Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues, families, friends, and guests reading these words at this very moment, I am about to take you on a whimsical journey 24 hours in the making. For the next few minutes (or however long it takes you to read things), you will see the 2014 Kicker Country Stampede through the eyes of yours truly.
For the first time ever in my 28 years on this planet, I set up camp at Stampede.
While I grew up hearing country music, it’s safe to say I’m a casual listener now — too casual to truly take on the full 4-day Stampede experience for no reason.
But being a reporter has its perks, and this year I was assigned to cover what’s considered the biggest party in Manhattan year in, year out.
It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah, but with more trucks, young women clad in string bikinis, binge-drinking, music and provocative dancing.
In many ways, Stampede is like Mardi Gras, Woodstock, a tractor pull, a monster-truck rally, and a cowboy-boot expo combined.
The cherry on top is that I got to hang out with Mercury Sports Editor Joshua Kinder — a Stampede fanatic who’s camped the event for eons. Kinder, who first hired me at the Mercury as a part-time sports writer in 2007 — has asked me every summer since to grab a tent and join, but alas… the timing and monies never worked out.
But finally, the stars have aligned, my fellow Manhattanites, and here is the diary of what I experienced in a 24-hour period at Stampede, starting Friday at noon with my final entry on Saturday at noon. (Note: I first set up camp on Thursday.)
So, grab your cowboy hat, take a pair of scissors to something denim, sit back, and enjoy. I know I did!
Friday, 12:01 p.m. — Huge thunder claps reverberate over the campground, and it’s about time for my first beer. Thankfully, the horror stories Josh told me earlier about the public showers/restrooms were more or less unfounded. The line was long this morning and I nearly shouted with terror when the super cold water touched my person, AND I had to contort my body in unusual ways because the shower head sticking out of the wall was 3 feet from the floor, but it wasn’t as federal-prison-like as I was led to believe.
And thankfully, I’ve dabbled in yoga, so I was able to get squeaky-clean.
12:08 p.m. — Remember that thunder? Yeah. More of it, and the rain is coming down as I blow up the air mattress for my tent. I’ve always had wonderful timing.
12:20 p.m. — Beer is tasty, and I really appreciate my German ancestors who helped refine it. Oh, and Josh has busted out some nice tunes from some of the performers in this year’s lineup. The rain has stopped, and I look pretty awesome with my Budweiser half straw/half mesh trucker hat (complete with bottle opener installed in the bill), patriotic sleeveless tank-top and beachtastic swim trunks.
Right now if you have a problem with America, you have a problem with me.
12:47 p.m. — Just saw the porta-potty truck drive by and service one of the near-by porta-potties. Super glad they’re here.
12:57 p.m. — Josh is telling me more about Eric Church. He really likes Eric Church. I’m think I’m going to hear a lot about Eric Church.
1:06 p.m. — Josh and I, manning camp, discuss the what it truly means to be a performance artist. Is it more about expression or acceptance? We find it’s both. We express ourselves first but hope people accept that expression.
On another note, it’s still Miller Time (and yes, I understand how taboo it is to drink Miller Lite whilst wearing a Bud hat) and the sun is now out!
1:49 p.m. — We’ve shifted to classic country for our listening pleasure. We’re playing some Johnny Cash and then we played “She Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones — or, as Josh calls it, “the greatest country song of all time.”
As I sip my frosty beverage and stare off blankly in the distance, I concur.
1:58 p.m. — David Allen Coe.
2:20 p.m. – A group of Stampeders stampede near our camp with Afroman’s “Colt 45” blasting out of a boombox. One overall-wearing feller is holding a sign that reads “Show me your nipples.”
2:58 p.m. — A storm is coming. (Seriously. This isn’t a “Game of Thrones” joke. But it still works.)
3:18 p.m. — I’ve decided to leave camp and be amongst the people. I travel down a path campers call “Redneck Carpet” that leads to the main drag of the campground. It’s a chaotic scene of booze, drinking games using said booze, campers, trucks, tents, bikinis and cut-off jean-shorts. The storm is here and I have found shelter with a nice group of people who have a canopy.
3:26 p.m. — Littering apparently is not only tolerated, but encouraged.
3:43 p.m. — The people in the canopy are nice. One college-aged gentleman tells me one member of their group, a young lady named Clarice Orthballs (I suspect he made this name up) is a big-time Eric Church fan and would faint if she met him in the flesh.
