My First Popfest… I Think

Some things I talk about in this story: My comedic hijinks while under the influence of mental illness. Music festivals. Professional rivalries. Hope.

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I knew Popfest would be here again before I was ready. I had a wonderful time last year, but I also had an incredibly stressful few days.

I write for a music news website. In August of 2016, I covered a music festival called Athens Popfest for this website. This was the first time I’d ever been to Popfest, which has been around since 2004. Why did I wait so long? Social anxiety prevented me from attending as a fan, but attending as a journalist was a special opportunity that I wasn’t going to miss.

My social anxiety was a beast during the festival. Sometimes I think I hide it well, but that just means I internalize it, which makes things worse for me in the long run. I battled it constantly, so that every day left me both exhilarated by the music and drained by the sheer amount of energy it took to stay focused on the task at hand and keep my mental shit together.

I met another journalist there who was perhaps as socially awkward as me, only her quirks and triggers seemed to be a bit different from my own. We clashed like oil and water. I honestly don’t know which of us was the oil and which was the water. I suppose in the grand scheme of things it makes no difference.

This journalist wrote a bit about me in her Popfest article. She called me by name. She said she hated me because of something she thought I’d done to catch her off guard or condescend to her, or something like that.

Her article, like my own, was posted online and linked to Facebook. I didn’t expect to be thrust into the spotlight so soon, as new as I was to music journalism in general and to Popfest in particular. I was used to writing about music but not to being written about. I was shocked and embarrassed and not a little hurt, but I guess I was also slightly flattered in a weird sort of way.

Maybe this unwanted attention was karma’s way of biting me on the ass. You see, I did something at a music festival once that some might consider socially unacceptable. I thought back on this time in my life and I had to ask myself: “was 2016 really my first Popfest experience?” I know this sounds like a strange question, but my life up to this point has been pretty strange, and I don’t expect things to change anytime soon.

Most music festivals have a precursor. They rarely emerge fully formed; they evolve over time. Names change, image changes, the people involved change. Popfest wouldn’t be Popfest without what came before.

The year was 2000. I was a 28-year-old, as-yet-undiagnosed manic depressive. I was supremely happy. I was also in the midst of my first manic episode; I just didn’t know it.

There was a small music festival going on that summer in Athens, GA at the 40 Watt Club. Many of the people involved with what would come to be known as Popfest were in attendance, for pleasure or work. I spent most of my time backstage, interacting with a whole lot of people. I was babbling a steady stream of manic-speak, but I somehow managed to avoid getting kicked out.

At one point there was a lull between bands. At the time it seemed like a good idea to walk onstage and share my joy with everyone. So through the backstage curtain I emerged. It was my first (and only) time onstage at the 40 Watt. I had a very specific image in mind. It was a scene from the movie Sixteen Candles. In this moment, lines of perception were blurred and I tried like mad to project to the audience what I saw in my mind’s eye; I didn’t dare speak for fear I wouldn’t be able to stop.

I was wearing a green dress that was really long, which helped to facilitate my next move. I stood in front of the crowd and discreetly shimmied my Redneck GReece Delux promotional underpants down my hips to my ankles, delicately stepping out of them (like a lady), at which point I did a little dance on top of them.

It was at this point that a thin young man came out from behind the stage and gently returned me to the backstage area. I left the underwear onstage. Things probably would have made a little more sense if I had held up my underwear (homage to another scene in Sixteen Candles) for the crowd to see. They were white, but not plain. On the front was a black screen print of Greg Reece’s face, complete with cowboy hat. On the back was a red screen print of the admonition: “Kiss My Redneck Ass.” Yet at the time (and I think this was the right decision), it seemed smarter to forsake my ‘performance art’ and leave the stage when asked.

God bless Greg Reece; he came up with a sincerely hilarious pair of panties, and he sold the shit out of them at his shows that year. I think what finally convinced me to just buy the damn things was how he promoted them from the stage like a carnival barker, even going so far as to point out that they were made by a company called ‘Dixie Belle Lingerie’ and were of very high quality.

A little background: the comedic old-school country band Redneck GReece Delux started out in Athens, GA during the early 90s and carried on well into the new millennium. To get an idea of the band’s sense of humor, I’d recommend listening to their classic tune “Don’t Let Another Penis Come Between Us.”

These days most people know Greg Reece as the WaterMan. His superior salesmanship (of which showmanship is a huge part) carried him on to become the owner of a thriving spring water delivery company. Yet I hear he still transforms into his alter ego Redneck GReece Delux and performs from time to time. It’s a performance you won’t want to miss. Maybe he’ll even bring back some Dixie Belle Lingerie to adorn the redneck asses of his fans.

So there’s my confession: I once misbehaved at the music festival that may have served as a precursor to Popfest. I am much older now, and hopefully a little wiser. And basically, I no longer have the stamina to misbehave (at least not too much) anymore. But as long as I still have the energy and the inspiration to write, I’ll keep on plugging away! Music is love.

-Dena Maxwell, copyright 2017

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