The Barbary Breakout
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I grew up in the Pennsylvania Appalachians and I carry shreds of that upbringing into my new urban lifestyle including my penchant for denim jackets, bar-fights and moonshine whiskey. When The Barbary decided to throw an event where all of its patrons could trek north three hours and drink for free in the middle of nowhere, I immediately bought my ticket.
The centerpiece of the event was for bikers to ride up together, but for those without a two-wheeled babe-magnet, a bus ride was offered. I voiced my concern to Kingpin, whom I managed to convince into giving me a ride, that I felt a bunch of leather clad city slickers weren’t going to enjoy themselves or even worse cause a stir with the locals. I nervously bit my lip the entire ride hoping that the place wasn’t already burnt to the ground when we got there.
The campsite was buzzing with activity. I was amused by the sea of black t-shirts and leather jackets despite the dry early-summer heat. While everyone else was struggling to pitch their tents and douse themselves in bug spray I took swigs of Jack Daniels from the silver flask in my breast pocket. I decided to rough it with nothing but the clothes on my back and my camera equipment. After all, it was just one night in the rolling valleys of Northeastern PA.
To my right I could see hills slowly rising in the distance and to my left was the river that I could see through the trees that grew on its bank. It took me back to the days of drinking by the river at a wholly inappropriate age where my friends and I would fish, swim, and build fires on the rock-laden shores of the Lehigh River amongst rusty tires and cigarette butts. I was snapped out of my hazy early memories by the sound of Kingpin riding a rusty bike and crashing into the river while onlookers cheered. Like the proverbial starting line gunshot the drinkers were off and there was no finish line in sight.
It wasn’t long before the bands set up and started playing. Some good old standards made an appearance, including the High Five, who played yet another great set despite the copious amount of alcohol they consumed. This was also the inaugural show for the heavy and thrashtastic Fantasy Panther who dropped everyone’s jaws, not just with the musical prowess that a band full of Philly music scene veterans would possess, but also their sheer energy. At one point the lead vocalist, Edward Geida III, was hanging upside-down above the drummer covered in beer and fake blood.
I stumbled away from the makeshift stage, still shocked that a man I once described as the Mister Rogers of the Philly Rock scene was just screaming obscenities and lyrics with no shirt on. The sun was settling in and I wasn’t surprised to see everyone picking up the pace as more beer cans could be heard hissing open and bottles of liquor were pulled from backpacks. Nature has the ability to bring out the heavy drinker in just about anybody. This was confirmed as I looked out over everyone languidly lounging, drinking, strumming a guitar, swimming, laughing, or just staring up in awe at the stars all with a beverage in their hands.
I refilled my flask for the third time as I spoke to Bob, the owner of the campsite. He was a mountain of a man with a massive brown and grey beard, yet he retained a friendly smile and warm disposition. “We never have any younger people around here,” he told me, “We love that you guys are here having a good time. We’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” and then jokingly added, “It’s also nice to have a bunch of young people that we can out drink!” I squinted my eyes at him as I took a long sip from my flask. They had been so accepting of us that no words could convey how welcoming it was.
I took Bob’s challenge to heart and trekked across the campground to a bar called Mindy’s. I was one of the first to arrive and upon entering I saw a small collection of locals at the bar with some Pagan motorcycle club members off to another side while a band played cover songs in the corner for the few brave enough to dance. The old-world woodwork of the bar was plastered in bumper stickers with witty phrases and trade union pride while an open door in the rear let the river air waft in, hitting me with another wave of nostalgia. As everyone followed me in, I turned around with a gigantic grin and said “I’m home.”
I felt concerned that we would be imposing upon the regulars who were more accustomed to a calm night out but it wasn’t long before they joined us in laughing and grooving. The band switched from Willie Nelson and Hank Williams covers to Violent Femes and Rolling Stones to accommodate the deluge of young listeners who now swarmed the open dance floor. The bartender weaved between dancers while she pushed multiple trays of $1 jello shots onto us that everyone slurped up with reckless abandon.
At closing time we stumbled back to our encampment. The smoke from the campfire billowed into the night’s sky as we passed around a guitar while drunkenly strumming out the first few lines of our favorite songs before forgetting the rest. We laughed, talked and smiled into the darkest hours of the morning as every few minutes someone would split off to go to sleep forcing the group to shrink to a more personal affair between a few good friends.
The next morning everyone nursed their hangovers with a few shots of whiskey and a good greasy breakfast. We stripped off our clothes and swam in the river before floating with the slow moving current by the shore. Everyone was laid out on the ground, sitting on towels and soaking in the sun. No one wanted to go home but, to chagrin of all, the tents were eventually packed away and the bikes made their way out of the entrance which was now our exit back to the bustle and stress of our lives back in Philadelphia.
The bottom line:
The Barbary Breakout was a huge success and despite everyone paying for tickets. A lot of the cost, including the bus that ferried people to the campground, was covered by the Barbary’s owner John Redden who’s only goal was to make sure we all had the most fun we could. (Not to mention PABST supplied all the beer for free!) It’s a long drive to the place but that’s not such a bad thing when you can roll down your window, smoke a cigarette, and let the cool Appalachian wind run between the fingers of your outstretched hand. This was all about the experience of wiping away your stress and taking 24 hours to not worry about rent, the next gig, or your bar tab. In that regard this was a resounding victory and everyone present is now closer to each other than ever before, bound by the gossamer threads of a shared moment in time. A few drinks next to a river acts as a kiln for the clay of our lives, hardening the ties that bind us together.