I woke up nervous and groggy. Now, I’m walking down Broadway like it’s my first day of school. I’m even sporting a backpack and a new pair of shoes. Music festivals are always easier to manage with comfortable footwear.
Turning onto 9th, I spot the van, though there’s no sign of the strangers that I’ll be sharing it with for the next seven hours. I know it’s the right van because I’ve seen it before. It‘d be tough for any civilian of this city to miss, hulking around, covered with paintings of pizza slices and nearsighted turtles. There’s a basketball hoop drilled onto the roof, but those actively involved in the local music scene would call it a Rigsketball hoop.
To avoid knocking on strange doors this early in the morning, I circle the block a few times until I see Berg on the front porch. We introduce ourselves. Him, one of the guitarists of And And And; me, the fly on the wall who’ll buzz around them for the next week. A second van pulls up and Bim gets out.
“Should we bring the wizard costume?” Berg asks, not joking.
“I don’t think I can drum in those shoes.” Bim responds as he climbs onto the roof of the van. He tightens the hoop and we start loading our stuff.
On the way out of town, we pick up John, the bassist “which means I’m the quiet brooding one.” The six of us are packed snug into the van with a giant box of Baby Doll’s pizza. There are two other non-band travelers: Jodie, the crucial conversationalist and Drew, who’s documenting the week with photographs. The other band members are driving out separately.
Fifteen minutes outside of Portland, the windshield cracks slightly. There’s a brief pause of panic before everybody returns to their business. Some are reading books, occasionally scrolling through their phones, others are listening attentively to the episode of Radiolab that’s on. It’s the same routine of every band I’ve travelled with, and when you’ve been playing music together for seven or eight years like And And And, you have the routine down.
Now the van starts making funny noises and struggles up every incline. Berg, Bim and John discuss what the issue could be while Jodie locates an auto shop. We cross The Bridge of the Gods, scrambling for toll money and end up in a small Washington town. The band, vehicle savvy, makes a self-diagnoses and fixes the problem themselves. Bim catches us up on lost time in the front. In back, a chain reaction occurs as one by one, everybody falls asleep. After reading for an hour, I do the same.
When I wake, the van is parked off of the highway in a long stretch of nothing. We get out and set up the Rigsketball hoop. I find a large rock, sit and watch, filling in my notes. The band takes turns missing shots, blaming the new van bumper and the hoop’s height. “This rips.” Berg says in a southern drawl as he tosses the ball to Bim, who slam dunks it. This becomes the trip’s mantra as soon as we’re back on the road, the final stretch to Boise.
“We should probably
find a place to stay after we get booted out of the room.” Berg says.
Our group of eight barely fits. Everybody unloads their bags and bottles of liquor. I meet Ryan, the band’s multi-instrumentalist and second guitarist.
“I just bring the vibes.” He jokes, and like adding a fitting punchline, somebody pulls out a mason jar of weed.
We hang out for a few minutes and it becomes clear that nobody has a plan, they just let the week happen. I’m relieved. With only two bands on my radar for the night, I had felt underprepared. Drew and I split and head to the press lounge for our passes, free pizza and donuts. After talking with a few of his friends there, I set out alone.
The streets are dead, and so is my phone. I pass a couple with press passes draped around their necks and ask if they know where Mardi Gras is.
“It’s right up ahead.” One of them points. “That yellow sign. We’ll see you there!”
I wander into the middle of Porches’ set and realize where all of the people are. It’s almost impossible to move through the crowd. The line at the bar doesn’t budge, but I’ve been immobile all day and need to relax. Thirty minutes later, I have a beer in each hand and do just that.
Back at the hotel, I run into John and Ryan. They talk for a bit about the bands that are worth seeing throughout the week, then John and I head to Neurolux and catch up with the rest of And And And. We all hop over to Fatty’s, where they play pool and I make the grave mistake of pointing out the Wednesday special: one dollar tequila shots. Drew buys everybody a round.
Some lost time later, we’re gathered around a hotdog stand. The group is in the double digits now. Bim’s brother is there, other old friends of new friends. The conversations meld as everybody waits for their food. Then we stumble back to the hotel where I fall asleep face down on the floor.
THURSDAY & FRIDAY
The next few days were a long intermission. Noise & Color put Drew and I up in a house to ourselves. Not staying with And And And left us scattered, but Treefort was luckily a small and intricate spider web, one where you kept running into each other.
I woke up and felt like shit. The band was still asleep and I doubted there were any looming breakfast plans, so I tiptoed around them and headed to the hotel lobby. I filled in the blanks of the night, watching the clock and patiently waiting until I could check into the new rental house and take a shower. When I returned to And And And’s hotel for my bag, the room was empty.
