Alphapalooza 2009: The Journey
Whenever I meet people from Tennessee, I ask them if they’ve been to Grundy County. They all tell me they’ve never heard of the place.
I first heard of Grundy last Spring, when Joel told me he was playing a nascent festival in the middle of the mountains, somewhere Northwest of Chattanooga, Tn. It was called Alphapalooza, and djs, bands and entertainers were gathering from all around to get down. A promoter out of Atlanta hit him up about playing a set, and it was all to go down on Fourth of July weekend.
Did I wanna come? Of course, why not. I’m a girl that’s always looking for a good adventure.
It was Joel, Tom, our friend DJ and I riding in Joel’s little green Jetta, and we had no idea what we were in for.
We set off for Atlanta on Friday, July 3rd, because we had reserved our right to get blasted and dance to the musical stylings of A-Trak and MSTRKRFT. Even though drinks were $9 a pop, and the only choices were Batjuice & Cola, Batjuice & Diet Cola, or Batjuice mojitos, we tore the place up like only out-of-towners can. And we jacked a million posters.
The next morning, after I puked up my greasy breakfast, we hit the dusty road to Tennessee, a place I’d never been. As we drove across the veins of America, my chemicals settled and I got excited. We went three hours, passed Chattanooga, and soon found ourselves reaching an area of humanity my city-slicker eyes had never beheld.
It was a sparsely populated town called Gruetli-Laager, settled in the early 1900′s by desperate Swedes, seemingly frozen in time. Everything was tinted the same shade of yellow pages turn when they age. It seemed like the only businesses we came upon were churches and funeral homes. We pulled over at the first and only store we saw to pick up some beer and other necessities.
We found three people staring at us when we walked in. A weathered looking man sat at a table with a woman holding a dog who I assumed by her demeanor was a beauty of the town although she were missing some teeth and gave the impression she was aged more than her years by over-exposure to the sun and non-exposure to the outside world. At the counter stood the owner of the shop, who I guessed to be in her fifties and only a little taken aback by our being there in our colorful party-people get ups.
I shuffled to the beer freezer and, GASP! Only Bud and Bud Light were for sale in Gruetli-Laager. It sucked, but it was reality.
At the counter, I learned that the owner was very chatty. Unfortunately, she sounded like Boomhauer and I could barely understand a word she said, so I smiled and tried my best not to come off as a total douche-bag. DJ, being part redneck himself, was the only one among us who stood a chance at making contact. None of this stopped the owner from telling us all the latest gossip of the town while she bagged the beer, or at least I’m assuming that’s what she said.
We grabbed our ice and dipped, feeling weirder than shit, half-expecting to hear banjos around the corner and headed deeper into the nothing.
We came to a dirt road, at which point we imagined it would only be a short drive to the festival grounds. But nothing on this trip was what we expected, and we continued for at least another hour. The Jetta was rumbling along as best it could as giant ATVs started roaring past us, filled with redneck passengers that stared at us in disbelief as they left us to loose ourselves in their giant dust clouds.
We looked around the car, searching each others faces for confirmation that no, we weren’t totally lost; no, we wouldn’t be kidnapped and made to squeal; and yes, we should keep going.
Finally, we took a turn in the road and reached our destination. Jaceland, 60-acres of mountain madness owned by an old hippie who’s got the place set up with dirt bike courses and shady mountain ruins. We hauled the poor car up one more hill, parked ourselves in the valley, stepped outside, stretched and gazed at the beautiful scenery around us.
Now all we had to do was pitch our tents, make our introductions, and get ready for the coolest random party these mountains had ever seen.