“Veteran” festival attendees still feel the magic surrounding festival season. The weeks leading up, the excitement, the planning—it doesn’t get old, you just learn a little more each year and hopefully pass that wisdom on to those coming up behind you. This year at LOCKN’, I decided to bring my six-year-old, Ryder. It was by no means his first show, but it was his first real festival and first time camping. For music-loving parents, bringing kids to their first festival is equivalent to others taking their child to Disney World for the first time. Parents experience the magic of the festival through their children’s eyes, sharing in the innocent and immense enthusiasm of a child.
During LOCKN’, Ryder couldn’t get enough. He loved every moment and wasn’t fazed by any of the bumps along the way. We drove from Florida to Virginia and made our home in the family camping area. He immediately met our neighbors and played safely under the eyes of multiple parents while I finished setting up camp. For the next four days, Ryder was dirty, stinky, covered in orange clay, and couldn’t have been happier.
Ryder was able to experience music in a way that I believe bypasses most adults—he felt it and instantly became part of the community. To him, no one was a stranger. He wanted to hear stories about where people had come from and what bands they wanted to see. He spent a lot of time admiring and falling in love with every piece at Morning Dew Tie-Dye, and the owners were wonderful to him, answering his questions and embracing his curiosity. Later in the weekend, one of the owners (Sam) from Morning Dew Tie-Dyes tapped my shoulder and asked me to give Ryder a beautiful stone shaped like a pyramid, saying “I want him to have it.” Ryder was over the moon with delight, and the gift still sits safely on his dresser.
When the tire on his wagon broke, we headed over to the Handlebar Café to see if they could repair it. They could not have been kinder and did everything in their power to fix Ryder’s wagon, letting him help and teaching him the process of what they were doing along the way. They spent almost two hours on his wagon—for free! Plus, someone there told him we had to go to Garcia’s Forest, and it ended up being one of the favorite things he saw at LOCKN’ this year.
While all of this was an incredible experience to watch, it was very emotional for me as well because Ryder has special needs. He has global apraxia—a motor planning disorder that makes it difficult for children to use their fine and gross motor skills—and struggles to speak. Everyone took the time to meet him and understand him. Another major obstacle is that Ryder has (SPD) sensory processing disorder. I was internally terrified of how he would respond to the crowd, the music, the lights, the smells, the food—everything! The festival experience is a lot for most adults, to be honest, and I wasn’t sure how it would go. However, when Ryder wanted a smoothie before we headed to the main stage for the night, the staff at The Loving Cup were more than happy to accommodate his dietary restrictions even though they were slammed.
Some people believe children don’t belong at shows or that it’s pointless to bring them because they won’t remember. However, even if kids don’t remember all the “ins and outs,” the experience helps shape them. My child who struggles every day to do basic tasks has never felt more loved and included. Complete strangers stopped to give him high-fives and dance with him. He played hopscotch with glow sticks in the dark, dug in the dirt, blew bubbles, and ran freely with new friends. He even traded a light-up balloon for a flashing lantern so that he and his new friends could continue to play once the sun was down. He may not remember every detail of the festival, but he’s already excited about LOCKN’ 2018 and asks me all of the time, “How much longer?”
I had a friend question me about taking him out of school to attend a music festival. I explained that, to me, Ryder was in school. Festivals are a school of life and love, aiding in a fundamental part of growth, development, and connection. Ryder’s music teacher happens to play in JJ Grey and Mofro—by pure coincidence, Mofro was Ryder’s first show when he was an infant—and was kind enough to give us passes to watch from backstage on Sunday. My son was so excited to see Mr. Eric at his “real job,” as he calls it. When Mofro finished, Ryder went down and had his picture taken with “Mr.” Eric Brigmond (keyboardist) and Craig Barnette (drummer), who gave him his drumsticks and the set list.
I’m sure that Ryder will not understand for quite a while what he was a part of at LOCKN’—seeing Bob Weir and Phil Lesh play Terrapin Station for its 40th anniversary, getting gifted drumsticks and meeting musicians backstage. However, he did understand when a woman gave him a gem and told him it was filled with positive energy for him to share with the world, and he did understand when a golf cart taxi driver wanted him to have an intact geode that he’d dug up in Indiana. All of these events may seem insignificant to cynical adults, but to Ryder, it was pure magic.
I strongly believe in the energy that live music produces—there is an undercurrent that binds the community together. In a world filled with so much tension and negativity, it feels like a gift to be able to share with my son a community that I believe in and love. I hope that Ryder continues to feel the music and spread positive energy, just like he was asked to. At one point during the festival as we walked to the main stage, Ryder asked me, “Can we come back next weekend?” I had to explain that next week, the event would turn into a large empty field. In response, he asked, “Well, where do we find this?” I simply replied, “Tour, baby.”
Cheers to you LOCKN’ for putting on one hell of a festival for kids of all ages to love and embrace. We will see you back on The Farm next summer.
Michelle M. Leigh is a free-spirited Mother of two who vehemently believes in embracing each day and being the change in the world. She enjoys adventures with her children, husband and traveling to as many shows as she can fit into her schedule. As a self-professed lifelong music junkie, she enjoys a wide variety of music and sharing that passion with others, especially her kids. You can follow her at Grateful Momma Bear on social media.