Thursday and Friday were spent recuperating. The house was old and comfortable, which made it tough to leave. When I did, I didn’t make plans. It was a brilliantly laid out festival for somebody like me, to wander around and familiarize myself with it’s venues. Each one began to serve a purpose. If I needed to hydrate and write, I sat in the back of The Olympic. The Linen Building always had the most enthusiastic day crowds and at night, the spot was Neurolux, especially if I wanted to catch up with the band.
The unmistakable sound of White Denim flooded the city one afternoon and I followed it past the food carts and tents to the outdoor Main Stage. Looking around, I saw children and people pushing seventy, all completely absorbed. My anxieties disappeared then. We were all there for the same reasons, almost all of us with a smile on our face. On my way out, I ran into Bim.
“It’s harder than it seems to run into people here.” I said. And when you did, you almost felt guilty for interrupting the music.
SATURDAY, SUNDAY & MONDAY:
The only thing on my radar this morning is the Gritty Birds showcase. The St. Lawrence Gridiron isn’t on the festival circuit, but the makeshift outdoor venue is a good fit for the lineup. There are a few sound issues, but nobody seems to mind. Everyone is enjoying the clear afternoon and well on their way to catching a day buzz.
When And And And goes on, the modest crowd quiets. Everybody that performed earlier stuck around. I even run into Portland musicians that aren’t playing the festival who’ve made the trip.
It’s my first impression of the guys as a band and of Nathan, the lead singer and songwriter. He doesn’t say much off stage or on, they just play. There are bands who wear their influences on their sleeves, they have their “thing”, but this is just a band. A great band who have many friends and fans, old and new. It feels like a homecoming and becomes a family reunion when in between songs, Nathan mentions his young daughter, who had been in the crowd all day.
“She can’t really make the bar shows, even though she’s a heavy drinker,” he jokes. The familiar faces laugh.
Talking with John after their set, he suggests a band that’s playing tonight. I ask him the genre, and he pauses.
“Just rock I guess.”
After seeing And And And again later that night, I make a mental note to describe them the same way.
Neurolux is a full house, one without any reservations of letting loose. Every song gets a huge reaction. There are people mouthing the words, throwing beer cans and nodding to the specific rhythms of Bim’s brilliant drumming. It’s the only set I saw all week that felt like a party.
After the band loads the van, I catch up with a few of them. Everybody eventually goes their own way. My body feels like it’s already gone to hell after a week of beer and bar food, so I walk back to the house, skirting the outside of the city to smoke. I sleep well, but too aware that tomorrow night it’s back to the hotel floor.
It’s the last morning of Treefort. Despite the rain, a decent crowd is gathered around the Rigsketball tournament, which I’m watching from a curb near the Main Stage. It’s an annual bracket-based battle of the bands with slightly altered basketball rules. Fun and games, but some legitimately amazing players keep it interesting, as does the poorly placed four-foot-tall Jenga tower near the van.
I manage to stay sober throughout the day, bouncing between the game and the final lineup of music. When the sun falls, workers get a head start tearing down the outdoor stage and cleaning the streets. I walk to the El Korah Shrine for Built to Spill, the last show of the festival. Most of And And And are outside of Neurolux. Bim, Jodie and John are about to head back to the hotel. Berg says he won’t be there, or in the van tomorrow. I tell him that I hope he likes the article.
“Fuck it.” He says. “I just hope you had fun. That’s what this is all about.” We say goodbye.
At the hotel, the band is relaxing with fast food and watching Batman Returns. I make my camp on the floor and join in, laughing at the jokes they throw out every other minute, my mind too exhausted to make my own. Eventually, the room is silent except for the the sound of cartoons.
We’re out of the hotel by 9AM. We stop at McDonalds, then head home bruised and broken. Most of us are sick except for John, but his lip is split open from a thrown elbow during Rigsketball. Bim and his brother catch up in the front while Drew shows us photographs from Wednesday night.
“We were so young.” He says. “We had way more energy and money back then.”
I eventually doze off and wake hours later to the sound of scraping windshield wipers. We were home. Everybody talks about their plans for the week, how glad they are to get back to their beds, their lives.
“I don’t know,” Bim says as he pulls into his driveway, turning off the van. “I was kind of glad to get away from it for a week.”
I offer to help unload the van, but they’re putting it off until tomorrow. The smokers light their cigarettes and we stand around on the front porch. We don’t say much, not that we ever did. Home is just a fifteen minute walk away, so I say my goodbyes and walk back just as the rain stops.