Naked Coachella

2022-08-03  hungry

I walked as fast as I could from herald square to the parking lot on 31st and 8th to just barely make the flixbus leaving at 4 to philly (after a train just got stuck ?? at parkside). J, an acquaintance from college, and I were on the way to rehearsal with his friends from high school and Ukrainian choir, M and A. J had asked me the week before if I was free to play drums in his psych-rock-covers-of-slavic-folk band at a naturalist music festival. It would not require nudity but would mean sleeping over in Philly on Friday night and camping at the fest on Saturday night. I, reluctant to devote my whole weekend to the cause but too curious to say no, agreed. We talked the whole bus ride, partially because J’s phone had just died. We talked about our love lives and the jazz scene and NYC high schools. He coincidentally knew many of my camp friends. He told me about how he had just confessed his crush on, and subsequently been snubbed by a professor at the after party for her work, and he was confused about how touchy and flirty she had been post-snubbing. He showed me her dissertation defense video of her in the bath. We got to philly and the rest of the band picked us up to head to rehearsal. What I had not know going into this weekend was that our other two bandmates, A and M, were dating. This fact, however, became very apparent as soon as we began rehearsal in a dim basement covered in acoustic foam (although I also learned it on the bus). It became apparent not because of pda but more because of the weighty undertone of the small disagreements they had about our set. Rehearsal was fun though, their covers were compelling and it felt natural to sit purposefully at the kit again for the first time in a few years. The nice thing about both psych rock and folk songs is that they are easy to pick up quickly. A, the director of the Ukrainian choir, gave fun snippets of context around each song and its associated season. The three would often slide Russian words and phrases into conversation, which J would sometimes translate for me. On Saturday we drove to the fest, which A and M had played duo last year—suspiciously, they had been cold called and asked to perform despite having no public recordings (the band had just returned a few weeks ago from “Russian burning man” upstate where they camped and performed as well, which sounded just as weird for other reasons). I thought I had been ready for the event but as soon as we pulled through the gate and passed the field of uncovered loins I quickly felt overwhelmed. Lesson #1 of the naturalist resort: Essential gear. Everyone had dark or mirrored sunglasses on. Was this because it was bright and sunny, or because they did not want you to know when they were looking a your junk? A question whose answer may be lost to the depths of time. It took me a very awkward hour or so but eventually I got pretty good at maintaining direct eye contact under pressure, a useful skill in both naked and clothed contexts. The second piece of required garb is a towel to bring around and sit on, because while standing around naked might be fine, even nudists get tired and nobody wants your bare ass to leave their chair wet and sweat-stained. It seemed like they made towels that specifically clip around your waist to cover your tucchus and leave the front exposed. Finally, the event page put the last item best: "Sun screen!!!! If your bottom has not seen sunlight in some time it would be a good idea to get some sunblock on that and some other key areas." One thing I also did not know heading into the weekend was that we were the first act, playing at 2:15 pm in peak 95 degree sun on the covered outdoor stage. The stage, and festival itself, was actually incredibly professional. Multiple sound techs helped us set up and soundcheck when we arrived late; the equipment was all very high quality; the audio engineer and MC were especially kind and encouraging to us. All of these people were completely naked. As we soundchecked, a woman waiting in front of the stage (the only spectator there) began to stretch by pulling her legs out and back and thereby pointing her perineum directly at the band, and we tried our best to ignore her. We played a decent set to an unseen crowd of people in the shade across from the stage. Lesson #2: Naturalists are not so natural! Someone had looked up nudist etiquette before the show and learned that it was common to shave your pubes. Not only was that ubiquitously true, but there was almost no body hair at all; many of the chests and armpits we saw were also shaven. Might be TMI but this made it awkward for the band to even consider donning our birthday suits. Also given the name "naturalists" one might expect some sort of body purity but there were a lot of tattoos and piercings abound. Some of my favorite tats I spied: a full chest piece of a bull that had just taken a steaming dump, the logo and scores and dates of every single pittsburgh steelers superbowl win, a full color tramp stamp of a license plate that said "FRESH" (owned by a man always on a one wheel holding the reigns of two well-groomed golden retrievers; he must have been from west philadelphia, born and raised). After the set we headed to the “green room,” which was actually just a tent with some seats and tables, and on one of the tables was a half-gallon mason jar full—full—of weed. J’s weekend goal had been to “green out” and it was unclear if the food and drinks and weed were our only form of payment, so he started smoking. We walked around the small grounds and eventually set up our tents in a calm field far from the action that in my mind was called “Gooseshit Field” because whenever the wind blew through it would smell like shit, and M remarked it was particularly goose shit smell. We heard the geese but never saw them. Back in the green room, I, despite chugging as much water as I could, felt pretty tired and out of it from the heat so