Wedding Rings, Yoga Mats and Rockâ'nâ'Roll

Feature Story

by Maria McGuire

2007 is now upon us. I'm still telling stories from last year's unfolding, but what really matters now is the one to come. For those going, the momentum is unifying; exciting. This is the kind of event that can alter lives. So, in some way, everybody leaves Bonnaroo with something, at the least, a good story. As a slow burgeoning artist, last year's festival was the curtain drop I'd been waiting for.

Last year I relished reading Jack Neely's tales in Metro Pulse of numerous obstacles that Jack and Jack endured at Bonnaroo. I heard some of those directly from Jack Renfro. I contacted him beside the Solar Stage during a midnight fire performance by Gypsy Hands. Indeed, he wore a kilt, and on his head, an odd, but distinguished cap. After the show, I convinced him to walk with me to the â“Academy,â” where I taught bellydance classes, so I could share with him my â“Bonnaroo Moment.â”

My life was in the beginnings of transit. A first wedding anniversary just after the festival, a fun job at a Wellness Center, after leaving an office position earlier that year, intent to attend massage school in the fall, and reemergence with Gypsy Hands; all these dominated my life. Meanwhile, I wanted to find myself making art. Trusting her intuitive knowledge, I accepted an invitation to Bonnaroo from Sara Griscom, proprietor of Gypsy Hands Healing Arts Center. My role as one of her students was to teach bellydance classes near the Solar Stage. Meanwhile, the troupe performed three times each day with a band of local drummers and a guitarist from Philadelphia. Two yoga instructors attended to teach each morning at the Solar Stage. I accepted the opportunity with only slight hesitation and opted not to doubt myself and accept whatever came of the experience.

The sun shined constantly that weekend, supplementing for lack of food, sleep, and water. Though I remained dehydrated, often without food, and in five days I slept less than 20 hours in my little tent, I remain convinced that I'd been tapped by the sun's energy, just like the panels at the Solar Stage. It only took teaching two classes along with Jennifer Corum, Gypsy Hand's costumer, to feel the vibration of nearly one-hundred thousand feet patting the ground we shared. That, the sun, the layers of amazing live music, and perhaps some flower essences meant to â“promote charismatic service without self-aggrandizement,â” all contributed to an ideal state of being. The dancing opened channels to move without restrictions, celebrate community, and charge one's awareness inward to stay focused on a particular intent. Mine happened to be a constant supply of inspiration. By the first night, I was dizzy from the intensity.

Gypsy Hands performed in the Troo Music Lounge on Thursday evening. After the show, I saw a tall man bent over a stick, talking with Sara. Daniel Shankin knew Yanji, the guitarist. For unknown reasons our yoga instructors left the festival. As it was, this man was a yogi. Unfortunately, Daniel twisted his ankle as he fell out of the van when he arrived earlier. Sara asked if he'd teach yoga and he immediately volunteered. I approached him and suggested taking him to the stage managers. Aimlessly meandering, Daniel limped ahead of me leading the way to the stage managers.

The next morning, I arrived for early yoga, melting my bones under the blazing heat to Daniel's hypnotic instruction and Yanji's mystical chords. Later in the day, the yogi found me and asked for attention to his ankle which was now double in size, purple, and he continued to limp over a short stick. I had just convinced him that the ankle was likely broken when a friend approached with an affectionate couple. â“We want to get married,â” they cried together. Shocked, I shook my head in protest, seeing a terrible mistake, but by then, a woman from a henna tattoo kiosk invited the girl to receive a special tattoo on her hand. Daniel admitted that he is an ordained minister and the two clutched each other, begging for this chance. Suddenly, I was helping the groom choose a ring for his darling at a jewelry stand where he spotted a pretty amethyst. When we returned, the young man grabbed his bride by her wet hand, smearing her intricate design on his own hand. Daniel stated that he would do the wedding the next morning, after 8 AM yoga. They complied and followed me around until we found the Solar Stage. I looked at the bride. â“What are you going to wear?â” She had little else besides the blue bikini and tank top that she wore.