This group also has a healthy supply of beads to give to various women. They really seem to enjoy helping these ladies accessorize.
4:03 p.m. — Found the camp that has been giving campers various small medals for various achievements that can be pinned to their person. I have yet to see a medal for “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Future Rhodes Scholar.”
4:06 p.m. — Not much going on at “Twister Corner,” which is a camp I saw Wednesday that makes use of the classic board game “Twister,” but with six mats taped together.
Will remember to check by again later.
4:18 p.m. — There are a TON of people from Nebraska here, and they’re all Cornhusker fans. If I hear “Goooooo Biiiiggggg Reeeeedddd!!!!” one more time… Well, I will probably just ignore and focus on something else.
4:36 p.m. — I’ve lost track of time and it has become known to me that many of my Mercury co-workers — especially our photographers — were expecting me sooner to help get some Stampede pics.
I quicken my pace and remember the values of teamwork and communication. I’m also told food is ready at camp. My pace quickens once more.
5:32 p.m. — The whole Mercury crew is with me back to the main drag. There is a camp with a rope and a steer head in a bale of straw. My dad team-roped in his younger days and thus, I was a little cowboy growing up and had a rope, but it’s obvious now that I should have practiced more.
Dad was right. Again.
And I’ve dropped my notepad in mud.
5:53 p.m. — Campground security looks bored. How?
6:07 p.m. — We walk by a camp that has a “Price is Right” Plinko-style board. Instead of money, the participants different degrees of nudity.
I can’t wait for the home version.
7:52 p.m. — Randy Houser has the place packed.
8:04 p.m. — I just saw a young guy in a Jesus costume, complete with a beard and robes. And he has a girlfriend, apparently.
9:31 p.m. — I head to the “party pit” area in front of the stage while Luke Bryan is playing. The ladies really like him for some reason. I learn I need to be more like Luke Bryan.
9:56 p.m. — A fella just high-fived me (it’s “High Five Friday” at Stampede). He yells 1,215 when he does. He’s given a lot of high-fives.
Saturday, 12:30 a.m. — I’ve got my guitar out and play along with Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around.”
I’m a legend.
2:30 a.m. — I take a walk around the campgrounds with our videographer (and my roommate), Jeremy. The parties continue. Many camps have installed temporary stripper poles.
Who says Stampeders aren’t engineers?
??? — My phone is dead and another storm has rolled in. We seek shelter and begin a return to our camp when the rain stops.
Daylight — Phone is still dead, for Josh’s car is locked and my charger is harbored inside it. It’s not dark anymore.
I decide to forgo the public showers and pay to use the nicer “Rubber Duckies” mobile shower trailer, which has hot water. This is good.
9:15 a.m. — I’m smart and bring a watch.
9:30 a.m. — Josh and I go get biscuits and gravy at a food truck near the public restrooms/showers. On the way over I can’t help but notice all the trash everywhere!
The campgrounds look like Atlanta, Ga., circa whenever post-apocalyptic zombie series “The Walking Dead” is supposed to be set. All that’s missing is the sheriff on a horse. In some places, the trash has been so stepped on and ravaged by late-night boozing it has returned to its organic state and is returning to the earth.
9:53 a.m. — The porta-potties have now reached an epic point of no return. The service crews are doing all they can, but what they’re up against is no easy task. It’s not for the faint of heart/smell.
10:15 a.m. — There are trash cans near the food truck. Looking around and seeing all the trash everywhere, I’m confused on why there are trash cans at all.
10:45 a.m. — Phone is finally charging, and I’m eager to learn of news from the outside world.
On an unrelated note, you can tell which Stampeders treat this weekend as a formal occasion by how new their trucks’ mud tires are.
11:02 a.m. — Josh and I head to the KFDI radio camp, where artist Logan Mize, who is performing later today, is officiating a game in the street they’ve called Corn Hole (which involves throwing bean bags into a board with holes cut into it).
Weird. Corn-holing is okay in Kansas, evidently.
12:01 p.m. — I’m in the media trailer near the stage and making my final entry to write some stories, including this very one. Bless this festival, bless these people, and bless the larger and cleaner media-area porta-potties.
There’s another night ahead, and who knows? Maybe the future Mrs. Brady Bauman is out there tonight.
“Hey Mom and Dad,” I may soon say, “I want to introduce you to my fiance. We met on top of an old school bus at 3 in the morning.”
Live and let live.