Other than the occasional week at summer camp when I was little, I have never camped camped. But with all the music festivals that encourage it, I started wondering if I should give it a try.
I had about a million reasons why it was a terrible idea, and why an indoorsy girl like me could never take four nights of roughing it. But then there was a boho hippie angel on my shoulder who convinced me that I’d have the time of my life under a canopy of patio lights, sipping rosé all night with like-minded country fans, swapping stories about our favorite songs and bonding over lyrics that changed our lives.
And she was right.
One of my best friends from Detroit had just bought a vintage 1969 Airstream, so we decided to meet halfway between Chicago and Detroit and make the travel trailer our home sweet home at the Faster Horses Festival in Brooklyn, Mich. The Three-Day Hillbilly Sleepover would be my first attempt at camping, and the Airstream’s maiden voyage for us.
It didn’t start out exactly as I’d hoped, which was that I’d be like the girl in Miranda Lambert’s “Airstream Song,” with homemade curtains living just like a gypsy. Because first of all, it’s not easy to maneuver a 31′ X 8′ trailer onto a campsite. That took some blood, sweat and tears. Then once that was done, I flagged down the water truck to fill the tank for $45. And once that was done, I plugged the Airstream into the electrical on the site. But after some old-school mechanical troubleshooting–because we didn’t have the owner’s manual or the ability to download one–we realized that the water didn’t work if the air conditioner was running.
Forced to make a choice between plumbing and not melting, we chose air conditioning. So that meant no working toilet, no shower, and no running water for rinsing dishes, washing hands, or brushing teeth. Fortunately, the campground had a permanent building with bathrooms and showers, which just kind of made it feel like living in a college dorm.
After three days of that, the lack of water was the thing I hated most about roughing it. But there was so much that I learned to love about roughing it.
1. The staff. On Sunday night (July 22), during the late afternoon, a storm came through a forced the evacuation of the festival grounds. My camp ambassador came out in the rain and knocked on everyone’s RV doors and told us to roll our awnings in. I never would’ve known that, so I was so grateful for his concern. In fact, the rest of the festival and camp staffers were just as helpful and genuinely friendly — like they were just as glad to be there as I was. I’ve been to enough fairs, fests and venues to know how rare that is.
2. The neighbors. Maybe I just lucked into the best neighborhood/campsite, but it felt like I’d moved into the place for the nicest campers. It was like they loved the camping as much as they loved the country music. I guess I’d expected that people would see the camping as a necessary evil when you want to go to concerts that aren’t near any big hotels. But I was wrong. They were literally all happy campers. And during the day — or after hours — when new friends walked by our site, the conversation was easy. Best of all, we all had a love of country in common, and I talked to dozens of fans who had stories to tell about concerts they’d been to, artists they’d met, and pictures they’d taken.
3. Special Ed’s Donuts. About a five-minute walk from my site was a little white school bus with a line wrapped all the way around it. When I went to investigate, I could smell the donuts before I even saw the Donuts sign. They were the best donuts I’ve ever had in my life — so fresh and warm that the glaze almost melted off — and I went back every day. To be honest, a couple times each day. I was on a strict glazed-donuts-and-rosé diet all weekend.
4. The walkable commute. I’m always over-thinking how I will get home after a concert, especially one that’s not in my neck of the woods and in the dark. But this festival had that covered. I could’ve easily jumped on one of the trams that stopped right outside my campsite, but I chose to walk every night — because donuts. It only took about ten minutes for me to walk from the Airstream to the stage (I also knew enough to pack sensible cowboy boots that could cover a lot of ground).
5. I’m outdoorsy now. I’ve never been a lover of the great outdoors, but camping kind of unearthed a little bit of that in me. No matter how big your rig is, it gets claustrophobic after a while. So we set up a few outdoor chairs under our awning and under the patio lights we’d strung, and I found myself wanting to spend all my time out there. And it didn’t hurt that even when I wasn’t at the festival, the festival was close enough that I could hear the music as if I was right in front of the stage. On Saturday evening, for example, we had a little Dan + Shay singalong at our campsite happy hour.
6. Nobody trashed the bash. There were signs all over the festival and the campgrounds not to trash the bash, and reminders that your mom is not here to pick up after you. And it looked like everyone did their part to keep Faster Horses beautiful. They also made it easy to tidy up, with ample trash cans near the stages and a reliable curbside trash pick-up service in the campgrounds.
7. Room to move. Because I’d never camped, I assumed that once the trailer was in place, everyone’s RVs would be packed into a campground like sardines. But I was dead wrong. Our site was 30′ X 50,’ and the Airstream was 31′ X 8,’ which left an outdoor living space big enough for hosting neighbors without ever feeling crowded.
8. No cell service. Normally, this is the kind of thing that drives me insane. I have texts to send, tweets to tweet and pictures to post. Not to mention keeping up with all the artists who were performing at Faster Horses. So I missed a lot by not being in touch–like the picture Miranda Lambert posted of her view of the crowd of 40,000, saying, “This. It’s like a dream. All the people who showed up for country music. Thanks for an incredible night. #girlsincountrymusic #holyshitballs.” But because no one at the fest could be very connected, everyone was looking up at the show instead of down at their phones.
Now that I am a legit camper — I already wrote down the dates for the 2018 festival in my calendar — I realized what this experience did for me. When I was packing my car on Thursday, I didn’t really want to go. But by Monday morning, when I was packing my car to come home, I didn’t want to leave.
Fans who were unable to attend can catch the full Faster Horses experience on CMT Hot 20 Countdown airing Saturday and Sunday (July 29 and 30) at 9 a.m. ET.
Enjoy scenes from the 2017 Faster Horses music festival:
Bobby Bones and the Raging Idiots
Dan + Shay