if only for a weekend. Peacocks, pack animals, and enigmas all find their place there; even Emma Watson, while in the midst of filming The Bling Ring, joined us at Coachella—her in-character longhair extensions and temporary tattoo the perfect disguise, freeing her to dance to David Guetta. The feeling is restorative; your faith in people quickly soars. Complete strangers have miraculously returned Chanel handbags and car keys when they were feared lost forever. Onstage, I witnessed Dave Grohl kindly lending Axl Rose, who had recently broken his foot, his light-up throne (from when Grohl broke his leg) so the Guns N’ Roses front man could headline Coachella sitting down.
When it rains, you get a taste of the preindustrial metropolis, but the whole thing takes on a transcendent quality as the sun breaks through and Hunter boots are swapped out for sneakers. It’s where Winnebagos go bump in the night—my camping days are, thankfully, long over— as when a dear friend mistook the bed of my husband and me for his own in the wee hours and jumped in, to a cataclysm of apologies worthy of a Richard Curtis script ( Love Festively, Mr. Curtis?). And though my personal festival grooming has always been rather low-maintenance, our Winnebago neighbors one year— soccer star Wayne Rooney and his wife, Coleen—started each day with a disciplined ritual: a circle of camp chairs and generator-powered hair dryers and tongs. Before Dolly Parton wowed Glastonbury in 2014, Erdem Moralioglu and I were backstage with The 1975. As Parton was escorted to the stage with her hefty entourage, he sweetly said, “Good luck, Dolly!” Halting with perfect eye contact and grace, she countered, “Why, thank you sir!” as the embers of her white rhinestone jumpsuit dimmed into the darkened side of the stage.
It seems that the seeds of festival style—a mythological mash-up of Jimi Hendrix headbands, fringing, craft, tiedye (and birthday suits for the freest of spirits)—were sown at the mother of all festivals: Woodstock. What has since become a kind of unofficial dress code remains remarkably undiminished from Bonnaroo to Coachella—albeit with the technological breakthrough of the waterproof windbreaker and additional support from Patagonia, The North Face, and Gucci. Cara Delevingne and Suki Waterhouse once picked up luminous orange waterproofs akin to those you can find at a roadside gas station. Festival purchases are to be adorned immediately (I once found a wonderful Michael Kors camo mohair runway sweater in a popup thrift store). Vintage favorites also come out: Mine are a Lock & Co. fedora, a 1920s sequined gold vest, and a pair of ’70s Fred Perry shorts. I always pack my Saint Laurent fringe jacket, which manages the feat of either mellowing or rocking out the rest of my look, and tie-dyed cashmere by The Elder Statesman adds solace as the sun goes down and temperatures drop. But such prized items should be taken with an easy heart: Traveling home from the Isle of Wight Festival, Kate Moss (then dating Peter Doherty, who had performed there) suddenly realized she had left a beautiful jacket that had belonged to the late, legendary Marc Bolan of T. Rex, a recent auction prize, backstage—and sadly, one cannot generally persuade ferry captains to turn around.
True festival style, then, can be scattershot: That’s its glory. Will fashion in the fields change when we return? Of course it will—as will the festivals themselves. COVID-compliant riders are now fundamental and prioritize sanitizers over cider. With international travel still uncertain, it’s a moment for homegrown talent to shine— witness Billie Eilish taking her first, momentous headlining festival slot this September at Life Is Beautiful in Vegas—and ongoing restrictions favor those artists needing less crew and equipment to thrive (those 32-piece orchestras and lofty LED screens aren’t traveling well—for the moment, at least).
Among the artists seen in these pages, Ant Clemons has already gone from guesting on Kanye tracks to his first Grammy nomination and inaugural performance, but this could be his summer of love. With talk of a roaring reemergence, there’s a social generation that feel they have missed out and are primed for the festival experience— whether that means losing themselves in the joyful house and disco mixes of Haitian- Canadian Kaytranada in a dance tent or seeing Wallice’s bedroom-pop sensibility played out live.
I started by quoting a favorite song, and I’ll end with one too. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen MGMT play “Time to Pretend”— a hippie- tinged piece of bliss that captures that festival feeling as much as an old, faded tie-dye: I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw / I’m
@ in the prime of my life.
It wasn’t just my own health that had me worried. I am not by nature a hypochondriac, and I haven’t been a particularly neurotic pregnant woman by the traditional measures. (I snuck a piece of sushi or morsel of forbidden cheese here and there.) But in my newfound fear of getting COVID, I began to feel what it might be like to relate to the world as a mother— trying to exert control over the uncontrollable, trying to protect this tiny, vulnerable thing. I tried to make careful plans for our life with a baby, cross-referencing spreadsheets from friends of what to buy ( everyone seemed to have a spreadsheet) and cramming books that promised to make breastfeeding or sleep schedules clear. This was all in the face of overwhelming evidence from the past year that planning could often be futile.
