A few days ago my wife and I visited the Meadowbrook concert venue in lovely Gilford, New Hampshire. One of our favorite bands, the North Mississippi Allstars, was there opening up for the Allman Brothers Band, and we wouldn't have missed it for the world.
We entered the Meadowbrook grounds through a large iron gate after being lectured — twice — by a staff member that we would all be searched; that absolutely no "weapons" — including even a small pocket knife or Leatherman tool — would be permitted; that all concert-goers wishing to purchase alcoholic beverages would have to provide adequate identification to prove their age; that re-entry to the grounds is forbidden. (Before we even left home, we'd received an email from the venue which stated that no alcohol would be permitted in the parking area.)
Inside, the first thing I noticed was the police presence. They were everywhere. I've been to several concert venues in the last few years, yet I had never seen so many cops. Typically they've stayed on the periphery. At least, if there were more mingling around with us subjects they'd had the decency to be out of uniform. Here, I felt like I was in disaster area or an occupation zone.
We were instantly assailed by a variety of vendors giving away free stuff like backpacks, newspapers, and lottery tickets. United Way was there, asking for donations. I wasn't interested in any of that; I grabbed the first official looking person I saw and asked where the beer was. He sent me to the wrong place. When I got there they sent me to the "beer tent" at the back of the venue, near the lawn-seating. This was perfect — we had lawn seats. When we walked up there, however, we were told that it wasn't open yet; we'd have to use the bar back near the entrance. Without noticing, we'd walked right past this bar when we entered. Naturally, we had to show our I.D. to get past the policeman "guarding" the entrance-way to a fenced off area around the bar.
Finally, I had beer. Content, I was now ready to walk up to the lawn and find a spot to hang out and dance when the show started. Turning from the bar and heading back out of this bar area, I was stopped by the same large, militaristic-looking young policeman who'd stopped me when I was coming in. "No alcohol beyond this point," he said. So we sat down at a table and sipped our beer.
"Let's finish these and see if the beer tent is open yet," I said to my wife a few minutes later. After walking back to the lawn, we found — to our great pleasure — that the beer tent was open. Again we had to show our I.D.'s to enter a fenced-off area. Thinking that finally we'd grab a drink and find that spot on the lawn, our illusions were quickly shattered: we were not allowed to leave with our drinks.
Though our beers had been put in plastic cups, we couldn't be trusted to walk twenty-five yards and sit down on the grass; we had to stay near the bar (and the six-dollar cups of beer). At least they had good beer. Again, cops were everywhere. If you lingered too long without a drink in your hand, some conscientious staff member would encourage you step up to one of the many bartenders ready to serve you. Of course, you'd have to drink the entire cup before leaving the bar area. I couldn't help but notice how all of this encouraged quick and heavy drinking. This would keep the many police officers watching the roads around Meadowbrook in work.
We finished another drink and found our spot on the lawn, where loudspeakers blared a local radio station broadcast. Before the show started, an instantly-irritating host announced the winner of the lottery, plugged future Meadowbrook events, and informed the pavilion audience that a select and favored few of them, if they were to look under their seats, might find some "artist's" new CD, theirs to have for free.
The North Mississippi Allstars played for about an hour. After they'd left the stage, the same irritating host returned to announce another lottery winner.
Knowing the place would quickly start to fill up for the Allman Brothers Band, we decided grab a quick bite to eat. There's one decent and expensive (and this is a relative term!) restaurant at Meadowbrook. There were countless vendors selling bland burgers, cold chicken tenders, cheese-covered French fries and pizza. We bought some of the crappy food and walked around. Other than a few picnic tables — which were already being used — there was nowhere in this massive place to sit down. So we kept moving.
Before heading back to the lawn we decided to answer nature's call, and waded through a sea of policeman thuggishly glaring at anyone approaching the restrooms. No doubt some malcontent had just smoked a joint in the Men's Room, elevating our protectors to Threat Level Orange or whatever.
My wife and I have a long-standing policy in large public places: if one or both of us wishes to use the restroom, we establish a meeting point where we can rendezvous when we're finished. Whoever gets there first waits right in that spot until the other returns. This prevents us from getting split up in a crowd. Unwittingly, the spot we picked was next to a predictable vendor at any place where hippies converge: the banner across the front of their stand read "Saving the World One Beat at a Time." Apparently, music doesn't require fossil fuels.
Waiting for my wife, I overhead a conversation between two nearby people. A young man was trying to hand something to a young girl. I could see them out of the corner of my eye; I'd have needed to wrap duct tape around my head to not hear them. He was pushing something towards her, and she kept pushing it away. After a minute or so of this, the item — which turned out to be a t-shirt — fell to the ground. Instantly, the young man howled at the top of his voice, "Litterer! This girl hates the Earth!" It wasn't said maliciously. Obviously he was goofing off. Yet the high volume startled me from my slumber, and I reflexively looked in their direction. At this point I made eye contact with the girl, who looked to be somewhere between 18–22 years old. I would guess her companion was the same age. Key voters a healthy democracy needs, we're constantly told.
Do you remember what it was like to be, say, 8 or 9? Elementary school days? Invariably, a friend on the playground would try to embarrass you by making a loud and scandalous allegation. "He plays with himself!" some kid might shout at you. "He's gay!" was a favorite when I was in school. "He likes girls!" was almost as bad. The point is, the instant reaction of the now-mortified victim of this verbal assault was to deflect any and all attention away from himself — preferably back on the accuser. The standard response was to point back and say, childishly, "No I don't — he does!"
Well, back to Meadowbrook. I was staring into the eyes of a now-mortified young woman who had been accused of littering and "hating the Earth." Doubtless she thought I was looking at her in reaction to the accusation. Pausing only long enough to swallow hard, she stared back at me fearfully. "No I don't," she said, hastily, pointing back at her friend, "He does!" I didn't care. I didn't say anything, just walked far enough away that I could see my wife when she returned. Blissfully, this happened within moments, sparing me any further contact with the Earth-hating couple.
It was getting dark. The Allman Brothers started to play. The first thing I noticed when the sun went down was the aroma of marijuana all around me. With lots of people now on the lawn, the police and security guards were hard pressed to identify individual offenders. Safe in relative anonymity, the kids smoked away. Another lesson from another flawed policy: prohibit something peaceful and you merely drive it, literally, into the shadows.
We got bored after about half an hour. We'd seen what we came to see, so we decided to drive around a few of the nearby towns surrounding beautiful Lake Winnipesauke before heading back home. Walking out, we were scrutinized by staff members who were probably instructed to report anyone appearing intoxicated to the police. They also reminded us — again — that re-entry was prohibited. That was fine with me; I didn't want to come back.
Reflecting on this experience the next day, I thought how much it served as an example of life in general. Police everywhere, watching our every move; approved "areas" for particular activities (like "Free Speech Zones"); the arbitrary limitation of choices (and the accompanying artificially high prices); fast food; constantly being shuffled around; mis-information; always having to show identification; endless visual, verbal, and commercial stimulation; irrational fear of everyone and what they might be doing; generally being treated like a small, irresponsible child. It would be foolish to blame all of this, as many are so tempted, on the excesses of capitalism. Meadowbrook is controlled and regulated to every last detail by government. Unsurprisingly, it resembles a public school more than a bustling marketplace. "I feel like a kid again," I said to one of the staffers that night. He smiled at me, probably thinking I'd meant it as a good thing.
August 9, 2007