It’s not every day that you get to attend a friend’s wedding, let alone an impromptu topless ceremony in the midst of a music festival. But if you’re going to make a career of touring around festivals full time it’s bound to start happening, at least on the weekends. Festivals, by their nature, are designated drop-off points for inhibitions, and given the opportunity your garden-variety 9-5er will happily wade into the deep end of the pool, once they’ve found a taste for it; abandoning their social mores, and often their clothes along the way. For the veterans, it’s championing the perpetual weekend, and proudly rallying around the freak flag, and Messtival, in Anagance, New Brunswick, is their Iwo Jima.
Messtival might be, as the organisers so affectionately refer to it, ‘a curated party for weirdos’, the one true festival people’s festival, but given their audience, there’s only so much planning that goes into it before the doors open, and those beasts get inside. For all that preparation, half of everything that goes on at a festival is what the attendees bring to it. At some point the monkeys are going to start running the zoo. Bands, stages, light-shows, on some level are reduced to a backdrop for the costumes, surprise weddings, and midnight topless yoga sessions: the art of human interaction. “Really? That happened? I’m an organiser here, and I didn’t know that was going on,” said Nancy MacPhee. Which is okay. This isn’t the theatre. We aren’t here to be stuffed into our seats, our eyeballs aimed at whatever has been brought out to dance on the stage for us. We are the spectacle; an exercise in self expression.
If it gets a little weird, so be it. Messtival makes a point of staying small; limited to only five hundred tickets. It’s meant to be an intimate gathering of weirdos. Those that show up are the dedicated festival people, consummate freaks who have worked all winter to spend their summers living in tents, touring from festival to festival. They buy their early-bird tickets, and show up days before anything is scheduled to begin. They even sarcastically promote the event as being the worst festival around to keep numbers down, and to ward off anyone expecting to come out for a good time. The grounds are regularly patrolled by the fun police to ensure maximum disappointment. Laughter is actively discouraged. Any enjoyment derived during the Messtival experience is unintended and purely coincidental. The deadpan sarcasm is almost too much to take in the centre of a crowd where everything goes to eleven. Nobody bats an eye at the dude walking around in a giraffe suit. “See, there goes a giraffe. It doesn’t matter,” remarks MacPhee, “I was thinking of installing a boob-o-meter to keep count of all the boobs we see at the festival. It doesn’t matter.”
But these people are pros. Many of them have found ways to turn festival life into a living, either through performing, or working as vendors. The rest have done the circuit so many times that they’ve acquired heavy ringtail tan-lines, the tell-tale markings of concentric event bracelets along their forearms they’ll wear season long, often holding out until they’ve rotted off. These are well-seasoned warriors who don’t pack it in just because Monday has rolled back around. These are the faces you see again and again at every festival. This is exactly the sort of crowd Messtival expects to turn up, and after a season spent together in the wilderness, they’re practically family. So if someone wants to spend the weekend bombing around in nothing more than a rainbow tutu, that’s just fine by them. If a velociraptor is going to scavenge the grounds for the more delectable festival-goers, that’s okay. It’s never going to get weird enough, and these people are perfectly comfortable with that.
In an atmosphere where taking the absurd to new extremes is the norm, there’s a paradigm shift that expands the definition of social praxis. Nothing short of some of the more vulgar sins will keep these people from embracing you. Redefine your comfort zones, or at least reimagine them writ large. There might be a DJ and a three-piece horn section blasting away on the stage, and enormous psychedelic dog looming over them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the comforts of home as someone brings you a sofa so you might dominate a game of Mario Kart projected twenty feet high against the side of the stage. There is always someone who is prepared to serve you tea. Messtival is just like real life, just bigger, and brighter, and there’s a man wearing a shark for a hat.