I just sat there shirtless for most of the day. Every once in a while band would repeatedly tell me how good of a set we played for having only one rehearsal, which I think was supposed to be a compliment but still made me a bit confused as to whether they actually thought I did a good job. The couple left to go into the pool at one point which de facto meant that we couldn’t get up and walk around because the outdoor pool was very public and was nude only and we did not feel ready to go from bandmates to Bandmates. I don’t know why the pool is nude only if the rest of the place is clothing optional? Our best guess was to avoid getting microplastics from bathing suits in the water. The whole vibe of the festival was unexpected—Walking up to Gooseshit Field one passed through a corridor of let's go brandon flags (yuck, obv) on permanent residences, but the camping area flew the redesigned pride flag (and while i'm sure there are some gender-inclusive trumpers, it's not exactly my first thought). I had assumed the fest would be filled mostly by old grateful dead heads, and they were definitely there, but it was largely young people probably 5 or so years older than us. Lesson #3: Nudists love volleyball?? This festival was part of or connected to an apparently very extensive nude volleyball league. The season, as J and I were told while sitting under an active wasp's nest by two naked dudes standing next to us (sitting/standing is an important dynamic due to what ends up right at eye level) starts in the spring all the way down in Florida, and makes its way up north as things warm up, with multiple tournaments each month (although many people have "other hidden talents that we'll learn in time" as we were also told at the same time. Neither of us could tell what that was supposed to mean). One woman told us she got involved because her college dorm friend, the MC, asked her to come to a naked volleyball game freshman year. A result of the volleyball focus was that a lot of the people there were actually quite fit, which made me feel pretty awkward shirtless despite the intended body positivity of the culture. Guess I have a lot to learn from the nudists! I started to feel better on Saturday night and walked around for a bit. I got to the stage just in time to see the DJ, who had just been playing 2000s pop punk remixes, propose to his girlfriend on stage (she said yes!!!!!!!). "The hardest part is going to be explaining to your parents how I did this in front of 300 naked people," he said. The DJ before him had played saxophone during his set, and the band before that was a 60s rock shredfest comprised of berklee-freshmen-type kids. J had smoked enough to give himself a headache and I was still pretty tired, so as the party raged on at the indoor stage (kind of glad I did not go to that tbh, sounded sweaty) we laid in our tent, chatted, and listened to the roaring orchestra of crickets on either side of us try to sync up with each other. J left the tent early in the morning to go for a private swim, and a little while after he got back I had trouble falling asleep, so I decided to shower and get in the pool as well. Out of the tent, a person was sleeping in the sunny center of Gooseshit Field (this was an insane thing to do; it was covered in bugs), and I debated breaking the resort rules and taking a photo. There was no way to tell who it was or even really their gender, and no truly naughty bits were exposed. I eventually decided it still wasn't consensual and didn't take it, but in retrospect if someone took that photo of me I would have loved it. I made my way to the pool and scoped it out before stripping to get in the shower. Honestly, getting naked was the hardest part, and once I was I didn't feel quite so weird (I still felt super weird though, don't get me wrong). It felt so nice to wash the sticky sweat and sunscreen off my body in the shower, and the pool was cool and empty. I got out when people started walking by and looking at me, maybe because of my chest hair or maybe just because I was swimming by myself at like 7 in the morning. I thought it was a hilarious idea that instead of pranking your friend by stealing away their clothes while they swim, at the nudist resort you just leave a pile of clothes for them. When I got back to G.F. the guy sleeping had changed positions and the photo was no longer an option. Later on Sunday morning I sat with A and M by the small cafe area that was serving coffee and breakfast sandwiches. They were talking about the sopranos with two naked dudes they had met before somehow. A kept explaining bits of Tony's psyche. The dude with the pink and purple belly button piercing told us he used to be a hobbyist video editor and had edited together a video of tony's worst moments as a music video, and that he'd send it to us. J showed up, and he and I ended up sitting around while A and M went to the pool again. Eventually we saw A talking to a vendor topless, which we did not feel like we were meant to see, and tried to look everywhere but there. One guy who stopped to talk to us told us about the conversation he had with a bunch of others around the campfire the previous night. It was about everyone's favorite drug interactions. "Me personally, I like to smoke and drink during the day, and then take mushrooms at night. Then a little while after I've taken the shrooms I'll take a little bit of molly, and the molly makes me feel happy instead of anxious when coming up on the shrooms and then I have a great time," he said. The pack-up and the car ride back became somewhat tense, as everyone was sun-tired and irritable, and eventually J and I got on the flixbus back to nyc. Lesson #4: Maybe in the end the things that we truly bared to each other were not our bodies but our souls. Maybe the real nudists were the friends we made along the way. I'm not sure if I would go back to the nudist music festival, but if you want the details for next year, let me know.