I drive down the Mass Pike from the edge of one rain storm to the next – but I chase a rainbow for about ten minutes, some westward splotch of color in the clouds beyond. The rainbow eludes me all the way to Scranton, Pennsylvania. It comes out in full force – all the colors and the sounds – on the lawn of Montage Mountain, where we gather to celebrate the first ever Outlaw music festival.

I navigate a narrow mountain road in two lanes of traffic on the way to the parking lot and I get to park near a hippie bus. HELPLESS HIPPIE, it says on the side. Hippies don’t die, they just FLASHBACK. Present tense, in the moment, alive. But will any of it matter? Will we get anywhere? Will the world be a happy, free, lovin’ place someday? Or will it be just the same? Peace & love, or none of the above?

There are pigs everywhere – the man has a presence, all of his moving parts making plenty of OT to stand around and hassle hippies, no doubt. Flashback, indeed.

I park across from tailgating dads and stoner sons, they drink ridiculous tiny bottles of Rolling Rock. I smell cannabis already, I’m not even out of my car yet. There is a girl with a clipboard and a light blue shirt – Jeez, a leftist on a mission. She avoids me, thankfully. I have that look. Or maybe it’s the antiwar.com bumper sticker – yea, your savior is a warmonger, kid. I scrounge up my ticket and my cash and sense of adventure and walk to the main entrance. I pass another factory-fresh progressive great-aunt with a clipboard and she asks a large woman behind me if she is planning to vote. The large woman says – with some sort of Pennsylvanian accent – “What do ya think, don’t’cha see my shirt? BIKERS FOR TRUMP.” I walk faster. I wish someone would ask me if I wanted to listen to their spiel about their favorite sociopath. “I don’t vote,” I’d say, “I’m not a violent person.” Instead I walk down a staircase and pass some forlorn ski lift chairs in the grass. I see a rugged dude in a tye-die t-shirt, a flame bandana on his head and some USA bathing trunks and crocs. Hell, yea. Outlaw fest! Under the concert poster in the entrance, a well-to-do middle-aged woman in a flowing red dress poses for her new Facebook picture. I pass her and smile. We’re all here to have fun, and it can be had in many ways. “Genevieve” – or is it “Guinnevere” – plays and and I think of that happy woman.

There are hippies, there are pony-tailed bikers, there are soccer moms and little kids in tye-die t-shirts. There is beer and cannabis and God-knows-what-other-illicit-ingestible-goodies passing hands and mouths and dimensions. There are bare-footed girls in the grass and dread-headed boyfriends hold their hands fearlessly; and most importantly, there is music. I can’t really see the performers, just the glare of their instruments from my sunny perch in the lawn.

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The lawn is anarchy. Oh, there are rules. But no one is following any rules. In front of the stage far below us are a few hundred seats filled with the finer connoisseurs of rock ‘n roll, country, and all things trippy. In between the seats and the lawn is a ledge and a fence. The lawn rides up the side of Montage Mountain and beyond us lie the trees and the sun, shining down on us all, its magic children who are here to be outlaws. Without laws, the outlaws.

There are no assigned seats, there are no authorities in sight – there are some unclaimed chairs in a fenced in area, however. They say RENTAL on the back. I lean on the fence and watch the first band – Cabinet, a local Scranton act that sneaks onto the bill when another band drops – and a rocker granny asks me if I work here. “No,” I say. “How do you get in there?” she asks. “Wait until nobody’s looking,” I say and walk away. Her male companion picks out two chairs and lugs them to their secret lawn spots. People lay down blankets, people lay down tarps, people lay down. There are beach chairs and small tents. Big dudes hawk totes full of $12 beers; wafts of lovely cannabis mix with fresh cut grass. I take a nice deep breath and smile – the country singer Lee Ann Womack takes the stage.

