By James Nghiem
Itâ€™s Friday night. Iâ€™m at the sixth annual Norman Music Festival witnessing storm clouds fill the sky as if they were teleported directly from Stephen Kingâ€™s brain, prompting the most biblical exodus Iâ€™ve ever seen. Twenty minutes prior I was buying a round of shots for my friends, laughing and ignoring a watery-eyed Kelly Ogleâ€™s visibly impassioned weather report on mute. Now, weâ€™re outside walking through a densely populated sidewalks seeking an indoor venue for shelter, hoping that everybodyâ€™s rushed departures are all overreactions of how bad itâ€™s going to get. Cars are leaving. Every place is filled to capacity. Security guards are turning entire crowds of people away.
â€œThereâ€™s no room here. Go. You need to leave,â€ they say, but they donâ€™t specify where to.
We keep walking. There are four of us: My friend James Draper, our friend Dallos and a very nice but grabby drunk girl who seems romantically interested in one of the two. Iâ€™m naming her Kadi for the duration of this. Kadi can barely walk so she grabs hold of my hand then wraps herself around my arm for balance. Conversation-wise, she vacillates between asking if weâ€™re going to see DEERPEOPLE and if I think my friend is into her.
â€œI trust you,â€ she says. â€œI have some Asian friends. Theyâ€™re cool.â€
I donâ€™t know what to say.
â€œThis storm has come because of your sins! God is condemning you for your sins!â€ screams a baby-faced street preacher who looks like heâ€™s still in his early twenties. Iâ€™ve seen him here since Thursday. I feel like heâ€™s been waiting for this very moment, this very storm to wipe us clean, and this annoys the shit out of me. â€œRepent!â€
Not now, dude, I think.
We continue our long trek toward shelter, toward Opolis where I believe itâ€™ll be safe. Why does Norman Music Festival always feel so dramatic, I wonder.
By the time we reach Opolis, thereâ€™s a line of people with the same idea getting turned away. Itâ€™s beginning to feel like “The Day After Tomorrow” and look like it too.
â€œLeave. Thereâ€™s no room here!â€ the security guard defending the back of the venue relies a familiar message to me.
â€œFuck man,â€ Draper says, a little more emotional than deadpan. â€œThis looks bad.â€
Without a roof, we join a shivering couple huddled against the outer wall when the rain begins to come down hard. We stay there for what seems like an eternity.
â€œIâ€™m cold,â€ Kadi says. â€œWhereâ€™s your car?â€
My car is miles from here and the street is beginning to fill with water. More clouds encroach, more rain falls. It falls hard and fast. Iâ€™ve never seen skies this black and Iâ€™m starting to worry that thereâ€™s nothing we can do now but take on the storm head-on unprotected.
â€œMy car is too far. We canâ€™t go anywhere.â€
â€œI canâ€™t find my wallet,â€ she says. â€œI think somebody stole it.â€
â€œItâ€™s cool. Just get close to the wall, man.â€
She stumbles but I grab her to guide her back.
Looking up, I begin to wonder if these are the sights people see before they drown in floods or get sucked into the sky. I think about texting my brother to tell everybody that I love them, but hold off on that. Thatâ€™s too dramatic.
â€œWhooo! Yeah!â€ a shirtless drunk man yells in the street. â€œBring it on!â€
â€œFuck. This looks really bad,â€ Draper says again.
It rains harder and faster.
â€œHere comes the hail!â€ the shirtless man screams at the top of his lungs.
A couple years ago a hailstorm totaled my car with me in it. Currently, I donâ€™t like the prospect of hail totaling my face. For a second, I eye the porta-potties from across the street, as if they might be safer than this wall.
Fuck this. Collectively, we make our way back to the Opolisâ€™ back entry. In my mind, thereâ€™s no way the security guard is watching the backdoor that diligently, and maybe we can sneak in. And if we canâ€™t sneak in, thereâ€™s no way heâ€™s so unreasonable and heartless as to let us get pummeled to death. I pull open the door to find Andy Nunez, musician, club owner and overall caring man, wave us in.
â€œHurry! Get in!â€ he screams. â€œHurry!â€
We rush inside soaking wet to find a split crowd of drunk happy people and miserable wet, terrified people. Kadi grabs a seat on the couch and passes out. The loud rocking sounds of Gentle Ghost must have carried her to sleep. I grab a seat too, still a little terrified and incredibly sober.
(Editor’s note: James said to me “In retrospect the storm wasn’t that bad, but man…this is how that felt. My response: “It does seem intense. Out at Austin Psych Festival on Saturday night, we had a torrential rain and I was bummed that we were going to miss Deer Hunter, although it just rained real hard for a little bit because later they played their set. Anyway, hail was not an issue. The biggest annoyance was that my shoes were ruined with kitty litter mud and that we missed Os Mutantes, also weather delayed set, on our way back into the festival grounds. So in reading your account of Friday night, the situation seems like it was way more threatening in Norman. Biblical Exodus, indeed.”