Tuesday, September 11th, 2007
Now I know what it feels like to be part of a mob. To be one of thousands, angry and desperate, sweating and trod-upon, pushing and stomping. So this is how Marie Antoinette met her end.
My birthday present from my sister was a ticket to the Dave Matthews Band and Allman Brothers Band concert this weekend at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Despite the sunshine-and-rainbows tone of this article on the concert, it was a boiling mass of human insanity.
The sold-out concert was in a massive outdoor park but was still ridiculously crowded. For the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 attendees (why don’t they know for sure?), there were about FIVE beverage tents – where the wait for a beer was 45 MINUTES minimum – and a sadly limited number of port-a-potties.
Once you were positioned on your blanket on the grass, there was no way to escape without climbing over 50,000 other people. The harassed (and harassing) concert workers finally formed a shaky path through the mass and shouted, “Go down and around! Down and around!”, red-faced and gesticulating toward a slow-moving vertical mass of people in the midst of the horizontal ones.
In the drink line – which was really more of a mob – the humidity was breathtaking. We were all pressed close together, closer and closer as we approached the front until there was no room to turn. People shoved in from the sides, cutting in line instead of waiting at the back like the rest of us orderly citizens. My sister and I got in two separate pseudo-lines to double our chances of getting to the front sooner. Kelly’s line moved way faster, and a guy in a green shirt behind me suddenly appeared next to her elbow. He tried to squeeze his way in, and Kelly, being a bad-ass, was not having it. A few people back, I kept telling everyone around me, “That guy in the green shirt is cutting!” and me and the two blonde girls in front of me threatened loudly to form a posse and kick his ass.
And though I’m usually a wilting flower in the heat and complain at even a hint of waiting in line, secretly I sort of enjoyed it all. The crowd, the heat, the thirst, the hunger and the holding of pee brought out the worst but also the best. Everyone was quick to anger but also quick to lend a hand, to apologize, to band together, to defend what was right. There’s nothing like suffering in close quarters to forge instant bonds of both friendship and hatred.
When we were safely on our blanket on a hill near the stage with a cardboard tray full of drinks, we could see across the crowd and were stunned. 50,000 faces, 100,000 arms, 100,000 legs, 50,000 voices singing along. It was incredible. And we got to tell our stories of how Kelly cut back in front of that jerk in the green shirt and I tried to instigate a riot. We bonded with the people on the blankets near us.
And when night fell and Dave started to play, everyone stood up, and the air suddenly felt cooler and more spacious. Excitement rippled through the crowd, replacing the anger and frustration. People danced and sang and said, “Peace and love, man” as they stepped on your blanket.
Later, when Gregg Allman came out on stage and sang, “Melissa,” with Dave Matthews Band, and Warren Hayes (ranked No. 23 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time) joined them for a song, I shut my eyes and felt the music humming in my chest and knew all of the walking and waiting and sweating was worth it.
After the concert, we streamed out of the park and up the long hill to the MARTA station. The hill felt much shorter than when we’d come down it, and we parted with our friends in the station with happiness and hugs. The mood on the train was light-hearted. Even the homeless guys asked us about the concert and reminisced about concerts from their past; they didn’t even ask us for money.
The article above says of the people who stood for 8 hours near the front of the stage, “No one seemed to care.” I can’t say I’m one of those fans, so hardcore just a glimpse of Dave is enough to wipe away all complaints.
But it was like a baptism of fire, and I came out the other side feeling tired in the body, for once, instead of the mind. My body was filthy, grime in the creases of my elbows, but my mind was full of lyrics and rhythms instead of demands, requests, reminders. Despite the dirt, the sweat, the struggle, I felt refreshed.