Denver: People watching, a great and magical sport

When you have this particular epiphany — mine came in my forties, if memory serves — you just say to yourself, “Self, you don’t have to listen to music just because some dumbass says it’s hip and you cannot be hip unless you also listen to it. Listen to music you like.” Embracing this philosophy saved me many hours of boredom, listening to Dave Matthews and pretending to like it.

(I will hear Dave at the festival tomorrow, to try to see what the fuss is all about it. My wife tells me he is “pure sex,” so I will do what I can to capitalize on any inroads Dave makes into her erogenous zones. But come on — what is the deal with Dave Matthews? He’s Jack Lemmon in 1957 with a deeply affected singing voice. If I want to see Ensign Pulver or “Under the Yum Yum Tree,” I’ll search deep cable for the Lemmon film festival.)

But it’s fun to watch the crowd at the festival. This afternoon, it was overrun with the deeply tanned and supple college-kid crowd. But as the sun inched out the door, the geezers came out. Maybe they had to work this afternoon, or take the grandkids to see “The Dark Knight,” or maybe it was tire-rotation day at Firestone. They sure as hell weren’t here earlier when I strolled the grounds, half-expecting them to pull me aside and say I did not pass the coolness code.

But now my fellow geezers are here, many of them in tie-dyed glory. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take the stage and for those of my generation, it’s like an audience with the pop. God bless you, Tom. We’re real proud of you down in Florida.

It’s always been hard to be young, to feel the suffocating crush of peer pressure. The kids at this festival are so intent on not being uncool. And me,  so obviously uncool, just could not give two shits what they think.

One of my last big-concert outings was about a decade ago, when I took my older children — then on the crest of turning 20 — to see Phish in concert. That was a festival of people watching. It was as if I’d fallen into a time-warp cavern and all of my trying-so-hard-to-be-cool friends from the 1970s had materialized in the parking lot outside the stadium.

“Fatty burrito, duuuude?” a hirsute young man asked me.

“Fatty?” Did that mean it was loaded, sort of the Mexicali version of the hashish brownie? I never found out. I passed on the burrito.

I was so enamored of the parking-lot hippie culture — kids of the 1990s trying so hard to embrace the culture and lifestyle of my generation — that I pitched a book on it to my editor at the publishing house. Alas, she passed on the idea.

But there was something so innocent and charming about that Phish crowd. It was  like seeing my adolescence pressed under glass. And I liked the music too.

There’s a little bit of that here, but you have to look for it. The Mile High Music Festival is exceptional well organized. But for the raging heat – which the promoters are apparently unable to control – this is a well-managed, enjoyable event. But the nearly mile-long vender row is all corporate. All of your favorite brand names have booths here.

Oh, where have you gone, fatty burrito man?

I could bemoan corporate sponsorship at the expense of the dudes and dudettes selling their homemades from their Colemans. I could go off on a rant, if I wanted to.

But corporate or not, this festival still offers that most magnificent of pleasures – watching other human beings at play.

I have seen, in the last five hours, some of the most awesome examples of humanity I’ve ever seen. But beyond the physical beauty, it’s a wondrous experience – even for a geezer such as myself – to be among so many thousands of people having so much fun in one place at one time.

My father used to have office stationery that struck his colleagues and patients as kind of odd. But, speaking as one of his kids, we dug it.

It had a picture of a little man, sitting in a box, looking out at the world, saying, “People are no damn good.” Say what you will about the sentiment. What I remember is that little man looking out at the world. “Who is that?” I asked my dad once. “He’s the Peoplewatcher,” he said. “And he’s watching you.”

Watching people has always been one of my favorite pastimes. What greater place to watch people than a rock festival?

Events like this make me want to sink to my knees and thank God that I am not 20 years old. I embrace my 53-ness.

There are two wonderful things about aging.:

No. 1: You know when to say when. Getting drunk and throwing up loses its appeal some time in your thirties. Trust me on this.

The No. 2:  You reach that certain age when you just don’t give a fuck. You don’t wear trendy clothes, listen to the band du jour or follow the lemming-like political path that leads, ultimately, to intercourse. (And isn’t that why we do so much of what we do?)


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