The return of festivals this month also marks the return of the many “festivarians” that seemingly travel in hordes across the country seeking satisfying sounds. Whether that’s bluegrass music or not is irrelevant to me. Until death metal, or any subgenre heavier than hard rock, graces Telluride Town Park, I’ll always be more interested in people watching during this particular season.
Like many of us who live here, I have a service industry side hustle running security for a handful of local watering holes, particularly during busier festival weekends throughout the summer.
While my coworkers handled coverage of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival like the pros they are throughout the first weekend, I focused my attention on the nocturnal festival of freaks.
The nefarious world of barflies and otherwise altered hippies is best experienced as a sober bystander, and a bar bouncer has a free front row seat to the show.
The profession requires one to take in their surroundings with the mindset that a free-for-all bar fight may break out at any moment, but hippies don’t like to throw punches. They may feel brave at a certain hour and shout obscenities, or even tip over a barstool, but they’re innately docile creatures, which makes my job easier, as I’m more of a presence, an ominous shadow of sorts, than a bare-knuckled enforcer.
Temper tantrums aside, the job allows me to mingle amongst the freaks. There are the old heads who barely stay out past midnight anymore, the better days of their youth and partying well behind them, though they still have the hunger to be part of the scene and test their stamina every year for however long they can hang.
Then there’s the new breed, a more interesting collection of direct descendants who grew up around the twang and tinge of it all, and the others who were cosmically inclined to make the pilgrimage into the mountains during this time of year, if for no other reason than to play their instruments around campfires in the pale moonlight, or on the street corners in hopes of filling their cups with enough loose change to get another drink or slice of pizza for the night.
It’s the younger ones who keep the scene alive and thriving, while the elders are more than happy to impart their wisdom through stories of festivals and bad trips past.
The blackness during these late nights still veil most, but also reveal a great deal. Some tips and tales I overheard included how to properly navigate the campground scene without coming off like a newb, mainly don’t ask what the camp hosts are offering you, just take it. One old head told a young man clad in denim and dancing bears not to eat too much acid before noon, when the sun is reaching its hottest. You’ll feel like an egg in a frying pan, the senior said.
A deranged “Durangotan,” as he proclaimed his citizenry of Durango, matter-of-factly stated, “Oh, yeah, I'm weird. I'm a weirdo.”
He had an unnatural look in his eye that I interpreted as the unfocused glare of good times. But he was harmless, I quickly concluded. While chatting him up later in the night, I discovered he’s a fellow Keystoner. His family still owns and operates a kielbasa company in eastern Pennsylvania.
“Best kielbasa in the country,” he said of his ancestor’s Polish recipe.
Around the same time, a friend walked in. Exhausted from a long weekend of festival festivities, she decided to have one more drink before calling it a weekend.
She described an alien interaction she recently had. After 20 minutes of meaningless conversation with a woman who she had just met, my friend explained she couldn’t take anymore and interrupted.
“Ma’am, you have no face.”
The woman, who most likely did have all the standard facial features of our species, repeatedly apologized, but my friend had to walk away and collect herself.
There is a fine line between free-spirited fun and unparalleled fear. The paradox with this is one often doesn’t realize there is a line until the darkness takes over. This phenomenon mostly manifests itself physically in the eyes. The pupils, which often dilate to various abnormal circumferences, fill with doubt, paranoia, mistrust and terror. Reality becomes a question of the senses.
Are the walls really dripping wet with blood?
Why does everyone look like a Picasso painting?
What is the point of a pinky toe if you can’t feel it?
I like to imagine a person of my height and weight, who is covered in tattoos and has the furrowed brow of a Cro-Magnon, appears more like an Orc to those mired in that state of mind.
Despite the gloominess of this festival of freaks, I’ve realized we are all here searching for the same thing, or at least the feeling of the same thing. What that exactly is, I cannot tell you at this point in my journey, but we achieve it through our own personal paths and experiences along the way.
As Thomas Ligotti wrote in the “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race,” a nonfiction collection of his essays on human existence, “If truth is what you seek, then the examined life will only take you on a long ride to the limits of solitude and leave you by the side of the road with your truth and nothing else.”