My Inner—and Outerwear—Festivarian

The festival is so much more than music. One man’s unexpected quest for festival wear—and a sense of self identity.

It began with a mandolin. My wife found it at a garage sale. A week later she played the opening riff to “Jolene” for me. Next it was cowboy boots. Then she changed our bank password to BillMonroeRules4EVeR!!!. There was no denying it. My wife had become a bluegrass fan. It all came to a head when she bought us tickets to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

“Do I have to go?” I said.

“Give it a try,” she said.

“Isn’t there anyone else you could go with?”

“You’re welcome,” she said, and so the matter was settled. I would be going to the festival.

In June, she asked about preparations. The Festival was just two weeks away, and she wanted to be sure I was ready. “Do not worry,” I said. I’d aired out sleeping bags, located the tent, procured propane for the Coleman stove, readied sunscreen and bug spray. But camping supplies were not her concern. “What I’m worried about,” she told me, “is what you’re going to wear.”

It was not a question that had occurred to me. I’d last attended a music festival 20 years ago, and back then fashion had not been a priority. I recalled mud and inadequate toilet facilities. I remembered smelling like an unwashed armpit. I did not recall even thinking about what to wear.

I was informed that times had changed. Festivals today are all about fashion—there are literally thousands of websites devoted to the do’s and don’ts of festival attire and, of course, ensembles you must have.

“Is Mom serious?” I asked my 15-year-old daughter. “Does she know what she’s going to wear?”

“She has six outfits,” I was informed. “This is a three-day event, and that means six outfits.” My daughter went on to detail my wife’s festival fashion plan: a dress in a “fun, flowery print;” a black halter top paired with boyfriend jeans and a “very cute” straw cowboy hat; finally, if it didn’t rain, something called a “slip dress.”

“What about me?” I said. “What should I wear?”

“It’s up to you,” she said. “Festivals are all about being yourself, but way more yourself than you are normally.”

Looking for guidance I called my cousin Amos, the hipster. Twenty-five years younger than me, Amos was now living in Portland and working as a life coach for yoga instructors. I told him the situation, and he immediately had a solution. “Two words,” he said. “Bear costume.”

bear suit at festival
Photo by Pavel Losevsky

I repeated those two words.

“Pull the bear head over your head,” he said, “and boom, you are the bear.”

“Why a bear?”

“It’s your spirit animal,” he said. “You must have felt that.”

“A bear got into our garbage last week,” I told him.

“See,” he said. “That makes sense.” Then he hung up.

Not sure I wanted to spend three days in a bear costume, I turned next to my barber, Dylan. In his early 20s, bearded, elaborately tattooed and possessed of a nose ring, Dylan looks like someone who knows his way around a three day music festival.

“Option one,” he told me. “Go to the festival, head to the concession stand and buy a T-shirt.”

“Got it,” I said.

“Then immediately take your shirt off and throw it in the garbage. Put the festival shirt on, and do not take it off until the festival’s over. That shirt says, I’m all in.”

I asked about the second option.

“A light blue seersucker suit,” he said. “Nothing says summer more clearly than seersucker suit wearing. It also keeps away the jazz cigarettes.”

“Is there an option three?”

“Strip down, and go total Woodstock. Wear a cake of mud on your nude body. Then add a touch of Burning Man with accessories like goggles and suspenders.”

I said I wasn’t sure about that.

“If you can’t go total Woodstock at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival,” he said, “where can you?”

I left no less confused, but I knew that I had failed. Festival clothing was about looking good, but it was also about being yourself—and I just didn’t know who I was. Now I had to tell my wife. I simply had no idea what to wear to the festival.

I arrived home to find my wife had taken matters into her own hands.

She had procured me three days’ worth of breathable, waterproof clothing, a Tilley Outback-style hat and 15 pairs of socks. It was a look that said: “I know how to set up a tent, light a Coleman stove, remove a splinter and, if pressed, parallel park on a steep incline and not forget to pull on the emergency brake.”

“I call this look hardcore dad,” she said.

It was exactly me, only more so.

“And there’s this,” she said, and handed me a bear mask.

I looked at it for a moment, and then put it on.

“Definitely your spirit animal,” she said. “But don’t wear it around the house.”

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