The Pitfalls of Aging and Raging
By: Kyle DiRaddo
By the time this article comes out, my 35th birthday will have come and gone. That future national holiday will also mark over 20 years of being a card-carrying member of the “As Many Shows as Possible” club. The last two decades have been very good to me. I have made and maintained close friendships with people I otherwise would never have been introduced to. I have seen nearly every corner of this beautiful country of ours thanks to following bands from town to town. Most importantly of all, the jam scene brought me a wonderful woman with whom I now have an amazing 11-month old son. The good times, great tunes, and countless blessings this life has brought me is not something I could ever eloquently write about, but if you know me then you know that I wouldn’t trade in the years I’ve spent on the road, in cramped theatres with zero ventilation, and in fields in the middle of nowhere with thousands of my closest friends for anything in the world.
When I was younger, nothing phased me. It was all about getting to the show and having a good time and the hardships be damned. The tougher the squeeze the sweeter the juice. Driving halfway across the country to attend a four-night festival and then driving back after having slept one night’s equivalent in four was nothing. Shirking all responsibilities on a whim to try and score a ticket to a sold-out show outside the venue was old hat. Hell, I could make an argument that I slept better in a tent with a rock the size of a small schnauzer digging into my lower back then I ever have on mattress. The Kerouac-esque pull of not knowing what the next day will hold other than the show at the end of it has been enough to keep the fire burning for over half of my life.
Unfortunately, however, one day I woke up and I was 30.
Since then, it seems like the things that I used to chalk up as just part of the experience (aches, pains…memory loss) have become days-long healing sessions consisting of a lot of complaining and whining on my part that never lead to the tender loving care I want. By no stretch of the imagination should 30 or over be considered “old”, but I certainly have noticed that my tune has changed in several areas. For example:
Camping out at a festival or for multiple night runs carries a certain mystique that can rarely be duplicated in other environments. There is the comradery amongst your fellow campers, the anticipation for the good times both passed and to come, and the feeling that this show and this set up will never be duplicated again in the history of human existence. And when you’re young that is all well and good.
However, the older you get the less appealing this becomes. I recall a particular incident at a campground outside of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the middle of a Phish run that involves a giant puddle, a urinating woman, and it being 4 am that probably isn’t fit for print. I was in my late 20’s and let it slide (if you see me at a show, I’ll be happy to tell that story). 35-year-old Kyle would have probably taken a little more exception to her early morning pee party, but at the time it was no big deal.
The sore back, the lack of sleep, and the declining sanitation of the camp site in general after a few days makes camping less and less appealing as I move farther away from my 20’s. Will I still camp out and have a great time doing it? Absolutely, but there better be some tree shade and that line up needs to be killer.
My first festival was All Good at Marvin’s Mountaintop in West Virginia. A buddy of mine and I packed up our tents, sleeping bags, some clothes, and several cases of beer and hit the road. It was, to that point, the time of my life. Great shows, great people, and an eye-opening experience that translated into countless more festivals as the years have gone on. What we didn’t count on, however, was food, rocky terrain, and the weather.
Sure, we packed some chips and some hoodies, but festival food is expensive (not to mention murder on the ‘ol digestive system) and the nights out there in West By-God are much colder than I had been led to believe. Thankfully, my youthful exuberance was able to overshadow my less-than-stellar preparedness, but I took what I learned there and sort of did the exact opposite for the next couple of years.
My crew and I began over-preparing to the point where it would take two or three cars just to get a handful of us to wherever we needed to go. Between air mattresses, tents larger than some apartments I’ve lived in, and enough coolers full of food to prepare meals for an invading army, it got incredibly expensive to go to festivals or multiple night runs. We’ve gotten better over time but know that there is such a thing as “too prepared”.
Side note – don’t pack lettuce. You won’t use it for burgers or sandwiches, and it will get waterlogged from the ice in the cooler melting. Trust me on this.
