8:36 p.m.: I arrive at the intersection of Oak and Broadway in downtown Eugene much later than I had planned to, as I spent the hours between 5:00 and 8:00 on the couch, watching Homeland, missing the first two performances of the weekend, and thinking of reasons not to go to Eugene Celebration. The main reason I came up with was that few things stress me out more than situations in which I’m supposed to have fun. And seeing as I’m not a fan of smoking pot in public or of having people address me as Brother Bear, I had no desire to attend a three-day Oregonian community street festival. But an editor had offered me a chance to write a feature on the Celebration (even though I have no journalistic training), and as my novel had stalled and I hadn’t sold a story in several months, I was lured by the promise of seeing my words in print again.
So now I find myself next to the admissions tent, watching two tattooed hipsters in ties and vests—with no shirts on underneath—juggling fire in front of a crowd. A girl is playing guitar next to them. I don’t know if she’s part of the act or if she just picked a really bad place to play guitar. Either way, the jugglers are proving to be very exciting, mainly due to their incorporation of rickety props—like a seven-foot-tall unicycle—and their apparent lack of knowledge in the field of fire juggling. I’m enjoying the show until a flaming bowling pin shoots through the hands of one of the jugglers and narrowly misses hitting me in the shoulder. I decide it’s time to move on.
9:02 p.m.: After buying a three-day wristband, I make my way through a long row of booths selling cloth prints, vegan treats, and architectural advice. I buy a beer, drink it, and post up off to the side of the main stage, where a power blues quartet is about to start their set. Once the music begins, the crowd quickly turns reckless in their execution of post-skeletal dance moves. Jello arms fill every pocket not already filled by arrhythmic shimmy shoulders. Personal space is at a premium.
9:07 p.m.: The lead guitarist of the blues quartet is very good, I think, but I have trouble judging the quality of blues guitar because I have only ever met seven people who aren’t really good at blues guitar. What makes this guitarist—who is tall and drainpipe thin, with tight jeans, a sleeveless tee, and dark bangs—memorable, is that he has the best guitar face I’ve ever seen. He bobs up and down in a half squat during his solos, with lips jutting out and face painfully scrunched. He looks like Dana Carvey doing an impression of Ronnie Wood. The keyboardist looks like my friend Ezra. That probably doesn’t do much for the reader, but it’s true.
9:11 p.m.: I step into the Barn Light, a bar situated next to the main stage, to take a shot of whisky and interview festival goers. Earlier in the day I had looked to Janet Malcolm’s seminal text, The Journalist and the Murderer, to find inspiration for my upcoming assignment [which, in retrospect, is kind of like watching The Miracle on Ice in hopes of doing a sit up]. Malcolm wrote, “People tell journalists their stories as characters in dreams deliver their elliptical messages: without warning, without context, without concern for how odd they will sound when the dreamer awakens and repeats them.”
I ask my first interviewee what bands he’s excited to see this weekend, and, rather than delivering an elliptical message, he scratches his beard and says, “I hadn’t really thought about it.” I try to move on, but he spends the rest of the interview trying to think of bands he’s excited to see.
9:22 p.m.: I take another shot of whisky and start up a conversation with a woman who says she’s been to almost every Eugene Celebration since she was a child. I ask her what kept bringing her back.
She explains that her mother is a Doula—which I learn is a child-birthing advocate—who used to have a booth at the Celebration. I point out that I’ve never seen a child-birthing advocacy booth at a festival before.
She says: “It’s not really a festival. It’s more of a block party.”
I point out that I’ve never seen a child-birthing advocacy booth at a block party before.
The woman looks surprised, then tells me a good deal of information about Doulas. Which is very interesting. I take detailed notes. It’s only after she’s left that I realize I’ve learned nothing about Eugene Celebration.
9:35 p.m.: I return to the front patio of Barn Light with a fresh beer and settle in to watch the blues quartet. The girl in front of me keeps turning around to stare at me taking notes. I smiled at her the first time, but after four or five suspicious examinations, it’s getting uncomfortable.
She finally asks me what I’m writing.
“I’m writing a piece on the—hey! Give me back my notepad!” I say, as she has just stolen my notepad.
She does not give it back, but instead starts scribbling something down with my pen (which she has also stolen).
“I need that back,” I say. “It’s for my job.”
“No it’s not,” she says.
I don’t really have a comeback for this, so I just stand there and wait for her to return it. When I finally get the notepad back, I see that she has written: “Get out of my way.”
9:42 p.m.: All these people are stressing me out. I feel like going home, but I have to see Zepparella, an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band, play “Stairway to Heaven” first. I imagine female Jimmy Page plucking out the first notes of “Stairway” to an adoring crowd undulating on Olive Street, as cigarette lighters flicker in the wind, likely igniting a white person’s dreadlocks. This will be the climax of my feature. But that’s over two hours away. I take another shot of whisky.
10:23 p.m.: I head over to the Zepparella stage, as the band is scheduled to begin in seven minutes. I try to interview four cool-looking young people, two guys and two girls, on the way, but the girls leave immediately after I introduce myself. The guys answer my questions like football coaches, trying to give away as little information as possible.
10:29 p.m.: I buy a tri-tip sandwich, which is delicious.
