For our 30th wedding anniversary, I had the bright idea of surprising my wife with a trip. A trip to the top of Mulberry Mountain in northwest Arkansas for Waukarusa, three days of severe thunderstorms, tornado warnings, ankle deep mud, spotty restrooms and showers — and music.
So, we were hooked.
Since then we’ve been to festivals as big as Shaky Knees in the heart of Atlanta to as small as this past weekend’s Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival. To as rural as Wanee on the banks of the Suwannee River in North Florida to as urban as the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis.
There were probably a couple thousand people in Bogalusa on Saturday evening to see Samantha Fish and the North Mississippi All Stars.
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I didn’t see a single weapon outside those carried by law enforcement officers. There often are inconvenient security checks, but I’ve never felt threatened at any of these shows.
Now an outdoor venue crammed with thousands of strangers probably sounds like an awful place for an introvert, but, after arguing with myself about my sanity all the way up to the gate, once inside, I always find the scene soothing.
Jake Owen, who’ll be at Harrah’s Great Lawn in a few weeks and who was backstage at the Route 91 Harvest Fest in Lost Wages during Sunday’s carnage, explained it from an artist’s point of view to radio personality Bobby Bones:
“We as artists, it’s our obligation. We put on a show so people can have fun and forget about some of the day-to- day life things,” Owen said, as he described seeing kids sitting on their parents’ shoulders during the concert. He said that, going forward, the artists and fans will “not be scared of these cowards that do this … we will prevail, that’s what we do as Americans.”
I went to my first big music festival in 1972 at Bosse Field, a minor league baseball park in Evansville, Indiana. My mom gave me this advice on my way out the door: “Don’t do anything you’ll regret the rest of your life.”
I thought about that a lot that day. But the possibility that someone might be lurking high above the crowd with a rapid fire rifle? That thought never entered my mind.
Now, I’m afraid, that thought will be with me every time we go to a festival.
I’m sure old age or sanity will one day catch up with me and I’ll argue myself back into the recliner whenever I get the urge to mingle with thousands of strangers who have only music as their common bond. But it won’t be because I know there might be a killer out there.
I think most sensible people will agree that something is out of kilter when a man hell-bent on death and destruction can get a cache of weapons and ammunition up to the 32nd floor of a Vegas hotel. But I don’t expect our politicians to suddenly develop enough spine to do anything about it.
Maybe one day Pam and I will end up as a target at one of these horrific shooting galleries. I’m more worried about the fools I see running red lights almost every day. Worried that one day I’ll forget to pause a beat and look both ways before taking off on a green light.
And I’ll go into these venues with my eyes wide open. If the shooting starts, I’ll already know which way we’re heading.
My heart goes out to those families who lost loved ones and friends at the hands of this latest killer.
But, as Jake Owen said, I won’t be scared off. The terrorists won’t beat me.