Life Lessons from ACL Music Festival

Clouds like music, too.

As any of my Instagram followers are all too aware of, I spent this weekend at Austin City Limits music festival. This post is about the life lessons that can be found at music festivals but can be applied to everyday life, insecurities, bad moods and anxieties.

Choose Your Stage

ACL has quite a few stages and they do a good job of balancing it out so that you can hear the group you are watching. Sometimes, like when Steve Earle went on, other bands like Bassnectar seemed to have more than their fair share of sound space, but that’s all right. When you walk around between stages, there are times that you can hear more than one band at once.

During some of those times, you are thinking, “Where should I go?” Maybe you don’t know any of the bands enough to make a choice based on the past, so you have to just go with what you feel.

That is an awful lot like feeling various moods starting to happen and realizing that you have to make a choice, isn’t it? If you’re like me, you can sometimes feel the little tingle of a bad mood or fit of grouchiness long before it gets a stronghold. You probably see some signs. The slight overreaction to stubbing your toe, the scowl on your face when you realize that it’s too humid for your liking. Whatever it is, you have a sign.

That’s sort of like hearing the strong bass of a song nearby, and wondering if perhaps you’d like to go join the people there. Maybe at the same time, there is a mellow bluegrass jam happening in the other direction. In terms of moods, that would be like noticing that even though you sense the bad mood, you also see the dog’s smiling face, the sunshine amidst the mugginess, the feeling of the ground, anything that is not the grouch-mood.

You can walk towards one song or the other based on what you feelย  in the moment, which is little bits of both. If you acknowledge the existence of multiple stages, multiple moods and feelings, then you at least have a bit more of a choice, even if you can still hear little bits of Bassnectar when you are really focusing on Steve Earle.

The Things You Don’t See

At a music festival, there is plenty that you don’t see.ย  Our neighbor gave us wrist bands that got us into certain backstage areas, so we got to see things from different angles than most. During one of the smaller bands, I spotted a girl doing Yoga in the safe darkness under the stage.

Some wires going into the ground.

I’m sure nobody on the other side of the stage thought about her existence or even considered it. If you asked them, “Hey, do you think there’s a girl doing Yoga under the stage right now?” They probably wouldn’t doubt you too much, but it would just be something they never even considered.

I wonder how many things like that are happening at this very moment. There’s always something unseen, unthought of, undreampt. Does anyone else find that to be comforting?

What Does The Downpour Feel Like?

During a band called the Big Gigantic, there was a rain storm. Since I don’t have a good phone case, I don’t have pictures; but the crowd was wild and we were in the middle of it. It was surreal to see people getting extremely happy during the downpour. Maybe next time an intense mood or bout of anxiety happens, I can enjoy the intensity of it, the sheer power of it, rather than judging it as “bad” or “good”.

Standing in the rain and not being afraid of it or running away from it was incredibly fulfilling. Feeling it on my face, my hair, soaking my clothes, getting all over my stuff; there was simply nothing that could be done. The rain simply felt wonderful in that moment because it was clean, new, wet, alive. There were people, there was music, there was a sky and a ground and things were just lovely because they were there.

Comparisons Don’t Work; Leave Room For Being Surprised

This may just be my brain, but when I’m in a group of people and feeling some anxiety, sometimes the comparison-function starts to kick in.

This was the first big festival I’ve been to in many years, and I’m almost 30. Since most of the crowd seemed to be made of attractive young people, my brain started beating me up rather quickly.

For awhile, my self-esteem sank to the very ground that everyone was trampling. I’ll never be as in shape as these people, I’ll never have awesome shiny hair like these people, I’ll never get to be young again, yada yada yada. It took awhile for me to seriously put a halt to all that nonsense.

A new friend brought us up to a platform on the side of the stage. It gave me a perspective that was hard to come by in such a literal sense in that crowd, but easy to come by metaphorically during other times, like right now. I think it’s called “taking a step back.”

Enjoying a beer and waiting for the Chili Peppers

I looked at those people and started to realize that maybe things weren’t so bad for me and my aging self. Maybe there were benefits to getting older, to having experience, to not being 15 and hormonally insane.

The crowd stretched farther than a picture could capture. There were people excited to be in the front, happy to be in the back, and happy to be behind the stage, watching the show on a TV screen around a circular open bar. I watched through the sides of the stage, watching the crowd going mad over the music. I was happy to be where I was, and everything somehow worked. Like a giant puzzle. Everyone brought their own little piece, and no two bodies were occupying the same spot at the same time. It all worked and everyone was different, with their own beauty and their own grace. It felt so clear; we were all in this together.


My Intentions
I would like to always leave a little room for my mind to be surprised by what is happening. I’d like to have fewer expectations and comparisons and gracefully step up into the older years of my life without fighting them, because they are coming for me anyway. And I would like to never forget that. I may not get to be a teenager again, but I can watch the youth of today having fun just like I can watch the Chili Peppers crowd dancing and jumping while I enjoy the whole thing from a different vantage point.

I can look at the same mood or mindset differently, experiencing the intensity like a rainfall during a wild song, feeling it as exciting instead of scary or uncomfortable. Life is happening always; might as well experience as many stages as possible and from many angles while I still can.

How About You?

How about you guys, have you gone to many music festivals lately? Do you feel like you can pick between moods like different stages, or is it more like you are in one crowd and the band keeps changing on you?