10:33 p.m.: Zepparella is starting up, but I need a drink. I stop into a bar on Olive Street and down a quick shot and a beer. I look up above the bar and see a beautiful woman making out with a shirtless, muscular Latino man. I lean in and see that this is in fact a Telemundo broadcast playing on a mounted TV. I decide to take a short break from drinking.
10:46 p.m.: I introduce myself to an older woman watching Zepparella and ask if I could trouble her with a few questions about Eugene Celebration. She glares at me and says, “I’m trying to hear the music.” I suspect she knows I’m not a real journalist.
10:48 p.m.: I decide that doing a night of interviews is like going on several blind dates during which you try to ask interesting questions while your dates try to determine if you’re a sex criminal.
10:51 p.m.: Zepparella sounds kind of like Led Zeppelin, instrumentally at least. The singer sounds like someone who would get a decent round of applause at a karaoke bar. A woman in front of me dances to “Immigrant Song” while breastfeeding.
10:54 p.m.: The vibe exuded by the crowd is one of total unself-consciousness. Nobody seems to notice that they are dancing in the street in front of hundreds of people, some executing said dancing while thrusting light sabers to the sky, spinning hula hoops around their hips, or holding up large crystals wrapped in bandanas. I am slightly jealous—of the feeling, not of the actions that the feeling leads to.
11:12 p.m.: I walk down the street, past a vendor of potato chips fried in soybean oil, to check out the reggae band on one of the side stages. They look authentic (read: old, black, stoned) and sound like every reggae band I’ve ever heard.
11:21 p.m.: I go back to The Barn Light to drink more and regroup. Will return to the Zepparella stage in time to see them close with “Stairway.” I sit down on the front patio with a shot and a beer. On the main stage, a woman who looks like a high school English teacher is wrapping up a piano blues standard. Her guitar player looks like my friend Ezra. How is Ezra not in a band?
11:27 p.m.: I fall victim to the second notepad hijacking of the night. This girl writes, in clean handwriting that suggests that she isn’t drunk but just feels really strongly about the message, “Sic semper tyrannis.”
“What does that mean?” I say.
“Death to tyrants,” she says.
I walk back to the Zepparella stage unsure of how to interpret this note.
11:29 p.m.: Kind of want to die, but must see “Stairway” first.
11:33 p.m.: Female Robert Plant yells: [This part of my notepad is torn off, for reasons that will soon be explained. Thus, we will never know what female Robert Plant yelled.]
11:36 p.m.: Woman in red velvet jumpsuit hula hoops expertly in front of me to “Dazed and Confused.”
“Can I interview you?” I ask. This has no effect on the woman’s hula hooping, which continues unabated.
11:39 p.m.: Feel a bit wobbly.
11:42 p.m.: A guy comes up to me during “Kashmir” with an unlit cigarette in his mouth and asks if I have a lighter. The guy appears to belong to the young tweener class of Eugene, which isn’t homeless, but is interested in activities typically associated with the Eugene homeless, such as walking a dog on a rope leash and asking me for cigarettes. I like this guy already, as he hasn’t asked me for cigarettes, but rather for a lighter. I tell him I’m writing a piece about the Celebration—can I interview him?
“Yeah!” he says. He seems happy about my proposal, which makes me like him immediately. He tells me that his name is Devil, clarifying that it is not preceded by “The.”
I ask Devil what he’s doing in Eugene.
He says that the sheriff of Bend just kicked down his door and confiscated 167 of his plants, so he thought it was time for a change of scene.
This is probably either untrue or grossly exaggerated, but I’m still enjoying listening to him. When he finishes the story [on which I apparently took no notes], I say, “That is fascinating, Devil.”
He pops out a big smile and says, “I love the fuck out of you right now.” He tells me that he has to go do something, then adds, “If you know what I mean,” in a way that suggests: It involves drugs, that thing that I have to go do. But he says that if I need anything, anything at all, he can take care of me: “Just give me your phone number.”
I doubt that any of my needs can be fulfilled by Devil, but as the guy just said he loves the fuck out of me, I want to be accommodating. I rip off a sheet of paper from my notepad [forever depriving my readers of the words of female Robert Plant] and write my phone number down. When I examine the sheet, I realize that I have written my social security number. I cross it out and try again.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m having a little bit of trouble remembering my phone number.”
“Damn,” Devil says. “I hate it when that happens.”
11:57 p.m.: Female Robert Plant says, “One more?” The crowd cheers. Someone yells, “Play Stairway to Heaven!” That someone is me. Female Jimmy Page chugga-chuggas into “Whole Lotta Love.” I leave the concert mildly devastated.
8:10 a.m.: The sun parts the curtains and invites my hangover in. I down a glass of water. Moan. Open my laptop and find the movie Cabaret on pause. Ponder the situation. Cannot ever remember being so drunk that I said to myself, “Damn, I need to watch Cabaret.” So it’s a bit of a puzzle.
9:06 a.m.: There’s a parade this morning that I need to cover. But I don’t want to get out of bed. I open The Journalist and the Murderer in hopes of getting motivated: “If you’re going to be a reporter, you have to practice the craft. You have to go out and talk to people. You have to track things down. You have to talk to dozens and dozens of people.” No question about that. But I’m not a reporter, so I open my computer and watch the rest of Cabaret instead.