I just returned from one of the best three-day trip of my parenting life. My son, Will, not yet 16, and two of his female friends and I drove to San Francisco to attend the Outside Lands Music Festival. It’s an all-day late-into-the-night, music festival on the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park. There are multiple rock and roll acts performing simultaneously on several stages throughout the festival grounds.
The list of performers included such well-known acts as Incubus, Pearl Jam, Tom Jones (yes, that Tom Jones who has become a sort of icon to the younger set), The Black-Eyed Peas, and The Dave Matthews Band. On the more obscure side, especially to this ol’ middle-aged dude were acts I’d never heard of including Gooferman, Zap Mama, Kinky, Q-Tip, Albino, Dirty Rotten, TV on the Radio, Ween, Lenka, Cage the Elephant, and Heartless Bastards. Honestly, I didn’t make up any of these names.
There were tens of thousands of festival goers and the grounds at various times were full with excitement, tension, and anticipation as well as the ubiquitous smell, to quote Dave Matthews, of “Eau du Reefer.” The first day they ran out of beer as the jostling of the crowd to get to the drinks and food was almost as intense as getting to the front of the stage for the bigger-name performers.
During our six-hour drive from Los Angeles to the Bar Area, I was inculcated to the better-known acts by my son and by all three of the teens that played their music non-stop. It was definitely overload for this dad, but also an education. For my son and for his two friends, it was probably the first such adventure of this sort in their young lives with only one adult chaperone and an astonishing amount of freedom during the festival itself.
For me, it was proof of my theory, which I espoused in one of my first columns, that there is no such thing as quality time, only quantity time. The hours we spent together brought a closeness and, now, shared memories and experiences that are irreplaceable. I saw my son blossom as a man, learning to take care of the two girls in his charge. As one was less than 5 feet tall, she required special care when they were working their way close to the stage or she’d literally get trampled. My six-foot-two son rose to the occasion and all three kids were spectacularly happy and riding high, without the aid of any of the “Eau du Reefer.”
Our taxi driver, the first day when we missed the bus to get us to the festival, was an old hippie who had on a sixties radio channel and offered my son a buck off the fare if he could identify the song that was playing. He did. It was “Tired of Waiting” by The Kinks. It turns out this taxi driver’s name was also Bruce and he turned around to the three kids in the back, and sounding stoned, said “Do you have any idea how lucky you are to have a dad that takes you to this?” Needless to say, he got a big tip.
For me, watching my son interact with his girl peers was a chance to re-live those moments of growing up that are so special. The excitement of going to something that keeps you from sleeping the night before, the fun of being with a cute girl you like and sharing the experience, and maybe the tingle of pleasure that comes from holding her hand for the first time. I got to vicariously live those feelings again and maybe enable them to happen under wonderful and truly magical circumstances.
The first day, I watched from afar the big acts while the kids went into the tight mass of humanity crowding the stage. Modern technology, in the form of texting, allowed me to keep in touch. They couldn’t leave their spot to join me and see Tom Jones or they’d lose front standing room status, so I went alone to marvel at this Dorian Gray phenomenon. It seemed that Mr. Jones and I were the only middle-aged people present as I watched in awe as all these teens and young adults, seemed to know every word of every one of his songs. Thousands singling along to “What’s New Pussycat” was a complete hoot.
The closing act of the second day, turned out to be the highlight of the event for all of us as the Dave Matthews Band played for a non-stop 2.5 hours. I mustered up my resolve and for 30 minutes or so wormed my way through the crowd, tiptoeing over prostrate people, to stand adjacent to Will and his friends. It was worth it. Will would turn and look at me with this wide-mouthed grin. He and the girls were dancing in place and the whole field was alive with joy. I remember the same feeling when I went to see Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1967 with my first “love,” Robin, when it took me the length of the entire concert to get the nerve to put my arm around her.
Maybe the music has changed, but I don’t think growing up is any different today. The irony that I realized midway through the trip was that I was 15 in 1969, when Woodstock happened on that August weekend 40 years ago. Now, these three 15-year-old kids enjoyed this festival with the open-eyed enthusiasm I suppose all 15-year-olds bring to life. Maybe the difference is parents today choose to experience some of these things with their children. For me, it was a priceless time and memory.
Be sure to check out my new Outside Lands photo gallery, with my other galleries, on the right side of each web-page. These pictures really add color to this wonderful adventure. No amount of prose can capture the glow on the kid’s faces as well as the photos.