A marvelous hippie stands up in front of me and holds his hands to the sky – he dances to that song that Lee Ann Womack sings. “I hope you dannnnce,” we all sing along, the outlaws. He’s got long, messy blonde hair, and that sun-leather face that only a real hippie can get. He’s barefoot and his jeans are too large and rolled up. He lumbers back and forth to the music and holds his hands high, I love him, I love everyone. He knows it’s funny, he’s paying tribute to his forefathers, he’s honoring the forgotten love of a world left behind, on the other side of that rainbow. There is still freedom, you have to find it and reach. You can’t share it until you take it. And he wants to share it.

To my left are a bunch of partying girls, and one ragged mofo in a leather vest, snaggletoothed and already stumbling – he barely clings to his Bud can – while he dances from blanket to blanket in search of the floozy broad to pass out with before the end of the night finds them. They cater to his small talk and flirty laughs and as he walks away I hear him tell the youngest one, “I’ll be walking around and checking things out, I might just stop by and say hello again.” Yikes. Thankfully I am distracted by a weirdo walking around in a banana suit. Yes, the lawn is an anarchy. And now everyone figures out the RENTAL chairs are unprotected and they are being homesteaded. A few minutes later SECURITY goons round up the chairs and bring them back. The chairs go back out to another round of sly thieves.

The snaggletoothed mofo finds some crazy hippies to dance with, old shirtless nicotine-stained fruit-leather types – and their uncomfortable teenage daughter stands around waiting for things to calm down. They are a wild band of gypsies. There is a retired hippie couple, the sort who have nice jobs but retain their weekend peacenik status – the husband wears a brown gran’pa cap, which probably says something like MOUNT POCONO or WILKES-BARRE CREW on it. There’s a dude in a Phil Lesh t-shirt, with a nice haircut – he works at an insurance firm in Philly, up for the day, and no one knows. A tall girl with dreads in a canvas sack of a dress and a vintage brim hat covered in flowers walks up the lawn while her dad – retro band t-shirt, khaki shorts and sandals – whoops, cuts loose, dances around her while the Chris Robinson Brotherhood jams on. She says something to him and he yells, “Yeah! Just hanging out with you, ‘cos you’re my daughter!” “Do what you want,” Chris Robinson sings, “just leave my guitar alone.” He sings for all of us out here.

The MC, W. Earl Brown, gets out there and tells us all to keep being outlaws – he sees a girl in a Disturbed t-shirt and he sees a girl with no shirt on at all! – and he tells us to get out there and introduce ourselves to our neighbors. “Make friends and family because that’s what the rebel community is all about!” He walks around during the sets with the shirtless gal – she wears a red mini-skirt and itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-adhesive-thingies where the legal lines get drawn – and they pose for pictures with people.

I think about an Emerson quote:

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

I sit by myself in a sea of hippies, et al. and enjoy not living by the extrinsic motivation of others. People see me write in my notebook but no one dares ask what I write, I smile and write about that. I write, “Yes, there’s hackysack.” I write, “Damn, those are great dreads!”

I realize that there aren’t very many outlaws here at all. Just a bunch of people sitting in the grass enjoying getting fucked up while rock bands play music for them to get fucked up to. Water costs $5, pizza slices costs $6, beers costs $12, God knows what those fancy things in the guitar-shaped cups cost, and people are stocking up. All the hippies and all the countryfolk love environmental causes and sing along to the messages in the songs sung by leftists, then stick their Newport butts into the grass and feel the music pulse through them while they tuck their napkins and paper plates under their blankets. Don’t worry – they signed up for the politician’s mailing list. They bought the organic band t-shirt at the merch booth.

W. Earl Brown tells us the meaning of the term “outlaw,” in context with the music scene. Back in the day, when the bad boys with guitars started writing country music that clashed with what Nashville churned out, the bigwigs labeled it “outlaw,” and it stuck. Outlaws out here in the lawn? Rebellion in 2016 is stealing lawn chairs.

