Editorial: Rock The South 2021- Grey skies and happy times

Tribune staff and guests during Saturday’s rain delay at Rock the South. (Mike Witcher for The Cullman Tribune)

There is a nearly constant negativity in the Cullman community surrounding the mere existence of Rock the South. This year was no different and the naysayers are having a field day after this year’s festival. Yes, it rained. It rained a lot. What they don’t seem to understand is that it only added to the festival experience and more importantly, the FUN!

Music festivals aren’t meant to mirror a traditional indoor concert. To follow that line of thinking is to miss the point of the festival all together. I love a good concert in an arena or concert hall, but what a person is seeking from a festival is entirely different. A music festival is two to three days of people braving the elements, making tons of new friends, exploring all the different areas within the venue while waiting for their favorite artists to take the stage. 

It doesn’t matter if you attend Rock the South, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza or whatever presents itself–weather is an element the festival goer knows could change everything without warning. When you choose to attend a festival in an old cow pasture in August, heat and the potential of afternoon storms is simply part of the package. Most people planned for that possibility and were not deterred at all. 

Perhaps the naysayers feel they have claimed some type of victory after seeing the photos from this past weekend of torrential downpours and giant mud holes. They would be wrong to do so because while they might have been miserable had they been there, those who were actually there embraced the elements. 

This year, The Cullman Tribune gave tickets to veterans and provided a tent where they could come and sit, cool down and enjoy the music. By the end of the two days, we were all lifelong friends. We swapped stories of past Rock the South experiences including the storms that delayed Lynyrd Skynyrd at Heritage Park and the crazy dust bowl of 2019. 

As the storms came in, the rain poured down and the mud grew thicker, I felt the need to apologize for what I perceived to be their less than perfect experience. One of the veterans quickly said to me, “I have had to sleep in that kind of mud when I was in the Army. This ain’t nothin’.” Not once did our guests complain. 

A crowd of people gathered under the tent seeking refuge from the rain and lightning, including the event staff. The laughter and camaraderie during the worst of the storm is something that will always stick with me. Out in the field, young people began sliding in the mud and nearby, an impromptu mud wrestling tournament began; just people having fun with what Mother Nature commandeered. Those under the tents cheered and clapped as the boys splashed down in the mud. 

A rainbow appeared on Saturday evening as the rain began to slow. Folks began filing back in through the gates; now, even more people than before the rain. We were all muddy, we were all wet and we were all having a great time–TOGETHER! 

One of the veterans disappeared from the tent after the rain and I worried that he had given up and gone home. I tried not to let it bother me as everyone else was there and enjoying themselves. As Miranda Lambert finished her show and we began saying our goodbyes and planning for a reunion at next year’s show, I heard a booming voice say, “Oh my God! Wasn’t she great? I can’t believe it. Miranda Lambert!!” He wasn’t missing. He was out having the time of his life. He wasn’t concerned about his ruined shoes or the mud covering his legs. He hurried back to express his gratitude of being able to experience his first Rock the South.  

You see, Rock the South isn’t about Miranda Lambert, Nelly or Luke Combs. It’s about the shared human experience and the unexpected is what makes it even more memorable. It’s a festival born from the worst storm in Cullman’s history, after all, and a few afternoon thunderstorms “ain’t squat” compared to April 2011. This festival will always be about this little southern town’s ability to rise from the rubble and carry on and that’s exactly what we did this weekend. 

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