Do you feel like your brain compares you to others too much, not enough, or just enough?

When’s the last time you felt a real raindrop falling on your face?


23 thoughts on “Life Lessons from ACL Music Festival

  1. I dunno about ACL, I have seen the lineups get worse and the price tickets get higher. I am a pretty picky person, though and most music festivals are not to my liking. Yeah, I may just be a grumpy old broad.

    • Haha I agree. This was my first one, and the only people I was really excited to see were Neil Young and Steve Earle. I did find that some of the other artists were fun, like Lera Lynn and LP. I remember being young and going to Warped tour, being super excited about every single band; it’s almost nice to be less excited because it leaves more room to be pleasantly surprised, but I do wish tickets were a little less. It’s rather insane how much they are charging.

  2. I’m like you. I’ve never been to a huge festival, except Woodford Folk Festival which is more of a family festival anyway. I love your observations and that you have though philosophically about being at a music festival! By the way you are one of my nominations for One Lovely Blog Award. Read more on Heart Mama. X

    • I am looking forward to the next folk festival that comes through Austin. I don’t know when it will be…but I’m sure it will happen! This was definitely a mainstream type..but a bluegrass one would be much more up my alley. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I am so appreciative of the award! I am thinking of trying to find a way to integrate them into my Facebook page more than my blog page, since I have been declining them here for various reasons..but an award from you is most touching! I am trying to find a way to integrate them..but I am truly, truly grateful and very happy for Eve’s sweet arrival ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I think that a lot of people sometimes feel the same insecurity that you did; they could have looked at you and thought, I’ll never have boobs that big or dreads that amazing. That they will never be as wise and humble as you are. Perspective is an amazing thing. I love that you found your puzzle piece spot.

    Perhaps comparing ourselves to others helps us realize what we can make changes in our lives to become a better person; the person who we want to be. Aside from gaining youth, of course ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You are too cute.
      I’m sure there is some nice evolutionary purpose to comparisons, and they are sometimes totally useful in tiny bits. If there was a food pyramid for emotions, they’d occupy the top little part where sugars are. “Comparisons: Use Sparingly” it would say.
      Cuz all they do is spike your mood with insatiability and wear out your pancreas, man. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jennifer, I love your eyes and what they see. Or better, how they see. I’m 53. I’ve been to concerts, but never to a festival like this. And after a bout with cancer and chemo this past year, I would say the BS of comparing myself with others is pretty much out of my system – replaced with deepening appreciation for the subtle differences and hues I witness in others all around me in the never ending festival that is life. And there is always a girl doing yoga under the stage…or fiddling on the roof. And for this I am most thankful. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I have thought about your comment a lot since reading it. That BS arises in me during some times more than others.
      I really want to tattoo the phrase “deepening appreciation for the subtle differences and hues I witness in others all around me” into my brainspace. That is such a lovely and honest and valuable way to see things. I am trying to adopt that mindset more and more, thank you for reminding me of the real way of things and life. The more I take it for granted and forget completely about my own impermanence, the more BS has room to slip in.
      Thank you for reminding me of gratitude and humbleness. I hope your day is lovely!

    • Haha I’m so glad you like it! The one that is sticking with me best is the picking a stage one. Sometimes I use it to hear the birds over the traffic as I walk, or to tune into a more useful thought process over whichever other one is happening at the same time…it has been fun!

  5. I am thirty-five. I’ll never be young again, never have that youthful litheness that comes naturally to the pretty girls in their early twenties. It seems like a lot lose … except that what replaces it is much more valuable. There is a greater sense of calm, a lot less mental space taken up by comparisons, and a lot more acceptance – of myself and others. The thirties are magical. I wouldn’t trade anything about the last five years of emotional and metaphysical growth. I wouldn’t even trade for that bikini body I was too shy to show off when I was twenty!

    Thanks for sharing your ACL experience!

    And the last time I felt a real rain drop was one morning last week, when we were walking the dogs before the sun came up.


  6. Very interesting post.
    In regards to your second question and one of the main ideologies within your post, I do not compare myself to others and I think your post did at one point begin to go into the negative sense that I once felt back when I was going through adolescence. I used to compare myself to others, yes, and when I realised that some people I compared myself to were better at me at certain things and not so good at others I simply realised that I am me and that ain’t gonna change. One person is different from others and that is what makes them unique.
    I know who I am physically, and although I may on occasion have an issue with something or other I know that I am going to have to live with it. Embrace everything – your positives features along with your flaws and make them your own, for nobody else will.
    On another note, I actually want to be older, but I think that is one thing that many people my age want. With age comes recognition, maturity and other great advantageously beneficial qualities that are denied to people when they are younger.
    In regards to the raindrop question – I live in Melbourne. People who live here do not ever feel a ‘raindrop’ falling upon their face – no, we feel raindrops – thousands of ’em. Really wish they’d stop actually…

  7. I love your description of feeling the rain on your face. Living in the Pacific Northwest you come to realize that if you refuse to go out in the rain, you sit inside a lot. I love hiking, backpacking, rowing, kayaking, and anything outdoors so feeling rain pour down on me is a regular occurance. But it is not an unwelcome one. There is something innocent about being in the rain, something reminescent of a simplier time when worry, apprehension, and inhibition seem like distant memories. Being in the rain gives me something few other things can: hope. Thanks Jennifer.

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