Comfest 2010

Rumors abounded about how Comfest ’10–the annual “Party With a Purpose” in Goodale Park–would be different this year, or whether it would even happen at all.  During last year’s festival, an 18-year-old man stabbed himself to death (see Columbus Dispatch story posted here in the blog in a separate entry), and that cast a pall over the entire celebration.  It was the first fatality at the festival since the first one (in 1972), and the Internet was humming with rumors that it would be cancelled, that Goodale Park would be swarming with police officers, and that the police officers would more rigidly enforce laws than before.  (They’ve usually turned a blind eye, or issued friendly tsk-tsk-tsks, when they’ve encountered pot-smoking, in the past, but rumors abounded that police officers assigned to Goodale Park for the weekend were going to start kicking ass and taking names.)

I went Friday night, from about dusk until after midnight, and was in the park Saturday from early afternoon until the celebration officially ended at 10 p.m.  (That was one difference that was blatant: A set ending time for bands, vending, etc.  Even when these events ended in the past, there was usually something going on into the wee hours, including movies, where they’d show B movies–drive-in quality and below–on a bed sheet stretched between tree limbs.)

My friend Scott and I sampled the terrain Friday night.  Goodale Park was wall to wall with people when we arrived about 8:30, and police were visible everywhere.  They weren’t antagonistic toward the people at the festival, quite the opposite.  They’d say “hello,” were helpful with questions, and went with the flow of (pedestrian) traffic, trying to blend in as much as their uniforms would allow.

Dr. Lincoln Goodale gets his Comfest on,
and is more “stoned” than anyone there!

The beer lines were many people deep, and the smell of Cannabis sativa (intimately familiar to anyone who went to Ohio U.) was almost anywhere you turned.  The people were friendly, with “Happy Comfest!” greetings passing back and forth among strangers passing on walkways or on the grass.  It was a warm night, so the welcome sight of topless women, many of them sporting elaborately and painstakingly painted breasts, was everywhere.  I saw more topless women this weekend than at the Pride Festival last week.

The most memorable of these women would probably do quite well jumping out of a cake at an Ancient Order of Hibernians stag party.  Independence Day is just around the corner, but she was decked out in the garb of St. Patrick’s Day:

I know I used this line on Facebook, but I was proud
of it, so I’ll use it again: “I thought it was ‘Erin Go
Bragh,’ not ‘Erin, go bra-less!'”

When it was 11 p.m., Scott and I both wondered if there was going to be an announcement to “Proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion, the park is now closed!” coming from the police.  There wasn’t.  The beer booths staggered (if you’ll pardon the expression) their closing times, so people would gradually leave, and so police and Comfest security could monitor fewer areas where people were leaving drunk.  (I don’t know what time they stopped selling beer tokens.)
Scott and I were never told to leave.  Both of us were sober, and not causing any trouble, so the police and Comfest personnel never said anything.  We walked around the park, talked to people, and stopped to rest at the stone tables and benches in the park.  Several groups of teenagers sat under trees in different sections of the park, most of them under the influence.  (Scott was pushing a two-wheel grocery cart, and one of the guys in the aforementioned groups was totally convinced he was pushing a stroller.)  I think if you were sober and not causing any problem, they weren’t in a hurry to shoo you out of the park.
Yesterday was sunny and warm, and the bands, poetry readings, vendors’ tables, and drum circles were in full swing.  One family played badminton, and I marveled at their ability to find enough square feet of vacant green space to accomplish this.  Unlike Pride Weekend, I saw no one foolhardy enough to swan dive into the pond, although many people (most of them teenagers) sat at the edge dangling their feet in the water.
One woman (who would only tell me her name was Z) would be quite upset if they ever pulled the plug on Comfest.  She is pregnant with her third child, and has plans for this one to be a Comfest habitué.  She advertised her intentions on her belly:
The little voice balloon pointing to the
baby says, “Party in the belly.”  The
face of Comfest Future.

