I imagined the headline in the next day’s local paper: Hundreds of concert-goers crushed when overloaded shuttle bus tips over in Marshfield.
After attending the first day of the 2017 Levitate Music Festival, Brian and I cut out of the crowd before the encore from one of our favorite bands, Dispatch, in order to get a seat on one of the two shuttles back to our campground. The Love Shack was parked on a beautiful site at Wompatuk State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, about a half-hour drive from the festival. Apparently, several hundred other people had the same idea. We were in line for the second shuttle, and had one foot on the steps of the bus when the driver said “no more.”
So, we retreated and we waited. The longer we waited, the longer the line beside us got. We had been told that the shuttles would run every 40 minutes — in reality, it took over twice that long for the first of the two buses to return. We were not the only line of 400-plus music lovers waiting for a ride. There was another line of folks who were camped somewhere in Plymouth and a group waiting for a shuttle to an in-town parking lot.
For the most part, people were good-spirited and reasonable — and sort of drunk. Naturally there is always one or two adult tantrums from folks who know they are more special than anyone else, but overall the crowd was good. A few of the tantrum-throwers rushed the line when the bus pulled up, but most of us proceeded reasonably. Once the seats were full, the driver, a large middle-aged man with a big cigar and a raspy, sort of grunting voice, told people to keep coming and fill the aisle as tightly as possible.
We had two people to a seat (some may have had three) and probably 50 more adults crammed shoulder to shoulder in the aisle. I, and probably many others, knew that this was CRAZY — but off we went. The bus erupted in song with group harmonies on Sublime tunes, Queen, Neil Diamond, and someone consistently trying to get a round of “99 bottles of beer on the wall” going. (Thankfully she was not successful.)
We made it back safely to the state park and found the Love Shack as welcoming as always.
The music at the festival was good — we got there in time on Saturday to watch the full set of the Revivalists and then heard Umphrey’s McGee, The Ghost of Paul Revere (a local Maine band), Stick Figure and, finally, Dispatch. This was the fifth year for Levitate and its biggest gathering and it showed. The crowd was large and the lines at all beverage and food vendors were ridiculously long. I stood in line for 45 minutes (long enough to miss a whole set of music) to get a beverage only to learn they were out of everything except Bud and Bud Light (ugh). Brian and I see a lot of music and we’ve been to a fair amount of festivals — this one did not impress me. The crowd was too large for the space and the services provided. But, we returned briefly for Day 2, long enough to catch one of our favorites, JJ Grey & Mofro, but left halfway through the Lake Street Dive performance to retreat to the Love Shack and the quiet of the state park.
As crowded and frenzied as the festival was, Wompatuk was just the opposite. The park is made up of 3,526 acres touching on three towns in southeastern Mass. There are 70 miles of roads, multi-use trails and bike paths and 262 campsites. The camping was sold out for this particular weekend, but the park never felt crowded. As we’ve found in most state parks, the sites are big, wooded and reasonably spaced. The grounds were clean and well-maintained for sure. We chatted with one of the groundskeepers before we left Monday morning who told us that in 1991 they hosted over 400 campsites of Grateful Dead Fans. Just imagine how many Love Shacks were in the park that weekend!