We headed for the Academy where I happened to have an array of vintage clothes for bartering, including a pastel peasant dress worn for rehearsal before my wedding. The veil was a white satin shirt that tied at the bosom with chiffon sleeves and a draping hood. I handed it to the bride. The story in itself was plenty exchange. The three of us sat down and discussed marriage 101 from my experience of one difficult but promising year. â“Marriage is a lot of work,â” I counseled and they seemed to understand. They shared how they fell in love several months before and why they feel they must be together. Telling their families was another matter, and most importantly, how serious they were for marriage. I informed that the powers that be at Bonnaroo were counting on them to follow through and now was the time to back out, if any, then left running, with the rings, anxious to show the gypsies.

I awoke the next morning with my tent full of spiders. I thanked them for being kind not to bite as I shook off my clothes and dressed in black yoga pants and a white satin top, something appropriate for a yoga wedding. Daniel was on stage, his foot in a cast. He said he was flying home after the wedding. I saw the relief in his eyes. During yoga, I exhaled into cosmic relaxation as Daniel related the Hindu mythology of male and female principles. The groom was there among a large crowd. During deep relaxation, a naked toddler ran circles around me, laughing. Then, a stage manager nudged me. â“The bride is looking for you.â”

In a nearby tent, Ashley stood angelic in her ensemble, clutching a bouquet of flowers in one hand, hugging me with the other. â“Will you walk me up there?â” she asked. She appeared nervous, but said she was ready. That was my Bonnaroo moment. Within one year of my own wedding, and a day before Father's Day, I sent a woman down a similar path, only the people we passed were strangers seated peacefully on bare ground. Up in front, the troupe sat in summer dresses and straw hats.

It didn't take long to find our next substitute yogi. By the time I returned to camp, it was nearly one o'clock and I hadn't sipped any fluids or food. We had a class to teach, but I refused until after bathing. Jennifer rose to the occasion and began without me. In the line to the showers, I shared my account with the people behind me. â“The only thing is,â” I added, â“Now we need a yoga teacher for tomorrow.â” The man in front turned around. â“I teach yoga,â” he said. I chuckled and said I'd get back to him. After my shower, the man called after me and stated that he really wanted to teach. He came to Bonnaroo to just have fun, but he suddenly felt called to teach. I explained that our person was from Philadelphia and was an up and coming Vinyassa yogi. Mark was from the same studio. He arrived separately and had no idea that his friend broke his ankle, taught two yoga classes, married two lovers, and then flew home. I dropped him off with Sara.

By the end of the festival, people asked where my energy came from. I didn't know, but pointed endearingly at the sun as I continued to taste sublingual flower essences. A lady who'd come to a class found me and cried; something I'd said sparked her to grieve her neglected body. I was drawn to local musicians with unique injuries, missing their shows, and making promises to find them back in Knoxville. I had some faint but crazy notion that if I continued to keep this attitude, great and creative dreams would fulfill themselves. I came home celebrating our first anniversary with creativity.

Since last year, I had to give up dancing to study massage therapy at Roane State, but kept ties to Gypsy Hands. I've worked with a developer in Old North Knoxville, Daniel Schuh, and have witnessed his creative visions unfolding for my neighborhood. My spouse has remained supportive despite the transitions. In April, I followed the Gypsies to the largest tribal fusion bellydance extravaganza on the East Coast and cried as I watched them unleash their spirits in a new and shocking way to an entranced international audience. I intend to use my skills on the troupe at the festival. Those who glimpse their magical dances and fire play on the Solar Stage again and the spectacular new choreographies for the Bonna Rouge stage will see their athleticism through the original aesthetics.

Jennifer and I are delighted to be teaching again, this time with a new addition, a Gypsy Hands' hypnotherapist and massage therapist, Jana Foder. We're looking forward to more people than last year, an artistically decorated Academy, and more feel good bellydance moves that anyone can groove to. Since we're celebrating our dance at the earth-friendly Solar Stage, I'm taking cares for the environment, wearing recycled materials and consuming organic goods, keeping my belly full and filling the recycling bins. Most importantly, our mission is to assist people into their bodies so they can become more conscious, thus receiving as much as they care to for the extent of the festival. Sure, I'll see shows, especially the local artists I've never seen, but the real mission is centered on healing.

While the rock and roll history created at Bonnaroo is sure to set fire to many people's enthusiasm, Bonnaroo has its place for me as a magical experience bound to change one's perceptions and their life, if they allow it.

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