People and places of Mo Pop 2019
The crowd at Mo Pop is wack and wonderful. It’s mostly full of 20-something-year-olds juuling, yeah. But there’s also the young kids with the certified cool parents. The thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds whose parents think their kids are at a birthday party. The mid-thirties, mid-forties, mid-fifties people you might see on the street walking to work at nine in the morning, seemingly so removed from the college kid they once were and in another stage of their lives, but are now dancing right alongside you to the emo jams of Tiny Moving Parts (and have been dancing to those jams for ten years now).
Everything is fine and dandy at Mo Pop for a while. Roy Blair, check, Alec Benjamin, check, Snail Mail, check. J.I.D. is coming up next on the Grande Stage, but my gang of Mo Pop goobers are excited for Wallows. They’re committed to securing a spot in the front row of the river stage, so I go off on my own.
All I can think about as I wait for J.I.D. to start is that video from his show at Ithaca where the ceiling of the venue flexes as the crowd on the floor above jumps up and down. And about how I missed his show at The Blind Pig because tickets, which retailed for $14, were being resold for $150. I may be on my own, but by God I am going to see J.I.D. and nothing can stop me.
I jam out to J.I.D. for thirty minutes before he opens up a huge mosh pit and warns everyone in the crowd that if they don’t want in, get the hell away. I swim against a river of fans too gentle for the mosh pit, fighting my way upstream to get in. I make eye contact with another writer from The Daily, smile, wave, and lose contact as I wobble into the enormous pit, easily 20 paces end-to-end. Looking around the edge of the pit, I notice all the tall and burly men, and my 5’6” suddenly feels more like 4’11”. Then the beat drops and we all lose our minds. We bounce we bash we scream we dance we push we pound and damn did J.I.D. fans get down. Two people on either side of me fall down in the mosh pit pandemonium, and I extend both my hands to lift them back up. J.I.D. finishes his set, I lurch out of the crowd and settle with watching Wallows from a very, very safe distance while my body recovers.
Wallows ends and my friends regroup for a bathroom break. In the way way corner of the festival grounds, right beside the porta potties, a DJ performs beneath a canopy for about ten dancers who bop and jig and gyrate in unison. One dancer rocks the hell out of his skirt. I lie in the grass for a while, marinating in the waning sun. When I get back up again, skirt man is the only one dancing to the DJ. I admire his confidence and dedication from afar.
A two-man news crew from a startup media outlet strolls by, outfitted with a video camera, microphone and consent forms. I sign a consent form and tell the camera that I’m having a great time. “What is your hottest take of Mo Pop 2019?” the reporter asks. Struggling to think on the spot, I stammer out some jumbled words about how the front row is overrated. Cold take, I think to myself after the news crew goes away.
I backpedal on my cold take when Lizzo performs, wishing so badly I could be in the front row. From the outskirts I see two girls dancing their hearts out. “Let’s join them,” I tell my companions, and so we slide on over, five of us dancing in a circle, bonding as Lizzo tells us that we are our own soul mate. “If you just recently got out of a relationship, congratulations,” she says. My friends turn to me in a flash — “That’s you, Dylan!” — and I smile warmly at their support. Lizzo announces, “I’m offering a special discount, tonight, everybody’s a thick bitch.” One of the notably skinny girls we were dancing with screams at the top of her lungs, “I’VE BEEN REBORN AS A THICK BITCH!”
Lizzo finishes and we clap, we cry, we move to the Grande Stage to watch Vampire Weekend do their thing, clap and cry some more, then go home. On the way out of the festival, I hear my name called from behind me — “Dylan?” — and I turn back to see none other than my ex-girlfriend. Delirious as I was, I look in front of me, then turn my head again and she’s gone. I’m a little shook, at first not sure if what I saw was actually real, and had no witnesses to confirm what I saw. Lizzo’s words echo in my head: “You are your own soul mate.” I Lyft to my car in Midtown, drive home in silence and struggle to process the enigma that is my Mo Pop 2019.
Sunday I secure an extra ticket and make my cousin drop what she’s doing to join me at the festival. It goes the same at first: Caamp, check, Yellow Days, check, Whitney, check. Then The Story So Far starts, and they’re the kind of band that everyone pretends to not really care about, but deep down it brings out a long-lost emo-era euphoria, brings us back to the Skullcandy headphones at the corner table in the high school cafeteria, brings down the fucking festival with their strumming and drumming. As soon as the moshing starts it never really ends. No moshing, I tell myself. You’re exhausted. You’re going to regret this. I last two songs before partaking in the moshing.