On March 6, 2020— far too late into COVID’s spread to have behaved this way, in retrospect—I stayed out until 3 a.m. at Montero’s Bar & Grill in Brooklyn Heights, singing karaoke with friends, exchanging respiration idiotically, and cleaning the mic with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes in between turns, with decreasing care and attention to germ theory as the night went on. We danced with strangers and squeezed past the crowd at the bar to order more drinks. We piled into a shared cab, with the windows all the way up.
Officially, this was a night out to celebrate my friend Max, who had sold a TV show and was leaving the magazine where we all worked. But now I think of it as my very last carefree night ever. Because when we finally exit this constricted time, life for me won’t go back to late-night cab rides home and selfish abandon at regular weekly intervals.
My sister compared life in the plague year to postpartum life. I wouldn’t have to make much of an adjustment, she joked. But on parental leave, you have a baby to occupy you and stress you and delight you. Instead, as a preoccupation, I had only the imagined version of my future self, and the nostalgic idea of my past one. I was just…at home. During the day, during the night.
Some of it was, to my surprise, lovely. My husband was in a Ph.D. program in
another city, and before the pandemic hit, we spent part of each week apart. But now we were together every night. We dressed our table with our new wedding presents and cooked our way through Diana Kennedy and Samin Nosrat; we watched all of Call My Agent. We also spent at least 40 of our last childfree hours becoming completists of the Darren Star TV Land series Younger, screaming like soccer fans for Hilary Duff’s character whenever she did something particularly unwise. (“MESSY…. KELSEY!!”) I liked domestic life with just the two of us in our little snow globe, mostly. It was a bit like practice for being parents, without the hard stuff. But I missed the parts of myself that existed in relation to the rest of the world.
I began to realize that many of the rituals of pregnancy I was missing out on—the baby showers, the spontaneous, not-always-welcome advice or prying from aunts and coworkers—probably help to gently clarify this transition: They nudge you into a new category, toward a new set of concerns and behaviors. But there was no gradual runway for me, where I got to test this new version of myself in my old life. Instead, I was emerging from a period of relative isolation into an altered world as a fundamentally different person. I tried to clean out my closet in preparation, but I couldn’t figure out which dresses would suit my new life, since I could barely remember how they’d made me feel. In the early spring, I learned a new word: matrescence. The process of becoming a mother. It isn’t an accident that it bears a similarity to adolescence, that other time of great change. (And like adolescence, it involves buying a lot of new bras.)
But the thought of the baby sustained me. It gave me something to look forward to, a goal—and a way of distinguishing time in the slurry of sameness during that strange winter. I could chart my changes against the country’s. The nausea went away around the time the vaccine rolled out. I got my first jab not long after I started feeling flutter kicks. Pregnant women are always more acutely aware of the ticking away of weeks and days. But now the wondrous knowledge that this week I had helped grow something that now had working ears,
or eyelashes, was especially welcome. Despite the fact that every night I was lounging on the couch sandblasting through the time limits I’d instructed my phone to place on Instagram, I was doing the most definitionally creative thing I would ever do.
The people who liked to declare that they weren’t having children because they didn’t want to bring anyone into this broken world had sometimes struck me, in my private cynicism, as grandstanding to mask personal doubt. But in the early plague months, I entertained some of those thoughts for the first time. Everything felt backward- moving. There was something medieval about how cheaply life was being treated, how some of the most vulnerable were bearing the brunt of it. What would happen with the intractable problems of climate change? Would the entirety of our child’s life be spent toggling between decline and crisis?
Still, we chose to hope against reason, which is what the act of having a baby always is. We spent some of those darkest months with family, Zooming into work from my childhood bedroom while another sister worked from the floor below. Both of our fathers had surgeries (unrelated to COVID), and we wanted to be with them when these procedures took place. We scrolled the news obsessively and watched the COVID death counts tick horrifically up. The fragility of life was oppressively present. But there were also moments of joy, many of them involving my small nephews, who were in my parents’ pod and came by to read books or run around the backyard. They were funny and sweet and had no real clue what was going on. (Preschool spring break had turned into a vague “germ break.”) It was clear that family, chosen or biological, was one of the only things that mattered when the normal infrastructure of society was peeled away. We knew we wanted to make a little one of our own.
The week my fetus was the size of a grapefruit, two million people were vaccinated in one day, and President Biden suggested that the Fourth of July—right when I’d be meeting my son— would look something like normal. I couldn’t wait to see what my normal would be. @