Tag Archives: Comfest

Let’s change the subject to breasts

I know I’ve been quiet since my brain dump a few weeks ago. Our “only way out is through” era continues with plenty of days that feel semi-normal, in spite of the fact that things remain anything but. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me here, in private email, on Facebook, in phone calls and in person. It made my tummy ache to hit “publish” on that post, but the compassion I’ve received since doing so has been overwhelming. I have some half-posts written that I’ll finish and publish soon. In the meantime, I’d like to change the subject for a moment because I really do need to talk about breasts.

Nearly 20 years ago, someone or other (via some lawsuit or other) realized that Columbus didn’t have any law on the books that outlawed the baring of female breasts in public. Women decided to start exercising that right at our long-standing, volunteer-run Community Festival (Comfest). I worked at a local alternative weekly at the time, and while I don’t remember all of the legal details, I do remember the small media melee, including a whirlwind of bad boob puns and fairly silly editorials on the matter. The spirit of the thing was clear – women of all shapes and sizes (and sometimes ages) would partake in the ritual, promoting positive body-consciousness in a sort of homegrown, goofy and easily misconstrued way.

Flash forward to today: Naked, painted boobs have become a tradition at Comfest, as well as the city’s massive Pride Festival (which sometimes share a weekend). It’s a central feature of the fest’s many eccentricities. There are still plenty of women doing it for body-positive reasons, but the phenomena has started to turn the corner into something kind of creepy. The vibe has become less of a bold feminist statement for the “party with a purpose,” more of a cruising spot for the producers of “hippie girls gone wild.”

It’s not the women who have changed so much as the festival-goers. For the first time this year, I saw more joke t-shirts on men that said things like “I love boobies,” and more guys cruising the street fair, hollering commentary towards bare-chested women (and the women that they felt should remove their clothing) than I saw actual bare, painted breasts.

When I went to Comfest as a teenager, it was probably less than a tenth of the size it is now. And it was the place where I met and connected with my first local, radical feminist elders, who loved the fact that a newly minted driver would come to their urban homes on a Friday night to discuss reproductive rights, body image and pay inequity. Comfest brought me into the political counterculture of a city which, by most other appearances, looked about as mainstream as you could get.

So it’s kind of breaking my heart that this year, if you happen to be a teenage girl visiting Comfest, it has become a place where you’re more likely to be confronted by men who are comfortable yelling “show me your tits,” even as they feign political progressiveness than feel the presence of interesting political women.

I also imagined the festival as a place where my son would see some of the better male role models in the city – men who are activists, who happen to care about the world and volunteer to improve it. Maybe even a few men that had a better grasp of what it means to respect women. I don’t have a problem with my kid seeing bare breasts, but I do have a problem with him seeing women treated like beauty pageant contestants or live snapshots in a street version of Hot or Not. I imagined him seeing women positively celebrating their bodies without a constant stream of commentary from drunken creeps.

Just so I’m not whining here, let me provide a suggestion or two for next year. Let’s change the nature of Comfest’s dialogue about breasts. Make the festival’s slogan one that educates the public about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Then take it one step further by designating one part of the park as a family friendly space (not the playgrounds, which sit in the crosshairs of three stages and are a sensory nightmare). Make it smoke-free. Put a cooling tent for nursing moms there with moderately comfortable chairs and changing tables. And preferably, drop it on the North end of the park to disrupt the place that everyone now refers to as “derelict teenager hill.”

I have no idea whether or not earlier closing times curbed the elements that the organizers wanted to see curbed. But I do know that Comfest’s social justice currency doesn’t only lie in its financial ability to give grants – it lies in the power of the event itself. It has the power to be hospitable to more than drunks and people whose perception of “hippie” seems to be entirely about fashion (or anti-fashion) and the use of substances instead of the values that brought the event into existence.

Copyright Tracy Zollinger Turner, Tinymantras.com, 2009.

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Comfest diary

I was 15 or 16 years old the first time that I went to Comfest. It was the Reagan ’80s, in a town perceived to be middling-to-conservative, in a generation that wasn’t supposed to care about anything. And yet here was a place where, for one weekend, you could find all kinds of politics and countercultures and live music and radical buttered corn and people who delighted in being odd. It was beautiful. It still is… now with value-added naked painted breasts!

Last year, Comfest was emotional and strange for me. It was the year when people approached me gingerly to ask me how my husband was doing in the final days before he was to close his business of nearly 20 years. The festival gave him its first “Patron of the Arts” medal for his many years of giving local musicians a stage. I got my brain picked by some gossips and some voyeurs and some armchair concert promoters who figured his club’s closing was always coming because they felt they understood his business better than he did all along. (Truly, he might as well have been working in politics, because there is at least one Bill O’Reilly/Keith Olberman-style pundit of music promotion for every square block of this city.)

But there were also people who came to me with tears in their eyes, sorry for our loss, sorry for the community’s loss and concerned for our family. And then there were a few who came to Dan directly when I was with him to say thank you and I’m sorry, whose faces puzzled as they met Declan and I and realized that Dan wasn’t walking off into some rock-and-roll bachelor’s retirement, but an uncertain future with a wife and two-year-old.

This past year has been hard. We moved to a part of town where we don’t know many people, a few months before the nexus of our social lives was cut away – some elements of our social lives had already peeled off as we eliminated alcohol from our menus and became parents . Dan jokes that we’ve been in the witness relocation program.