There were minor emergencies all over the park all weekend.  An emergency squad truck stood by at all times, and a fully manned first-aid station was open for the duration.  The only time I saw anyone needing medical attention was when I saw a guy huddled on the ground with his girlfriend bending over him, looking very concerned.  My first thought was that he had just fallen asleep on the ground, like many other people did wherever they could find enough shade.  As it turned out, he had been chugging beer almost nonstop and hadn’t thought to keep himself hydrated.  When you have access to beer, who wants a no-fun liquid like water, right?  Two police officers managed to bring him around.  I don’t think they had the squad take him to the OSU Medical Center.  They probably told him to lay off the beer and start drinking lots of water (and maybe Gatorade to get his electrolytes where they belong).  He’s probably paying dearly for this today.
Most of the police were on foot, occasionally you saw one on a bicycle.  The Comfest safety personnel moved around the park on golf carts, many of them (especially after dark) with the care and respect for others’ safety exhibited by kamikaze pilots.  (I saw more than one person driving golf carts while holding cups of beer.  That makes me turn a jaundiced eye at the official statements about not driving home from Comfest if you’ve overindulged.)
Comfest after dark, Saturday night.
Soon after nightfall, I felt intermittent raindrops here and there, but no steady downpour.  The sky still looked relatively clear, even though the park was briefly illuminated by a lightning flash once in awhile, none of them followed by thunder.
Saturday’s activities officially ended at 10 p.m., and the bands (especially the Bozo Stage–the main one) ended their sets no later than 9:45.  This was fortunate, because they had turned off all their microphones and equipment by the time the thunderstorm and downpour hit, almost at the stroke of 10.  People first began to move under trees, but that meant risking a lightning strike.  The little shelters and makeshift canopies became very popular very quickly.  I waited with several others under several of them, waiting until a break came in the rain and then dashing to another shelter just ahead of the next cloudburst, until it was dry enough for me to make my way to High Street and catch a bus back to Clintonville and home.
Waiting for a break in the rain and thunder.

Two religious groups were quite prominent at Comfest this year, and they struck me as wonderful people.  One was Ekklesia, a small non-denominational house of worship whose main church is a small property on Buttles Ave.  Their beliefs are distinctly Trinitarian, but their mission is to those who have been ignored, vilified, or marginalized by more mainline evangelical denominations.  I have walked past their church several times, and knew they were good people when they hung a Lenny Bruce quotation in their front window: “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”  Recently, I stumbled on a YouTube video about their outreach to my erstwhile neighborhood, Franklinton.  The video, Bringing Faith to Franklinton, is linked here.  Ekklesia also generously gave away Frisbees, cold bottles of water, Sierra Mist, and Faygo, as well as bumper stickers.  I have no bumper, but I took home one that said, When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” I think he probably meant don’t kill them, which my friend Jacques sports on the bumper of his car.  (I’ve wondered if the Gideons should be allowed to hand out New Testaments on military bases.  If the soldiers starting reading them, there’d be desertions en masse.)

The other group went around the festival, two young men and a woman, wearing cardboard signs around their necks that said “FREE HUGS–HFTR.”  After taking advantage of the free hugs, I asked what HFTR meant.  It stands for Hope for the Rejected, “a community of believers within the underground subculture.”  My initial thought is to admire what they claim to be doing–sharing faith “through our friendships and exemplified by our actions,” but many destructive and faith-destroying religious cults began with generous invitations and love-bombing.  Initial Googling hasn’t brought up any complaints or adverse anecdotes.  They have not cut the horrible swath through families, relationships, and careers that the University Bible Fellowship considers a sacrament, no one is signing over all their worldly goods to HFTR, and no family has tried to “deprogram” a loved one involved in it.  But all fringe religious groups will reach out especially to anyone who feels rejected, and a person who thinks he/she is drowning will reach for any rope extended, even if it’s going around his/her neck.

Here is the card they gave me:

The Comfest theme this year was “Live every day the Comfest way.”  That would be murder on many peoples’ livers, but I understand the applaud the overall idea of such a slogan.