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I sit cotton-mouthed and slightly dizzy, I reject my health in order to reject the price gouging, but I am able to move up to the front of the lawn, as everyone else feeds the beast. The real show begins – and it begins with Sheryl Crow. I immediately transport – FLASHBACK – to my wonderful prepubescent days and my first favorite cassette tape: Tuesday Night Music Club. Until my sister’s piece-of-shit boombox rips the tape spool apart like a wild puppy with a cheap stuffed toy. I sit in our driveway on that fateful summer day trying to turn the spool back into the tape, but it never sounds the same.

Sheryl Crow – the gal who told us once to use a single square of toilet paper in order to save the environment – is the soundtrack for any kid who can discern the good rock from the Sisqo songs on the pop station in the 90’s. “It’s good to be in my fifties playin’ rock ‘n roll,” Crow lets us know, and tells us her band has been together for twenty-five years. The opening riff for “Every Day Is A Winding Road” leads us into the real Outlaw fest – I feel chills and I realize the lawn was alive. Magic:

I’ve been swimming in a sea of anarchy

I’ve been living on coffee and nicotine

I’ve been wondering if all the things I’ve seen

Were ever real, were ever really happening…

I sit down on the grass and peer through the fence and mouth the words I barely remember to every song in her set. All I can observe is her big acoustic guitar and the drummer’s frantic style and the tall lanky guitarists who stand around her. When the set breaks out into the anthemic “All I Wanna Do” – an ode to doing whatever the hell you want to do – in this instance it’s drinking in an empty bar as the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard… – the crowd finally begins to move. The moms, especially, wave their hands in the air, they know every word. I know my hippie pal is back there doing the same thing.

Crow reminds the audience there is an election coming up. The crowd is mixed, it being a slurry of hippies, soccer moms, and country bumpkins. And at least one voluntaryist. She notes that she might not vote, but if she does, she’s going to write in Willie Nelson – “A little weed in the white house might solve a lot of our problems!” I seriously reconsider voting. A poster is for sale in the merch booth: WILLIE NELSON FOR PRESIDENT. There are stars and bars and pot leaves and our high and mighty leader’s shining bandanna’d mug. He’s got the peaceful solution.

But the time is ripe for some leftist LOL’ing. During “Are You Strong Enough,” the background singers repeat the refrain, “Are you strong enough…?” and Crow replaces “…to be my man?” with “…to register to vote and actually show up?” “…to compost?” and “…to date a girl who recycles?” She wraps it up with “…to be my outlaw man?” Crow ends her set with the song that drives the moms crazy, the one about soaking up the sun. But she gets bonus points as she hula-hoops while she sings a verse. I’m willing to give that song a free pass because the one she plays before is about a crossdresser. Politics and pop single aside, she’s still a badass.

The sun dips and we eagerly await what is promising to be the loudest and wildest set of the night – and the reason I am in Scranton to sit in the grass with the grass-smokers: Neil Young with Promise of the Real. The clouds move in and it gets hazy and foggy. A cigar store Indian tiptoes onto the corner of the stage, the drumset’s floor tom has a big heart drawn on it.

Two girls are walking below me in the assigned seat area. Both are wearing retro Neil Young concert shirts, which they probably have especially for this show. One leads the way as they walk, but she plays with her cell phone and seems distracted and aimless. The other tags along, awkwardly apparent as she wishes her friend would stop leading her around and just go find their damned seats. The two girls remind me of some characters in a short story called Karmann by author Robin McArthur. It’s a story about two friends, one of which is wandering down some shady paths, while the other realizes she’s like to carve her own path, though only after following her friend around for a while:

November: the sky steel blue, ashen in places. We smoothed our fingers over the cigarettes we were rolling, tapped our thumbs on the steering wheel, sang the words we could remember of Neil Young’s “Helpless.” I stuck my cigarette between my lips and breathed in. “Tastes like rat’s nest,” I said, coughing.