Sometimes the groove is too much and you can’t help but move your head to the music. Unfortunately, the head is attached to a very sensitive part of the body known in medical circles as the “neck”. The neck has muscles in it that are not used to being vigorously stretched and pulled for long periods of time. The resulting pain the next morning is called “rock neck” and is directly related to how hard you banged your head to the music the night before.
Umphrey’s McGee, Primus, and literally any EDM show are just a few of the culprits that can lead directly to rock neck. The symptoms are stiff, sore muscles and an inclination to complain about the way your neck feels to anyone and everyone you come into contact with.
The worst part about rock neck is that you know it’s coming, but there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can walk into a show thinking that this will be the night that you overcome it, but it will be to no avail. If the band is on…your neck is rocked and as the years accumulate, it will take longer for it to pass. It WILL pass, but it will suck for a few days.
Proximity to the Stage
When I first started going to shows, I had this overwhelming desire to be as close to the stage as possible. That meant invading other people’s personal space and being completely fine with the occasional runaway dreadlock finding its way into my mouth while I sang along or cheered at full voice. The closer you get to the stage the less you move, the harder it is to get to the restroom or go grab a drink, and the more likely you are to exchange sweat or other, grosser fluids with a perfect stranger.
Nowadays, going to the front seems like more of a chore than it’s worth. Chances are I already know what the band looks like and I’m not super interested in whether or not they have a moustache this tour. For me, it’s all about dancing space and the panoramic view of the stage. The brilliant lighting directors (CK5 I’m looking at you) don’t design their intricate patterns and displays to be viewed up close and personal. They are meant to be enjoyed in their full splendor and being underneath a guitar player’s nose simply doesn’t allow that luxury to happen.
Dancing space is a really important element to going to a show for me. I have been known to incorporate jazz/tap, African tribal, ballet, and even Prohibition-era swing dancing to my repertoire. That takes some space and I’m not finding that up front. Also, when I want a beer, I want a beer. It’s much easier to grab one when the bar is 15 feet behind me. Enjoy your thirst, front dwellers!
At one point in my life, concert t-shirts made up (conservatively) 98% of my wardrobe. This made formal and semi-formal events a challenge, but that didn’t stop me from auto-piloting my way to the merch table at damn near every show I went to. Every tour needed to be documented with an addition to my already overstuffed dresser drawers. If a Kyle went to a festival and didn’t get a shirt, did he even attend the festival?
Once I got that under control, I graduated to more decorative things. It started with posters (of which most of my apartment is adorned with) and pins. And then the sickness took over again. Coasters, socks, beer cozies, alpaca sweaters, license plate frames…it was never ending.
However, now that I’m a bit more seasoned, I have found that I am able to control myself a little more than I used to. It isn’t out of maturity or a desire to better manage my finances. It isn’t because I now have a kid and I want to provide a little nest egg with which to start his future. It’s because my rent, groceries, cell phone, student loans, and diapers are hella expensive. It’s because I live in a city where gas prices should be looked at as a punishment for choosing to live in such a congested area. 35-year-old Kyle looks back at the frivolous spending of 25-year-old bartender Kyle with envy and some contempt.
Some people are going to read this article and accuse me of being a complainy pants and in some respects you’re right. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that the things that I took for granted in my 20’s are well and gone and not to return anytime soon. I want to do all the shows, sleep on the ground, ingest questionable substances for the purpose of the lights looking brighter, and buy a pile of merch I honestly don’t need. The reality is that with age comes responsibility and while my enjoyment of and dedication to the scene has not wavered, my ability to do all the things I want to and once did with reckless abandon have.
But don’t feel sorry for me, my friends. I get to look forward to heading to shows with my son and teaching him how to do this thing the right way. I get to share with him all of the experiences that have made me the man I am today. I get to introduce him to the scene that took me farther and wider than I ever would have gone otherwise. Getting older might suck, but there is still a lot to look forward to.
Also…I can still outlast any of you young bucks. Come see me.