Going off the deep end at Rothbury

That time I went off the deep end. 

Once upon a time I lived an experience that is now titled as “that one time I went off the deep end.” It’s a story that I hold very dear to my heart and I think it’s good to share it. It’s important to who I am today and I still reflect back and learn new things when I recount the memories in my head. It was a 4 day music festival that I was fortunate enough to attend and it gave me the courage to take charge of my life. Before this festival my life felt like it was falling apart and I was afraid. I was afraid of what would happen next, what I was doing, and where I was going with life. I felt stuck and didn’t know how to get away from the fear. But, I was lucky enough to learn how to escape it all in Rothbury, Michigan in 2008.


Rothbury Festival 2008

Rothbury Festival 2008


The weeks and months before this festival are incredibly relevant to the story, but would be several posts for themselves so they’re best left out of this for now. What’s important is that I was unhappy with life and I was driving into a hippie music festival behind the wheel of a passenger van full of other medics that were going to be working. A company I did work for was contracted out to provide medical services for the event.  After threatening to quit my full time job, I was hired to work the first ever Rothbury Festival in 2008. I’m getting tingly just thinking about it.

Driving in I was reflecting on what brought me there and what was going on in life recently. I was driving through the camping area looking out and thinking how I wished I was on the outside with them. Everyone was hanging out in the sun, setting up their tents, and getting ready for an awesome weekend. Donned in tactical boots and trauma pants – and with a heavy heart – I was ready for work. We drove through the grounds looking for our medical tent before the festival opened to the public. In hindsight it was the calm before the storm.

Hart Medical EMS

Hart Medical EMS

We met the team that was going to be overseeing our efforts and spent some time going through some training. We talked about the types of patients we would be seeing; a lot of heat related illness, drugs and alcohol, bug bites, minor traumas, etc. We had a lot of epi pens, Naloxone, and Diazapam. We had several transport vehicles on standby in case we needed to get someone to a hospital. I would be working on a foot team with a radio and a jump bag.

My partner for the day and much of the weekend was Jack. He was a former coreman in the Navy who was in my paramedic class. Our first assignment was the main stage for the opening performance; Snoop Dogg (the artist formally known as). We were reminded that we were there to work and would spend our time with our backs to the stage watching the crowd. We arrived in the gap between the stage and crowd just as Snoop was going on. I felt good standing on the barricade looking out at the crowd. It was a beautiful Michigan summer day with 75 degrees, shining sun, and a slight breeze of fresh air to carry away my worries.

Sunshine at Rothbury

Sunshine at Rothbury

I stood there looking over a crowd of 30,000 hippies singing along to the song Gin and Juice while dancing happily with each other. They twirled around carefree, flew kites in the air, and shared in a collective moment of happiness. It was impossible to not feel the energy building up. It seemed like a moment of deep relaxation where I knew in my heart that everything was going to be alright. And since then everything has been pretty alright for the most part.

The festival continued with moments of clarity through experiences with people, ideas, textures, movement, and sharing amongst each other. I lounged in my first hammock, first noticed the earth beneath my bare feet, danced openly with people I never met, and believed for the first time in my life I was right where I needed to be. This was the first time that I noticed the universe had set up my entire life to arrive right there at that moment to experience it fully. And for the first time I started to.

There were absolute brilliant moments while I watched some of the most moving live music I’ve ever experienced. Bands I had never heard of up until just before deciding to go. One in particular was Michael Franti and Spearhead who was due up next on stage. I had a different partner today, Eric. We were stationed at the sound board looking at the crowd in front of the stage. I asked someone who was up next and after saying I never heard of them, he exclaimed “you’ve never heard of Michael Franti?” I asked what he was like and I was told, “a man who captures the moment.”

Michael Franti and Spearhead at the Rothbury Festival in 2008

Michael Franti and Spearhead at the Rothbury Festival in 2008

Michael Franti’s music helped me give myself permission to forgive, let go, and love. He told back-stories between each song to help guide us through the listening experience. At one point I had my arm around Eric with my other hand in the air sending love to the people I cared about. I felt like I was starting to get it.   At the end of the set I grabbed the guy I met beforehand. I told him he summed it up nicely.

I wandered into a magnificent display of art in the woods. The artist came out a week earlier to collect pieces of fallen foliage and created a sprawling piece of interactive art. He built paths, monuments, idols, patterns, with the center piece being a 7 foot tall Buddha made out of fallen sticks with the word “reincarnation” in front of it. It was incredibly detailed and beautiful and inspiring and profound and absolutely moving. I asked the artist how he got there to that point in his life and he told some valuable advise that years later I realized. He told me he learned to promote himself.  First by learning to promote something and then promoting his art.

