We were soaked to the bone. Finally stopped to pause and waiting for a ride home under a closed bank’s porch, we couldn’t help but laugh in sorrow as we stripped off our (non) waterproof rain jackets and checked our phones to be sure they weren’t damaged in the mile-long walk through down-pouring rains.
We were surrounded by people just as wet as us, and we’d left many behind. Some were crouched beneath the giant plywood letters spelling out Pilgrimage – the exact same ones we had stood by just 6 hours before, happily rejoicing in our arrival at the music festival we’d been planning to visit for months. The sky had been a pleasant kind of cloudy all day – the sort of weather that keeps you just cool enough to be comfortable, even though you’re surrounded by thousands of people and it’s September in Tennessee (which believe it or not, is NOT fall-time weather, despite the fact that it was the Fall Equinox that very day).
Could it have been just an hour before this rain-drenched moment of shocked hilarity, as we’d made our way to the big stage, ready to set up camp for the night’s headlining performances, that we’d noticed a change in the wind? Not only had it been getting just a little more blustery, but the music had stopped, and the people around us were rushing, getting anxious, making “escape plans”. Was it just the crowd growing, getting excited for the likes of Lionel Ritchie and Jack White? Or wait….were people leaving? Why were so many people headed for the gates? And why were the video screens blazing red with an ominous paragraph of text?
“Lightning,” it read. A storm was moving in, we could see it on the horizon. And the mere threat of it was not to be messed with in a large crowd being entertained by giant concerts run with expensive electronic equipment. But it wasn’t raining yet, so we gave it a wait. Where would we even go? Surely the show would be back on in no time.
But no. After about 15 minutes of people either packing up everything and leaving or planting themselves in their seats, security told us we had to go. And there was no choice about it. So as we made our way back to the entrance gates, still hopeful that all would be well, the rain began to trickle. And then it began to pour. The long crowd of people, decked out in ponchos and souvenir t-shirts, began to run towards Franklin Road, towards The Factory, towards the gas stations or whatever shelter they could find. The pilgrimage had begun in the way we’d least expected it.
As we traversed the quaint streets of Franklin, blinking water droplets from our eyes and watching other festival-goers slide around in their flip-flops, we couldn’t help but laugh. Dance parties were occurring in the rain. The pedi-cab cyclists were singing. Boyfriends were hoisting their girlfriends onto their backs and trying to run through the streets. We were all in the same boat. We were all wet. And we were all sad things were being postponed….but we were going to make the best of it. Because the show would be back on just a little bit later, right?
But the rain continued into the night. We received reports from the front lines: attendees were crowded back at the gates, awaiting an announcement. The city council was meeting to see if they could extend the small city’s noise ordinance for the evening. Some were cursing the security officers denying entrance into the sodden park fields. Everyone turned on that guy in retaliation (“Southern Manners, y’all!”). The show was cancelled for the evening. You could enter only to retrieve your belongings. So we stayed home and played a game of Scrabble – and then the power went out and we played it in the dark. Still, we held out hope that all would be better tomorrow. The power came back on. Of course we would still see Chris Stapleton; at least we believed it to be sure.
But we woke up to the sound of rain still hitting our roof and some leaks in our upstairs bathroom ceiling. Within an hour, word came that the entire festival had been cancelled. There would be no Stapleton, no Brandi Carlile, no Hozier, no Dave Matthews and no music at all. The city of Franklin was full to the brim with tourists who had nothing to do but eat and drink and escape from the rain, so we joined them. We all recounted our stories to one another as the local Irish pub served a list of cocktails aptly named for the non-occurring event. Then we went home and waited for news – at least we’d be getting a refund, they said. And at least we were in it together.
The first half of my first day at Pilgrimage was a wonderful experience. Heck, even the second part of that day was especially fun and memorable. I’ll never forget the light that shone on everyone’s faces as we denied the inevitable and allowed ourselves to soak up every minute of one another’s company and every drop of rain that dared fall on our heads. But I’m still in shock that it just didn’t happen. That we could spend so much time and money and energy on the anticipation of this event…and yet the parts that we most expected to remember, didn’t even happen at all. When I hear Stapleton on the radio, I’m convinced I should be relishing in a memory of seeing him live for the first time, and yet I don’t have it. It’s not there. It’s like I blacked out and forgot it, or never had tickets; except I was there – we all were. The show just never happened. The thing I planned for never panned out. The memories I thought I’d have of this past weekend were replaced by something different.
And it’s not the end of the world. We’ll all be fine. Maybe we’ll be even better off, for enduring that first-world hardship together, for mourning in the loss of what we never got to have, for surviving and seeing the light between the rain clouds, and seeing more good in one another.