Who still calls and who doesn’t has been illuminating, now that there are no gigs or free concert tickets or drinks on the house that may result from friendship with us. Once you get past the sadness of that, it’s kind of liberating. Our lives aren’t any more certain now, but I do think that we’ve become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Comfest has this reunion quality for those of us who have lived in the local counterculture for a long time, and this weekend, it’s reminded me how lucky we are. I’ve watched my son worship and be adored by several of Dan’s closest friends. They are an oddball bunch. Less the cynics and know-it-alls so closely associated with the image the club had than men and women who do T’ai Chi and watch sports and read and play brilliant music and meditate and dance like maniacs and laugh really loud and have a soul love of music and volunteering and Declan. As he splashed through mud puddles and danced, they praised his spirit and his smoochable, nom-able cheeks.

And then there are the new vistas that this blog has opened up for me. On Friday, I found and met Amy of Dooblehvay selling her elegantly crafted and playful wares in the street fair. I also connected with his family for a few sweet moments on the street. They are longtime friends of ours (his wife worked for Dan for many years) and their daughter Sophie is awesomely fun. I love that being online lets us better keep up with their lives.

And while Friday was a little rough on us because Declan didn’t get the nap he clearly needed, we had a few wonderful moments. He sat in his stroller and ate fruit and I sat on the curb facing him as he gesticulated and said “now.. how can I explain the Big Bang? Well…” Later, he nestled his face through tree leaves as he talked to the sweetest grandmother and granddaughter, who were dressed in matching fairy outfits, carrying anti-war canvas bags.

Our arrival yesterday was peculiar, as I found a sharp knife sticking in the ground near the pond that I picked up and gave to a volunteer to dispose of. That alarming discovery was quickly brushed off by a welcome from a large group of young and old people greeting festival-goers with handmade signs that said “Free Hugs,” so Declan and I each took one. This year, there seem to be a few families freestyling the message and spirit of the festival in increasingly adorable ways. (This year, the shirts say “Be the change.”)

A major storm hit by Dan’s third song with his band The Wahoos, but they played right through it, to an enthusiastic group of puddle-splashing dancers. Luckily for Declan, they performed his two space-themed songs first. In the aftermath of the rain, Declan splashed about with a group of fun kids during the Mendelsonics‘ set, and we had to drag him, literally kicking and screaming and unbelievably muddy, back home. And while the time once was that we’d be there until the park closed, moving on to Dan’s club afterwards, it felt good to leave as the drunkenness ramped up and come home to clean up and settle down together.

This morning, Declan told me that he caught a rainbow between his fingers. (It was the city’s Pride celebratio
n yesterday too, so rainbows have been everywhere.) He put in his hair, then mine, then daddy’s. And it stormed for a few moments this morning, but the sun seems to be out for now, and so, as crispy as we are, we’re getting ready to go for the last day, where we’ll see a little of them, and a lot of her, among other things. If it rains, we’ll probably just get wet.

Dan will be on Curt Schieber’s Invisible Hits Hour on CD101 from the site at 9 p.m. as it closes (Dan’s been his traditional Comfest wrap-up guest for the past few years).

Happy Comfest.

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The understanding of bliss

All weekend long at Comfest, this arch of rainbow balloons tormented Declan. The allure of the rainbow seduced him across crowds. It would catch his eye and off he’d run. Held down by two supposedly empty helium canisters, it was treacherous to toddler parents who knew that looking at the spectrum really wasn’t enough for little ones. They want to stand beneath it, to touch it if at all possible, and you’d just have to hope that you caught them before they pulled on the ribbon that held it all together and rolled the metal canisters right over their feet.

On Sunday night, the arch was attached on one end and sagging lower to the ground on the other. Declan ran in circles beneath the limp side and Dan brought it down to him. Soon, an entire gaggle of toddlers was running directly underneath the rainbow, or wedging themselves into sections where everything in their world became blue, or in Declan’s case, orange (pictured above). The laughter was infectious and constant – the most contagious display of unabashed childness I have ever seen.

But for some reason – I think maybe an older kid down the row started popping some of the balloons – the woman who had blistered her hands making the arch came up the row, upset and yelling “Let it go! This mine, get off of it now!” to, well, a lot of people who were under five years old. Even though there was less than an hour or two of daylight left in the festival, and the helium arch was flagging, she scolded Dan to let the balloons go, claiming he was preventing all of the other children from enjoying it.

This is the place where parents and people without kids often part ways. I know that before I had Declan, there were certainly times when I would have been on that woman’s side of the divide and wondered what in the hell we, as parents of wild, balloon-crazed giggle monsters were thinking. I know that I’ve put shiny objects in front of more than one little person in my time and wondered why there seemed to be no way to get them to leave it alone. If I’d put in the work that she did, I also might be too attached to watch my work destroyed, even though the arch’s death was clearly inevitable.

When a little child is one of the people you are closest to in life, and you accept their essence – their ability to sustain a state of joy – you know that there is absolutely no way that simply looking at an arch of balloons can compare to the unadulterated bliss those children had when they could run beneath, around and over them – how often do you get to touch an actual rainbow? Regaining a closeness to that simplicity is one of the most precious things about parenting a toddler, and you can often see a nostalgia for it on the faces of parents who have been there.

So I’m grateful to the woman who made the arch, I just wish that she had been able to experience some of that joy along with us.

Life soundtrack: Willie Nelson, Rainbow Connection, “Rainbow Connection:
Willie Nelson - Rainbow Connection - The Rainbow Connection

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