Notes from the tarp run line

Thursday 9:33 a.m.

I am in line pretty early, somewhat close to the front. Sadly to far up to get any shade.

Some people are chatting. There’s a guy I see every year that I’ve picked out already. He’s farther up.

But this is not a competition. At least for me it isn’t. I’m not going for a spot at the front. Not even the front half. We aim to be at the halfway point behind the wire.

A lady chatting near me who is right at the front of the line has the same strategy. “I don’t know why I’m here so early. We never go for the front,” she says.

After pausing she add, “I guess lining up is just fun. It’s part of the experience.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to hate on us crazy tarpies. I often do it myself. Hell is other drivers. The road is great until other people misbehave and do sketchy stuff. Tarpies are great until they start pushing the informal rules you care about. Mostly everything great until the penning and the run itself but we’ll get to that later.

Right now we’re eating, reading or easing into the morning. We really get value for money over the others. If you saunter up when the gates open on Thursday or Friday you’ve already missed the better part of a day.

My plan was to come when I woke up and was ready. I’m not crazy enough to set an alarm. On Thursday you don’t need to.

I started doing this in junior high school with my sister. We’ve gone to the festival for as long as I can remember but it was then that we became old enough to hang out in line unsupervised all day.

The natural aggression and competitiveness that made me a good fencer makes me good at the tarp run too. That’s how I got this gig.

9:52 a.m.

The sun is a bit bright. I’m glad I brought sunglasses. Capris were a good choice. No knee sunburns this year — the combination of direct sunlight for hours and sitting in a festival chair with your knees elevated means that I have a tendency to get bad knee sunburns at Folk Fest.

10:05 a.m.

I am baking in the sun. One woman has moved to under a tree. Others have umbrellas out. I want a scone.

10:45 a.m.

I am back with an iced coffee and a berry white chocolate scone. Yes, we do get to leave. You’re not supposed to leave for hours but you don’t have to be in your chair the whole time. Occasionally someone will leave a chair and never come back. This is always greeted with unhappy chatter along the line but not much else.

The day is going by fast already. They’ll be penning us before we know it. It seems like it happens earlier and earlier every year.

10:58 a.m.

We seem to be attracting reporters. They’re wondering why we’re here so early, what the point of doing this is. I don’t know if I have a good answer to that. Sometimes I wonder that myself. Mostly when it’s raining or we’re waiting to start the run.

11:18 a.m.

My mother comes by to drop off a water bottle I left on the counter while heading to some plans downtown. She will rejoin me before 2:00 p.m. when we become cattle. My father has texted me asking if I want supplies and telling me he’ll probably drop by during the lunch hour.

Now since I’m no longer one of the serious front row tarpies I don’t guard my secrets very closely. Here are some tips and tricks for a successful tarp run.

Most conflict and unpleasantness happens because of the way the rules are. Some of them are real and some of them are informal. There are a set of actual rules most of which don’t apply until after the gates open. These rules are loosely enforced and sometimes ludicrous. The tent peg rule prohibiting tent pegs that stick out of the ground even a tiny amount is ridiculous. I always end up telling a volunteer that tent pegs are designed to stick out of the ground a little bit because that’s how they hold tarps and tents down. This year we just had to have them hammered in completely, which is a good time for the one doing the hammering and hard on your grommets.

The most broken rule is the one against running. You may skip. The trick is to skip near the volunteers and then sprint when you are not near any — they did a better job of having lots of volunteers this year. I always felt like a sucker when I actually followed the no running rule. When you go for the middle instead of the front it doesn’t matter that much.

As they begin to herd you designated tarp runners should give their heavy things to sherpas (my mother’s role). Tarp runners should have their tarp in their hands with a corner out ready to unfurl. Fold it so that there is a corner facing out and not a middle section. As you get close to your desired spot grab the corner and start shaking the tarp to unfurl it. This helps you claim the space before someone else does. If you are going for the front aim for the left. It gets shade first.

Then there are the informal line based rules that exist in our minds. There’s the always frustrating line creep where the front of the line expands like a cancerous tumor as people arrive right before gates to join friends at the front. I have always hated line creep and find it unfair to people farther back.

Once they let you in I like to speed walk past slower and less aggressive people. You can pass quite a few line creepers this way. One year I got in a yelling match with a line creeper I had passed. I thought it was rude that he showed up really late but was at the front of the line and he thought it was rude that I was speed walking past him. While standing next to one another waiting to do the final run we argued. Each of us was breaking an informal rule the other one cared about while doing nothing wrong as far as we saw it.

Tarp creep is another source of frustration. Part of why we peg our tarp is so that late comers can’t fold over an edge and put a blanket down. It has happened to us in the past. It’s worse at the front where real estate is more valuable.

I also hate the standing. Some acts complain about the mellow crowd seated on their tarps but I love it. Standing room only concerts are a rare form of torture. Here I get my chair and a patch of tarp. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting all day to have some jerk standing up on the tarp in front of you.

This gets into the tarp politics. Yes, there is tarp politics. Between line creep, tarp creep, standing and general human behavior it’s easy for someone to be doing something someone else is annoyed about. Tarp politics and getting trampled on are the two reasons we gave up on being near the front. The middle and back are much more chill.

12:00 p.m.

A man rolls up on a vintage European style bike with a striped festival chair strapped to his back. There is a cooler on his handle bars. I want to take a picture but the moment passed before I reacted.

“I know where the summer goes” by Belle and Sebastian plays on my headphones.

12:50 p.m.

It’s overcast now and cooler. I don’t miss the sun. I like rain but it can be a bit unpleasant at the festival.

1:55 p.m.

It is going to rain. I put things into my dry bag and get my rain coat out. They are getting ready to do wristbands.

They’ve come around with programs. I always buy one. Now time to figure out who’s playing.

3:00 p.m.

They’ll probably let us in soon but it hasn’t happened yet.

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