25 April 2015
By the time we arrived on location for Eeyore’s 52nd Birthday Party, about two hours into the festivities, it seemed as though everybody was already high on a wide array of substances (narcotic or otherwise). We had lucked into a couple of decent parking spots — it’s always strange seeing to everyday tedium like parking or eating at events such as these — and walked in through the festival’s back entrance, a small trail leading from the side streets into the woods surrounding Pease Park.
Having bypassed festival security, we descended into the madness in search of a good story and some trouble, as is often the case on weekend afternoons. Orlando and I have shed our shirts and donned flowers to mark the occasion, each of us flanking either side of Emily Berry, who looks nothing short of resplendent in her homemade floral headdress and a black corset that is some kind of jaw dropping. She resembles a sort of seductive mythical forest deity, and I can’t help feeling as though her boyfriend and I look a bit like garden variety manservants under the given circumstances.
Upon entering the park, a haze of weed smoke and noise rises up through the trees. People are dressed up in all manner of strange attire, some milling about in the sun, others lounging comfortably out of it (today happens to be a perfect one for doing either). Eeyore’s is something of an Austin tradition, counted among one of the many opportunities the city provides for people to just gather and be themselves in a way that keeps some shred of hope for this country alive in me.
The birthday boy himself is waiting for us within minutes of entering the party; he’s passed out in a bush, looking as though he had already indulged heavily in more than a few party favors. Emily and I seize the moment for a quick photo-op with the poor bastard, whose little stuffed animal eyes are worryingly red and demonic. Everyone treats him with the same placid indifference you would any other who started celebrating their own existence too hard and too early.
In the middle of the fairgrounds stands erected a banner advocating the legalization of marijuana, and gathered around it are many characters of that ilk. Parents are here with their children and doing drugs right in front of them, something that still seems a bit weird to me, but I pretend to be no judge or jury when it comes to the matter. A spritely man is dressed as the inimitable Tigger, and he plays the part damn well, hopping from group to group with amphetaminic enthusiasm and a toothy, comedically unhinged grin.
Bubbles are everywhere — of all shapes and sizes — and those of all ages are chasing them around with nostalgic bliss and dedication. Flowers, too, appear to be just as much of a trend on people’s heads as they are within the fairgrounds, which Orlando and I both find refreshing. There is a definite and recurring theme of forest nymph among the female partygoers, many of whom are dressed in a similar fashion to Emily (but nowhere near as striking, it must be said).
Towards the epicenter of it all lies the festival cliché that is a drum circle, and there’s really no escaping its raucous din. Those participating number between ten and twenty, with those watching numbering in the many dozens. Acting as the eye to this party’s surreal hurricane, the drum circle is made up of an assortment of percussive instrumentalists. Although it’s a safe bet to say most of them don’t really know what they’re doing, there is almost a discernible rhythm, which burners spanning several generations gather round and move primally to.
Snakes are not quite as abundant as bubbles, but they’re still out in greater quantity than I am comfortable with. Various people have them draped around their necks and over their shoulders, which I simply cannot look at without cringing in phobic discomfort. Some guy has a boa wrapped around his arm, a fact I did not realize until halfway through the conversation (that ended abruptly afterwards). Again, I am not one to judge for anybody’s choice of pets, just keep the deadly reptilian ones away from me.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Emily is getting a lot of attention from male partygoers, and even more requests for photos. A man who has come as a hippie version of Thor is very bold in one such request, referring to me as “camera guy” after thrusting his Nikon into my hands; he is in a full suit of leather and metal armor, bearing a silver chalice in one hand which is full of what must be a cocktail of pure ether and a dab of ecstasy, judging from his aggressively outgoing disposition. I take a couple of photos in the interest of loyalty to the story.
Another man is wearing a kind of clockwork arrangement on his head, which makes him look like a cross between the Mad Hatter and a tinker toy elf. The helmet looks far too heavy to be wearing on such a warm day, and I don’t imagine it’s very comfortable to be walking around in. There’s not a great deal else to say about him, other than that we applaud his commitment to staying in costume.
The mushroom people are exactly what they sound like, and I think it’s safe to say they are in the business of selling hallucinogens, especially given the number of folks who are coming up to them and shaking hands, including one man who is holding his baby in the other. Blended in with them is Waldo (of “Where’s Waldo?”), who has been darting around the festival and hiding behind various objects and people. It’s unclear who, if anyone, is looking for him.
Someone is walking around in a feral mask paired with a tiger striped cape and loin cloth. The man looks pharaonic as he waves to his imaginary subjects of various ages and stages of hallucination. All the children present seem to be totally okay with the number of people parading around in elaborately strange costumes which — to me, at least — would have been terrifying to behold at that age. One man is dressed as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises; he brought his pet goat with him (this one on a leash, thankfully).
Acrobatic yoga is being done by a handful of people on mats near the drum circle, and it is altogether baffling to me. Although not quite as baffling as the man walking around in a full nylon body stocking, I will admit. He’s not speaking to anyone or doing much of anything, just sort of wandering around looking like some anonymous fetish doll from a BDSM flick who has rather lost his way.
Tied for favorite spectacles at the party thus far are the bubble net and the bunny ballerina, both of which we came across in rapid succession, and succeeded as being deeply impressive in their own rights. Providing the soundtrack for these marvelous sights was a traveling minstrel, who — with his medieval attire, obscure acoustic instrument, and jolly green disposition — looked to be straight out of Disney’s Robin Hood. Upon closer inspection, I noted that his get up was made of wool, garnering further respect from me with regard to committing to character.
The sun has taken its toll on us, so we decide to find some shade in the surrounding wooded area. People are hanging out, doing drugs, and in a few cases eating the same absurd, full sized turkey legs you see at Renaissance festivals and the Texas State Fair (I can only hope that these people are afflicted by terminal cases of the munchies). The woods are periodically shaken by a startling howl from the festival’s attendees, which is meant to be a sort of celebratory gesture, I think, but it comes across as a bit cultish and unsettling to me.
We’ve been here before, Orlando and I. The outlandish characters and live exhibitions and good vibes are all hallmarks of the eccentric, intimate arts festival, where an atmosphere is created which fosters acceptance and appreciation, rather than intolerance or judgment. I first experienced this at Art Outside in October of 2013, and it’s a rare, beautiful thing; one which inspires genuine, visible happiness. And rest assured, that stuff is just as much of a drug as any of the rest. It just depends on who you’re sharing it with.