500 MILES FROM HOME: A BONNA-LOVE STORY

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I have always enjoyed live music. Whether it was your small local show, a touring festival, or my brother just jamming out with his guitar late at night. In high school, my go to “festival” was Warped Tour. While I had a ton of fun at one-off shows, Warped was something completely different. The energy was way higher, the people were way more “in-sync” with each-other, and in general, it was just more fun to enjoy a whole day of shows. It was more of an experience than just a concert. I had no idea what was about to come into my life… About 5 years later I had graduated from college and was seeking a new adventure, as many of us do during that time period. Enter Bonnaroo. My brother and I decided to go to our first Roo in 2011. We were not prepared. We didn’t bring enough food, cash, or endurance for such an experience. (sound familiar?) But by day two, despite the hardships, I began to fall in love with the place. The people were beautiful. The setting was beautiful. The entire experience was beautiful! …(minus the smells). We decided quickly after the fest that we would go again in 2012. And we did. And that one was even better than the first. So good in fact I decided to make a Facebook page you may know of called Forever Bonnaroo. Yes. Forever. We weren’t missing another.

As I began to meet and connect with more and more Roovians I began to hope to meet someone special at the place. The potential was so high! Everyone in the community was just so damn cool… Why not try to find me some Roo-love? Well, it was hit and miss for a while. I met some cool girls… Dated some festival chicks… It was good, it was bad, it was hit and miss, as is dating anywhere you go.. But I didn’t give up. I KNEW my person was going to this festival. I just had to keep trying.

Fast forward to 2015. My brother and I were now 4 year vets and my quest for the perfect Roo-mance was still ongoing. I decided this year to put myself out there in a different way and promote my personal page and Snapchat on my Roo page to see who I could meet. Now, you may not believe me, but this was to make more friends too. I always add new Roo friends during the months before Bonnaroo hits! At first it was just that. Met some cool people, connected, talked music and who we were seeing that year. Enter Katie. She was one of the first to actually add me on Snapchat that year. Katie and I had actually gone to two previous Bonnaroos at the same time (2013 & 2014). There were many shows we were were actually both at. So we had a lot to talk about right off the bat… We instantly hit it off. After those first few weeks of snapping, we traded numbers. Now, I must add here that I was talking to someone else too. But I told her that and she was cool with being friends until I figured out where things were going. Well, it wasn’t more than a month after those first few initial conversations that I had decided I wanted to talk to her exclusively. Thankfully, she was waiting patiently for me to figure my crap out and was all about continuing our friendship full time.

Let me back up for a second though: The weirdest part about the beginnings of our relationship was that the first Snap she ever sent me was when she was heading back from New Orleans… Mardi Gras had just ended and while she was there, she had received a Voodoo love charm… Apparently blessed by the creator of it. She still keeps it in her purse to this day. With Bonnaroo having its roots in New Orleans and that entire culture (Bonnaroo is supposedly Cajun for “great time”) We aren’t particularly superstitious people but that charm isn’t leaving anytime soon…

Anyways, back to our budding roo-mance. As we talked more and more and got to really know each-other, we began to talk about meeting each-other. Katie lived 500 miles south of me: Southern Tennessee, way down in Roo land. I was in northern Indiana at the time. At first the talks were all about meeting at Roo. But as we got closer over the phone, we really wanted to meet before so we could enjoy the festival together without the awkwardness of first-time hellos. About a month before the festival, Katie pulled the trigger. She decided that she would drive those 500 long miles to go meet someone whom she’d only seen through her phone and on Facebook. She hid this from her parents and only told one person where she was going… Just in case I wasn’t who I said I was. (Because I had to work I wasn’t able to pull off a trip to TN even though I wanted to do the same… She was a teacher and summer break had hit!)

We had the best weekend ever! Not only was I extremely impressed by how awesome it was that she was willing to drive up to me out of nowhere, but we just plain hit it off. We complimented each-other in so many ways and we would soon learn that this connection went far deeper. I had to go to work the day she left, and she had left me the sweetest letter, which I still have to this day. A couple long weeks later Roo 2015 rolled around. My brother’s last year, Katie and I’s first. It was definitely a transition year for my crew. Nothing was better than holding hands with someone you are falling for at the greatest place on Earth. We had a blast. Deadmau5 was quite a moment for us that year. You know those timeless moments, whether you’re with someone or not.. Bonnaroo has given me many of those over the years.

After that amazing weekend, we cried and said our goodbyes Monday morning. 500 miles still separated us. But we were closer than ever. Letters were sent monthly at least, along with daily facetime calls. We powered through. I made my first trip down to Tennessee to see her shortly after that June. We took turns, always trying to see each other at least once every month or two. When Bonnaroo 2016 came, we were beginning to plan for one of us to move so we could be together every day… But right before Roo 16′ hit, Katie became numb on half of her body. We had no idea what had caused it and what it even was. Thankfully I was already down there and was able to help her recover from it… Even though we probably shouldn’t have, Katie was dead-set on still going so off we went. She was fine at the time, but halfway through the weekend she suffered a few smaller episodes, which we soon learned were strokes.. I took care of her for all of that Bonnaroo, nearly carrying her back to camp Saturday night. We bonded more that weekend than we ever had up to that point. The goodbyes that Monday were heart-wrenching. She had to go to the hospital to figure out what was causing these events and I had to go home because I had to work. Thankfully her parents took care of her while I was gone. It went from an awesome summer to a very heavy one quickly.

Katie was diagnosed with a vascular disease called Moya-Moya. I won’t go into details (you can google it) but it was what was causing the strokes. She consequently had to go through two brain surgeries: One that summer, and the second in December of 2016. I came down for the first one and there was some good news mixed in with all of this: In November of that year I finally got a transfer with my work and moved down to her! We got a place together shortly before her second surgery. In the end, the surgeries worked and she has been symptom free for over a year now. Our experiences at Roo that year and going through her health issues together bonded us more than anyone will know. Through all of that chaos, we managed to start a life down here in Tennessee together. That saga ended well and we’re so thankful that she got through it alright.

As our lives together began to take shape down in the hills of Tennessee, I began to think of our next step: Proposing! We’d conquered a long distance relationship, a life-threatening illness and had already had some of the happiest moments of our lives together at… Bonnaroo, of course. Where else would I do it? Well, nowhere. Paris, dinner, a baseball game? Nah. Roo was home. It was why we were together in the first place. So I set my plans in motion. In January of 2017, I started shopping for rings. By February I had bought it. Then the planning began. I assembled an A-Team of Roovians I had met from years past. Enter Bonnaroo 2017: I had a team of flower holders. My music player. The bubble girl. The cheerleaders. The organizers. The picture takers. Plans were set in motion and during a beautiful Friday afternoon on the farm, I took Katie on a ferris wheel ride. She didn’t know that my A-Team was already waiting for us when we got off. When we did, I began to walk her towards planet Roo and at that moment I got on my knees, Katie got two dozen sunflowers handed to her (1 for every month we’d known each-other), and Coldplay’s “Yellow” began to play. We were now engaged! That entire Bonnaroo was a blur as you could imagine, although after it happened, it was much more relaxing for myself as you could imagine.

Fast forward to today. As I write this, we are sitting here together preparing for our third Valentine’s Day together. Dinner and flowers are in order and most likely a romantic movie. Our wedding will be later this year in the hills of Tennessee, surrounded by our family and closest friends. To sum up this story: I found the love of my life at a music festival. If you are still looking for yours, wherever you are… Whether it’s Bonnaroo or even Warped Tour, they may be at the same show as you.