a drastically different person than he used to be when I first saw them live in 2006. In many ways it feels intentional, separating the stage from the man with this new persona. Many times between songs, though, it felt like it was also separating the band from the crowd as well. Maybe that’s exactly what they need to be creators.

In fact, and this goes back to my point about hating cover songs in short sets, after those four TAYF songs, the best received song of the set was a cover of Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas.” I can only imagine how much it sucks to see a cover go over better than something you spent time, energy, and emotion crafting.

But, when asked, I can’t help but be honest in saying that TAYF and Where You Want To Be are my favorite albums by them. They’re the songs I would want to see live, too. I don’t have an answer, but it’s the first time I’ve ever watched a set and left feeling this way.

And I do want to reiterate: it was a very good set.

Day Three: Sunday

To cut a long story short: I didn’t attend on Sunday. A few weeks before the festival, Copeland announced that they were no longer going to be able to play (“Beneath Medicine Tree” in full) at the festival. That left Showbread playing “No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical” as my only true “must see.” I was experiencing some allergy symptoms (being allergic to both tobacco and marijuana makes being in a crowd at a music festival A Thing), my legs and back were very sore, and I didn’t want to be getting home, at the earliest, just after 2am.

If you’re looking at that day’s line-up and thinking that I’m a moron for only having one “must see,” I’ll own it. I cut my time short, drove home, and made sure I was well-rested and prepared for my 5:45am alarm and work on Monday morning.

I won’t make this same mistake next year.

I wish I had stayed to check out names I’ve known but never listened to in depth like Piebald, Comeback Kid, Face to Face, Hot Water Music, and Turnstile. I wish I had seen those I did know like Showbread, Anthony Green, The Juliana Theory, and The Get Up Kids.

I wish I had stayed and drank a few more too expensive Miller Lites. I wish I had stayed and listened to those of my community sing around me to the songs they love. It feels like a missed opportunity to remember everything that’s good and that makes me feel loved. 

I’ve written just over 5,750 words about a festival that came at the perfect time in my life and I feel like there are just as many unwritten about how much I already need it again. It’s been a long time that I’ve been alone and, even if just for two days, I was reminded that I’ve never really been alone. 

In 2005 I began lurking a community that proudly, hilariously in hindsight, proclaimed that music mends broken hearts. I’ve never been more grateful for that fact than I am right now. I’ve never been more appreciative that I’m still here.

To all the bands that played, thank you for a wonderful time. To all the organizers, volunteers, and workers, thank you for creating an environment that always felt safe, welcoming, and like home… even if it was just a field and an old haunted iron furnace. See you next year… start to finish. If there’s any way that I can be involved, just let me know. And, reader, if you made it this far—I hope to see you there too.