Annie closed her eyes and inhaled. “I like it,” she said. “Makes my throat burn.”

It’s funny to me that – like when I was a scrappy punk at basement shows – I still get innocent little show crushes. They come and go like wafts of cannabis smoke. I don’t want to do anything or say anything to the girl who’s just tagging along, I just want to know she has fun down there. I send her positive vibes from nowhere. Up here, everybody knows this is nowhere…

The girls disappear into the crowd up front and the fog and cloud comes from everywhere, the sky, the stage, the mountain behind us. A man smokes a cigarette – more cloud – next to me and we talk. He sneaks his beer in, hides it in his hood, he tells me I should just jump the fence or just walk in, they aren’t checking tickets, get up there. I stay back here and let the incoming breeze blow the music my way.

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Neil Young plays “Heart of Gold,” though the audience sings louder than him. His voice is still perfect, just cracked with seventy years. His hat low, he utters, “We’re growing,” as his band comes out and they go into “Out On the Weekend,” “Unknown Legend,” and “Human Highway.” They drop into D and sing a song about love, “Harvest Moon.” I watch the people dance behind the seats below me. All the weird high dudes fly around while the moms wave back and forth, one skinny asocial gal stands in the corner and does something similar to what a teeny bopper cheerleader might do in her backyard when no one is looking. Then the acoustic guitar is traded for Old Black and we hear the distortion break through the fog. From “Powderfinger” to “Cowgirl In The Sand” to “Cortez the Killer,” the night gets real trippy.

Between songs, Young doesn’t speak much, just says things like “How ya doing?” I’m mesmerized and dehydrated and half-awake and when the melodic and windblown “Cortez the Killer” begins to roll through the night, I realize I’m a little bit high. “Dancing on the water,” Young croons over and over. A few drops of water fall from the sky, there’s a subtle flash of lightning in the distance. The wind picks up. “Dancing on the water…”

A woman climbs up onto the ledge before the fence and sits right in front of me, she looks up to the big screen behind me. She rocks back and forth to the song and doesn’t see me at all. Or any of us on the lawn. I don’t see her either, only feel her, and I look to the tiny musicians on the stage far away in the dreamy night. My high lasts seventeen minutes, dancing on the water… And the rain never quite starts, just drips big drips. The woman comes down from her beautiful psychedelic experience and gets up and climbs down the ledge back into the audience. I feel like we both leave the earth and are in the same place and come back. I’m not sure if it was freedom, but I reach for it.

Without a word, Young leads the band through “Fuckin’ Up” and “Rockin’ In The Free World,” his classic ironic/faux-patriotic singalong with a new bonus verse knockin’ the man…

We got a water cannon for the standing man

We got misinformation from the corporation

In the endless search for a drop of oil

People’s lives get damaged when we suck it from the soil

Gotta show the children – we just don’t care

We just don’t care – we just don’t care….

His t-shirt reads PROTECT; the bass player’s hat has the word SOIL on it; the new organic t-shirt for sale proclaims EARTH. Young has been an environmental activist for years, even taking a stab at building his own electric car, the LincVolt, though it hasn’t worked out. He seems to understand, even though he is a self-proclaimed leftist, that action from individuals is required to change the world – not lobbying the government to do things for “us.” You can’t change the world by just singing a song…

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When Young and POTR leave the stage, the audience begs for more, but they settle for Willie Nelson, which is more than satisfactory. I wander the lawn, now that it is entirely night time and anarchy prevails. Completely sober, it takes me well over ten minutes to navigate the mess of blankets, garbage, and sleeping/passed out concert-goers. I witness four middle-aged drunk dudes fall over onto a woman and man in beach chairs before them, they spill their beers and apologize fruitlessly. The timid, wiry man in the beach chair hands one drunk man his beer back and the woman laughs nervously. Oh, we’re just at a rock concert, honey! Let them have their fun. I wonder how many other incidents like that happen tonight, how many people forget the peace & love part of peace & love.