At one point there is a lull in the song, and the mosh pit remains open, but everyone is on the outskirts, bobbing their heads as the beat breaks down. I take my opportunity and leap into the paused pit, busting out the only dance move I know: the shuffle, as in that goofy dance from the music video for “Party Rock Anthem,” which twelve-year-old me had seen too many times and knew the moves to all too well. The surrounding moshers scream for me, and another short guy — shorter than me, even — jumps in and starts dancing alongside me. For a minute we do our thing and then the band goes back to doing their thing and so the moshers start doing their thing again (you know, moshing). I teeter out of the pit and a guy gives me a thumbs up. “That was sick, bro.”
Somewhere around the second-to-last song, the audience lifts a man in a trash can. Trash can man crowd surfs in his trash can and the crowd stops moshing for just a minute so they can watch and laugh. A poor security guard gets pelted and sprayed with food scraps and beer cans spilling from the can as he attempts to remove trash can man from the crowd. At the end of their set, the singer finally lets himself laugh. “I almost fucking lost it at the trash can,” he says.
My body feels all wrong and I regret moshing. The night grows long and my wallet whines, but I resign to buying food. My stomach has been screaming at me to secure some sustenance for a hot second. I’m still reeling about the 12 dollars I spent on water and the 20 dollars I spent on Lyft, so I scour the scene for affordable festival food (I was looking for a paradox). I find a place offering two sliders and fries for an advertised $9.50. I stare at the sign for a while, deliberating and debating and deciding when a guy high on something grabs me by the shoulders.
“Bro, you have to try this place. Their food is so reasonably priced, and I’ve had it twice today already. So good,” he assures me. I thank him for his enthusiastic recommendation and purchase the two sliders and fries. They charge me $9.75, and I’m mighty miffed about that, but the line is too long to fight for a quarter. The sliders kinda suck, and they forgot the onions. This would have been six bucks at Hunter House and tasted way better. Hunter House is closed now, I remember, and I mourn for them as Ella Mai serenades me.
The crescent moon rises and takes Detroit into darkness when Tame Impala begins their set. I stand far enough away from the Grande Stage that I can hear the hammering and clanking of a crew tearing down the River Stage. The cultist crowd grooves along to their patron saint Kevin Parker, and I spy three couples. One to the left, making out furiously. One to the right, girl butt glued to boy crotch. The couple a little ways ahead stands a whole person-width away from each other, giving them room to bob their arms and hips in sinusoidal serenity. I would have thought they were just friends if I hadn’t caught them holding hands earlier, and I applaud their restraint in the face of all the surrounding sin. Seeing all the loved-up pairs with lips on necks acting out dry sex would have had me falling in line if I had a girl to grind on, shamefully I admit.
Between two songs, a girl comes up to me, really comes up to me, holding a flower inches from my face inches from her face.
“What kind of flower is this?” she asks me. “I don’t know,” I respond. I really don’t. “Guess,” she says. I’m so entranced by Mo Pop’s patron saint Parker performing up ahead that I couldn’t rattle off the name of a single flower. After a few more awkward attempts to pry a guess out of me (“it starts with a ‘C’” she says, “I still don’t know,” I say), she finally reveals: “A carnation.” Then she moves the flower aside and leans in for a kiss. For a percentage of a piece of a moment I think festival mode, fuck it, but when this stranger’s lips are an alarmingly little length away, I deftly dodge, winning a non-consensual kiss on the cheek in consolation. She walks away and I make a disgusted face at my cousin beside me. “It’s ‘cause you’re a boy, it’s okay,” she says with sarcasm. The band starts the next song. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”
Tame Impala finishes tamely impaling my ears with good music and I am ready to leave as my legs are on their last legs. In the dim light of the festival grounds a stranger singles me out. “Yo, I saw you in the mosh pit at The Story So Far,” he says. “You killed it.” I nod and smile. My brain battery is too low for any more.
I stumble into an Uber on the corner of Fort Street and Rosa Parks. My ears are ringing, my body is aching, my legs are not legging and my brain is not braining. Gregory and his Jeep Cherokee chauffeur me to my car in Midtown. I sit in psychedelic silence for a minute, soaking up the weekend. I’m bitten and bruised, babbled and bojangled, battered but not broken.
Mo Pop made a mess out of me. I cherish every moment.