July 21, 2008

Hitting the Road, at $4 a Gallon


Our destination was 2,475 miles away, round trip. Our vehicle was an SUV that got about 20 miles to the gallon. The cost of gas ranged from $4.20 in upstate New York to $3.99 in Ohio to $3.91 in Massachusetts. Yet, even though we spent about $500 on gas alone, the cost of spending the Fourth of July weekend with Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer and many others was absolutely worth it.

That weekend, three friends and I with varying concert experience piled into a car to drive 20 hours to the first Rothbury Music Festival in Rothbury, Mich. For four days, 60,000 people from across the United States tented in a giant Michigan field in order to see a lineup with the biggest and best names of American music.

It may be hard for some to justify the cost of transportation, the cost of food and the cost of a festival ticket that stretched well into three figures, but let me take you through our weekend.

Our car pulled out of the driveway at approximately 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 25. After picking up a fourth in Lexington, Mass., we drove through the night, through floods in Ohio and a couple of wrong turns, for 16 more hours until we arrived in Rothbury at 11 the next morning.

After unpacking the car, piled high with everything from a grill to sleeping bags to tiki torches, we realized we forgot tent poles. This undoubtedly brought us closer to our neighbors who lent us their car to use as a makeshift tent (thank God it didn't rain). At our tent site, we were surrounded by festival-goers of all ages from Michigan, Minnesota and New York.

Thursday night, we enjoyed new music from the groups The Disco Biscuits and Lotus.

Friday was the Fourth of July. In the morning, we saw Bob Dylan's son Jakob from the group the Wallflowers. In the afternoon, we listened to the sweet sounds of Snoop Dogg, who eloquently ushered in a new year of American independence. Later that night, after an incredible fireworks display, we danced to the jams of Widespread Panic as well as Thievery Corporation.

Saturday proved to be a marathon. In the morning, the four of us did yoga, most of us for the first time, with Michael Franti who provided accompanying music and a concert afterward. That afternoon, we camped out at the main stage (there were four) starting at about 4 p.m. From four rows back, dead center, we witnessed eight hours of music from State Radio, Citizen Cope, Spearhead and Dave Matthews Band with the other 59,996 Rothburians.

As if that wasn't enough, we prepared ourselves for a second day of headlining musicians. As we were camped out at the beach in the morning, a Rothbury worker came over looking for sunscreen for an artist for 10 bucks. After talking for a bit, she spilled that John Mayer needed sunscreen. We gave it to her for free.

Later that day we fought for seats 10 rows back and a couple of seats stage left to hear Trey Anastasio from Phish, Colbie Caillat and John Mayer.

At a normal concert, our Saturday and Sunday tickets easily could have ranged into the $200 mark just to see one of these seven performers.

Immediately after John Mayer, we packed up our car (not too difficult since we didn't have a tent) and made the 20-hour journey through the night back to Lexington and Bangor, where we pulled into the driveway at about 6 p.m.

Even after discovering the recent hole in our wallets and laboring through a difficult drive, all four of us agreed that the hours of music, camp singalongs, wrestling with the grill to make bad food and sleeping under the stars was absolutely worth the cost.

Even the high costs of summer transportation couldn't hold back four college students with substantially smaller bank accounts. Look out, Rothbury 2009.

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