Campfire Birds

I love camping festivals. Smaller affairs than those found in big cities, they are intimate and allow me to fulfill a bit of my nature bug at the same time as doing shows. I generally choose to tent over billeting, because waking up to the sound of a burbling river can be a glorious thing.

All that intimacy of close quarter camping is not without peril, however. Especially in the precious wee hours of sleep. Take what happened at a recent festival:

I was scheduled to play several workshops and sets on the Saturday of a three-day festival. We arrived early on Friday evening to set up camp and to catch the mainstage show. Despite my desire to soak in every last bit of music happening on the stage that night, I dragged myself off to bed at the respectable hour of 12:30 am. I was pleased with myself: I would get an unheard of eight hours of festival sleep before my day of performances. Popped in my ear plugs and…

…wouldn’t you know it. At 4:30am, a campfire started up just outside our tent. And not just a campfire, no. If it had been one of those dreamy cowboy lullaby sessions or even something upbeat but to my ears *musical*, things might have turned out differently. Instead, the campfire was being led by one super loud guy intent shout-singing at the top of his lungs. The sound of his voice pierced through my earplugs and thrust me out of the depths of deep sleep. This caterwauling went on for several songs. Finally I got up – mad as a bucket of bees – and headed over to the campfire where he and about a half dozen early morning revelers were sitting by a burning pallet.

Despite the rude awakening, I approached him in the manner of calmness and compromise (as calm as you can be when you’ve been jerked awake.) I’ve been at many a campfire shut down in the past, and I didn’t much care for it (yes, I’ve been that voice singing at full volume, oblivious to the nearby sleeping tents.) So surely it would be better to find a mutually agreeable solution the noise problem, yes?

After politely waiting for him to finish his latest song, something along the lines of STRUM-STRUM-STRUM “you GOTTTTA LEGALIZE”, I suggested he “keep it down a bit” or maybe “move the campfire to the other bank of the river.” I barely got the first words out when — get this — he flipped me the finger.

And not just a plain bird, but one of those fancy multi-part jobbies:
“I got three reasons why I’m not going to do what you tell me,” he said.
*sticks up pinky*
*sticks up ring finger*
*sticks up middle finger*

Then he bellowed “I’m a musician. I’m sick of people telling me to shut up.” Well, that threw me right over to the cranky side of the river. I’m not proud to tell you how this story ends, but after a heated exchange I did flip him back a double bird as I stormed off back to my tent. We were at an impasse, and I needed sleep.

I later learned that the reason he was up so late because he was chaperoning his teenage daughter, who was also at the campfire. Apparently she refused to go to bed, so he stayed up with her all night to keep her out of trouble. I wonder if his goal was to get wasted and belligerent, providing her with an excellent example of how not to behave in public.

Final thought: I am rethinking my policy, and next time I may accept an offer of a billet. Turns out sleep outweighs gurgling river.


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