I start noticing a new crowd form near the front of the lawn, older and more conservative folks. I know him as the old outlaw hippie dude who smokes a lot of cannabis, and has a cool hairstyle for a gran’pa, but these folks know him as the classic country musician who’s written some of the most famous country songs ever. I don’t know many of his songs, but I do get very excited when he sings “On The Road Again,” and I sing along. The set is non-stop – Nelson leaves no time for talking except for the occasional “Thank you!” He just churns out the hits and plays his ancient guitar in a beautiful and crazy style I have never heard before, but love. He somehow plays along to the music flawlessly, yet at times it seems like he’s playing something entirely different. He lets his fingers and his spirit guide him, freedom plays his guitar for him. He drawls the lyrics into the microphone, pausing only to let the audience finish lines for him. He lets members of his band jam out solos while he wipes his head with a towel, only to pick right back up again.

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The rain picks up and I yawn more often, so I decide it’s time for me to get on the road again – so off I go, before Nelson’s set ends. But this outlaw is tuckered out. Many people have already left and many more are leaving as I do – one man leans over a railing near the ski lift shrapnel at the entrance, down and out. Goddamn, there are going to be some terrible drivers barreling down the mountain, or scraping into the sides of cars while exiting the parking lot. I notice a parking attendant alert some drivers to a side exit so I follow and escape the entire scene with ease – I get back onto the highway in minutes, I only have to sneak by a few overtime cops hiding in the dark.

I make it to a gas station called LIBERTY! and buy some snacks and gas and a coffee for the ride, before I decide to sleep at a rest stop in Newburgh, New York. Somehow I am home by breakfast time, back in New Hampshire, ready for a nap and some reflection.

Neil Young sometimes sings a song (though not this time) called “Hippie Dream,” and he sings this:

Take my advice

Don’t listen to me

It ain’t paradise

But it used to be

There was a time

When the river was wide

And the water

came running down

To the rising tide

But the wooden ships

Were just a hippie dream

Just a hippie dream.

I think about that lawn, and the $12 beers, and the awkward social interactions, and the needs those people have, and the strategies they employ to meet those needs, and how content I was sitting alone feeling perfectly happy with how sad I was that I wouldn’t talk to people or try to make friends. Clearly I am not part of this rebel family. Maybe there were others like me and we could be friends, but I didn’t search hard enough. Or perhaps I saw them, but did not act on it. I wonder still if it mattered whether or not I did.

Just because

it’s over for you

Don’t mean

it’s over for me

It’s a victory

for the heart

Every time

the music starts

So please

don’t kill the machine

Don’t kill the machine

Don’t kill the machine.

All I know is that I want to wade into the sea of colorful people more, and see how they act (if that is “acting”) and think (if they “think”) and feel (again, if they). Do the hippies – especially the pretty one wearing her boyfriends’ Pink Floyd t-shirt after she quit the volleyball team to let him teach her guitar, etc. – know what happens to hippies? That they grow up and either get their hair cut and work at insurance companies? That they turn into mush and drive around in old campers searching for love, promoting a sort of aimless sadness that can’t be cured? Where will today’s hippies be in 2019, fifty years after ’69? Where will the United States be in 2019? With similar problems that the US had in the 60’s – race tensions, radical politics, government-inspired assassinations? – might it just be fifty-year-long song on repeat?

Another flower child

goes to seed

In an ether-filled

room of meat-hooks

It’s so ugly

So ugly.

I can navigate my own wooden ship among the blankets and beer cans and passed out hippies. I can heed the words of Sheryl Crow and Ralph Waldo Emerson, an unlikely pair: keep swimming in a sea of anarchy, and embrace that independence of solitude, perfectly sweet. There will always be peace & love. There will always be the hippie waving his arms and reaching for freedom, with the sole intention to share it with anyone he can.