Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If it hadn't been for Marco

I've attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival 16 times. I've had great times at each of these festivals and have hundreds of stories I could bore a stranger with. Of all 16, there is one in particular that I relive more frequently than the others: 1995 - the year I went with Marco.

It was my fifth festival, and Marco's first and only. My roommate, Drew, Our friend Lee, his boyfriend Ken, and several of their friends that I had never met before were also going. They were renting a condo, but I declined to join them on principle; I believed the best way to experience the festival was to camp in the parking lot and skinny dip in the river like the true bohemian I imagined myself to be. Marco opted to join me, since he was even poorer than I was at the time.

I was nervous about road-tripping with Marco. We were close, but he was still more Chris'-friend-from-college than my friend at the time. And road trips are notorious for testing friendships. I remembered how Chris and Marco's road trip from the March on Washington two years earlier had strained their relationship, and how Drew and Marco's road trip less than a year earlier had caused a rift that still hadn't healed (another reason Marco wasn't staying in their condo).

I rented an SUV from my brother (thanks Ken!), and picked Marco up before dawn. We barely had room for everything since Marco was bringing his guitar and bike, and I was bringing all my juggling gear (in a classy new prop bag that my sister bought for me in Mexico - thanks Tami!). It was good that we left so early, because even though this was my fifth time doing this, I got lost (my sense of direction is genetic - thanks Dad!).

We ended up in Lake City. We were looking at a couple of hours of backtracking around the mountain range, or... "Doesn't this thing have four wheel drive?" asked Marco. I wasn't too sure about his plan to four wheel it over the mountain range; the vehicle was rented, and I couldn't afford the fancy insurance, but Marco had a way of daring me into doing things.

I didn't need to worry. The four wheel road was in good shape, and the SUV made it to Ouray without a scratch. More importantly, it was a hell of lot of fun. And the view was gorgeous. It turned out that the four wheel road from Ouray to Telluride was closed, so we had to backtrack around the mountain range anyway, but I had no regrets.

During the Festival itself, Marco and I parted ways. He couldn't afford a ticket, so he just listened from the river bank and caught the free shows in Town Park. He hooked up with a hippy boy named Dan who became his constant companion for the weekend (his name officially became Sexy Dan in the retelling of the story ever since).

To this day, regular Festivarians remember the 1995 Festival for its extreme weather. It rained non-stop the entire weekend, it got below freezing every night, and it even snowed one night. The weather prevented me from juggling as much as I usually do, but it didn't stop me from having a great time. This was during the time in my life when I was going barefoot everywhere, so I was walking and dancing through slush and mud. It got really cold sometimes, but I was too blissed to care. Marco introduced me to Bushmill's Irish Whiskey, which was really good at keeping me warm. It's still my favorite Irish Whiskey, and it became a festival tradition of mine for years since.

One night, festival staff went around the parking lot kicking out the campers. In a policy that was new that year, they would no longer allow people to camp in the parking lots. This prevented bums like us from doing the Festival on the cheap. Unfortunately, I had drunk too much whiskey to drive away safely, so I just went to sleep in the back and let Marco drive us out. He found a great hiding spot on Airport Road that I would continue to use as my festival camping spot for years to come.

One morning it was raining so hard that we decided not to leave the SUV until it let up. The three of us stayed cooped up in the back of the cramped vehicle for over an hour while Marco played Neil Young songs on his guitar. With all the great music I heard that weekend, that's the set I remember most vividly.

The professional music was good, too. I was excited to see Wolfstone again; they were the highlight for me the previous year. It was also the first time I heard Ani DiFranco. I was so impressed with her that I made Marco and Sexy Dan listen to her free Town Park concert the next day. They were less impressed than I was.

After the festival, I was making my annual post-festival trip to Parachute to visit my dad, so Marco needed to arrange another way home. He decided to hitchhike. This wasn't unusual for him. He had hitchhiked up the Pacific coast from San Diego to Washington, as well as other trips. We talked about it often, and I told him how I'd love to do similar trips before I got too old.

As we were packing up to leave the festival that sunny (figures) Monday morning, I reflected on what a great time I had despite the weather, and getting lost, and being kicked out of my usual camping spot. I realized that Marco was a significant reason why the festival rocked when by all rights it should have sucked. I also knew that it was something you should say out loud when you get a chance. I distinctly remember the scene: I was trying to get a brush through my tangled mess of long hair, and he was brushing his teeth with whiskey. I said "You know Marco, I had a blast this weekend. And it's all your fault!" He gave me the open-mouthed squinty-eyed smile that I will always picture in my mind when I think of him, and he gave me a spontaneous hug.

Ever since I found out yesterday that Marco had died this weekend, I've been preoccupied with memories (as well as other thoughts) of Marco: memories of tubing down Boulder Creek with him, visiting him in New Orleans, learning to make cocktails from him, etc. I struck me how many ways Marco had influenced the direction of my life, from the music I listen to to the cocktail I drink. It's impossible to know what I might have done differently. I might not ever have had the courage to take my hitchhiking trip if Marco hadn't dared me to. If I did, I certainly wouldn't have been brave enough to go to New Orleans by myself. Would I have ever been a bartender? Would I appreciate bagpipe music? One thing's certain: I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun at the 1995 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

1 comment:

Karen said...

So sorry to hear about Marco, Andy.