Admittedly it wasn't the best of planning, but my nephew really wanted to go to England, and the only time available was right before the Fest. Time was still so tight that I arranged for us to have only a few hours between arriving back in New York and setting off for Baltimore. No great strain for a 13 year old, apparently, but a little more hectic than I might have liked.
Still, it shouldn't have been a problem - there were at least a few hours available for rest in between Fest activities - except that I seemed to have picked up some sort of bug in England - well, Wales, to be specific - that followed me home. Or perhaps it was food poisoning, which I'd prefer, since I'd hate to think I infected any of the hundreds of people I've come in contact with these past two days with some version of Limey Flu.
But whatever the cause, the result was that I was unable to keep any food down or get much in the way of sleep for three days, and when I took my first steps out into the blast furnace heat of midsummer Baltimore, I might as well have asked the powers that be to take a cosmic sledge hammer to my midsection.
Thankfully, most of this town is air conditioned, the Fest venues included, so I was able to maintain some equilibrium - if only just. And if I were here to quietly spectate from a comfortable bench at the back of the room, I should have been fine.
But the Fest, more than being one of the biggest pop punk/punk rock/rock and roll shows of the year, is also kind of like an annual convention for the fans, musicians, scenesters, makers and shakers of the genre, and it's virtually impossible to shake the proverbial stick, let alone walk 20 feet in downtown Baltimore without banging into someone or several someones who need to be met and gret (?!) with an appropriate degree of enthusiasm.
And let's face it: as much as I love these people, it required a real effort on my part to show any evidence of it. Usually at these events I'm jumping around like a hyperactive monkey, shouting encouraging if sometimes nonsensical words at everyone I encounter, but for the first two days it was all I could do to manage a weak, "Good to see you! Me? Oh, I'm all right."
Even that wouldn't have been unmanageable, but greater duties loomed: in a fit of madness I'd accepted the responsibilities as second guitarist and vocalist for the hardcore combo SUCIDIE, scheduled to play a fast and furious eight minute set on the main stage in what was arguably the primest of prime time Friday night slots, just before Fest favorites, the Steinways.
Thanks to SUCIDIE's leader and resident genius MATT FAME living in another state, we were only able to practice his intricate musical compositions twice in advance of the show, once in May and once in early June. Of course we could also practice on our own, but I wasn't able - okay, wasn't willing - to haul a guitar around England and Wales with me, so during the last couple weeks before the show, I hadn't had a chance even to run quickly through the set list.
I figured I could make up for that by practicing by myself the night before leaving for Baltimore, and then with the band on Friday morning, but neither proved feasible, and I found myself, as showtime approached, feeling much like the student who has recurring dreams of showing up for an exam only to realize that he's totally forgotten to read the book the exam is based on. Oh, and that he's also managed to come to school completely naked.
I was even having trouble with the one song that I'd written myself, albeit some 21 years ago. My illness had left me not just physically weak, but mentally deficient, to the point where, even if I could remember what the chords were and where they were located, my brain couldn't get a message to my fingers fast enough to find them. It was a little like what I've always imagined senility would be.
I ended up having to miss most of the afternoon's bands in an effort to get some rest (I'd barely slept at all the night before), and when I showed up back at the venue with my borrowed black and gold GPC Weaselrite guitar in tow, I was far from ready to take the stage. In fact, what little brain activity I was capable of was mainly directed at figuring a way out of this. For instance, when Pansy Division broke the kick drum and a 10-minute delay was announced, I volunteered that by giving up our slot, we could put the show back on schedule.
No such luck, however, and anyway, by that point I'd become a little charged up, both from the Copyrights' exceedingly powerful set and from being repeatedly attacked by a youth coalition consisting of my nephew and (almost) 10 year old Tre Uncool teaming up to try and knock me to the floor (they never succeeded). So I did my duty, jumped on stage, bounced around, grinned probably a bit too much, at least for a hardcore band, and only made two or three flagrant mistakes (actually, it might have been someone else making some of them). It was, after all, as people kept pointing out, "only eight minutes."
We didn't get a resounding ovation, but neither did we get booed off stage. The only blatantly acerbic reaction came from Jon Pansy Division, who greeted me with, "Whose idea was THAT?" I refrained from pointing out that we had headlined over his band.
Then it was into the pit for the Steinways' Last Show Ever, and it was here that it all caught up with me. The adrenaline was still coursing through my system, and being further amped up by the band and the crowd, but by the time the set was halfway through, I had to retreat to the sidelines. I genuinely felt in danger of collapsing, and though my heart ached as I saw all my friends still thrashing like mad to the final strains of "Carrie Goldberg", I wasn't about to try to make my way back into the frenzied throng.
It was then that I thought, "Maybe I finally am getting a bit too old for all this." I mean, in principle, sure, I could keep coming to this for quite a few years to come, even if only in a diminished capacity, but wouldn't I rather go out in a blaze of glory (by which, no, I don't mean dying of a heart attack in the middle of the pit)? The chances of getting asked again to play on the main stage are at best minimal, and I've already been dubbed "Mr. Fest" and "the mayor of Fest-town," so maybe now would be the time to bow out gracefully, to retreat to my rocking chair and internet message boards.
Well, maybe. Today I feel considerably better; I've been able to eat two meals, one late last night and one this morning, without unfortunate results, and a whole day of Festing still lies ahead. I'm sitting here in my shorts and my classic sleeveless Crimpshrine shirt, getting ready to rock out to, let's count them, 42 (?!?!) bands between now and sometime after midnight, and I don't feel that overly daunted by the prospect. Maybe I've got another Fest or three in me after all!