I was walking through sharewood forest one early morning. Sharewood forest was an amazing display of lights that created a magnificently vibrant forest in the dark. Hammocks are thrown up in trees, art is displayed all around you, and it’s full of people just hanging out having a good time. It was quiet during these early day time hours. I found a nice hammock and for the first of many times to come, I climbed into one to relax.

Chuck Manley's first lounge in a hammock.

Chuck Manley’s first lounge in a hammock.

I found a guy who was selling rope sandals. They were the coolest thing I had ever seen and I got to talking to him about them. He said they were like walking barefoot but with a layer of protection. He asked me if I liked walking barefoot and I wasn’t sure. So I tried it. And I do very much to this day like walking barefoot. I asked the guy how he got to that point in his life where he was there selling these awesome sandals. He was living on a beach in California out of choice when he met a guy who was selling the sandals. They got together and started a fair trade company in Nicaragua where they make the sandals in the winter and sell them at festivals during the summer. The company is called Nomadic State of Mind.

 I bought the sandles and they went everywhere with me until 4 years later they disintegrated in the dust at Burning Man after having worn away at every pressure point in my feet.

These things happened over a series of days that never seemed to end. Magic from eyes opening to eyes closing. It all culminated on the 4th of July with Phil Lesh and Friends putting on an amazing 4 hour set. The music was carrying me while I danced in place grooving to the jams. It began to drizzle a bit and the music was escalating and you could feel the energy building up. The crowd and the band were both feeding off of each other as they grew more and more charged. I could feel it. Jack told me to go as he gestured off to the crowd with a smile on his face almost chuckling. So I took off my uniform shirt, hopped the barricade, and danced in the rain just in time to watch the firework display behind the stage.

I spun in circles, jumped around, laughed with everyone, and just soaked it all up in the beautiful cleansing rain. It was electrifying. It felt good to be dancing and to be smiling and to be breathing and to be alive.

lovely stage at the rothbury festival


 I left the festival and refused to forget what it felt like to be alive. To soak up the wonders of the world. To engage with the magic as it unfolds. To experience an essence that I was only first beginning to sense. I was going to make a point to incorporate that into my life at all times. There was a theme that repeated itself through everyone I met and everything that I experienced; to follow your heart. If you follow your heart you will never get steered in the wrong direction.

I walked into my home – a loft in southwest Detroit – and that’s when my understanding of things came to a radical transformation in a very short time. I was in my bathroom when I looked at myself in the mirror stunned. Something was off. The person looking back at me was different but familiar. It was as if I had seen “me” in the mirror for the first time in my life. I was smiling and beautiful and happy and things were right.

I walked towards my window feeling so incredibly happy with my new outlook on life. I remember looking towards a pink sky as the sun rose through the clouds and feeling the sensation of a deep breath passing through my nose. It filled my lungs and my heart with the pinks and oranges and purples of the sky.  I could feel the heat of the sun beating through my veins.  I felt overwhelmed with joy and thankful that I was able to experience something so magnificent. My heart beat faster and faster until finally it exploded in my chest. And when it did I felt like I WAS the pink sky and the warmth of the sun and it was the most beautiful sensation I have ever experienced.

It was like a religious experience where I met God and he told me the secret of the universe is that you are the universe. When you know that you are the universe, you can conspire to work on your side. When I realized I was the universe, I gave myself a hug and told myself that everything was going to work out just fine. I held myself tightly until I felt safe. I felt comfortable. I felt whole. The fear wasn’t just gone but it had turned into love. And I was so happy that I couldn’t contain it and I burst into tears. I sat on my couch and I cried my eyes out because I was so happy to be so happy and I just couldn’t handle it.

I felt like I had eaten a small garbage can full of psychedelic drugs. But I didn’t. I was sober.  And, this was a hyper real moment that pierced through the veil of the illusion to show me what was really going on. What was really going on was beautiful. I am surrounded by a playground of human experiences that are nothing more than cleverly disguised reflections of my self. There is joy in everything if you are joyful. Or sadness if you are sad. Or terror if you’re afraid. And if you live to love then the universe will love you back. If you live to share, you will find abundance. If you are compassionate, then compassion will find you when you need it most. What you put out is what you get in return.

It would have been impossible to go back to my life before Rothbury.  The door to the cage was finally opened and my heart flew freely never to look back.

Life has never been the same!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dana.long.948 Dana Long

    … Magnificent. Chuck, I really don’t know how to put it in words. You did as best as could be done. Turning points in close and opposite worlds. Get that ish!

  • Rick

    Well Chuck my brother! Thank you for taking me on the journey that was your Rothbury.
    I felt you within this post! An understanding of you a BIT more than I already thought I did.
    Again, thank you for being you and sharing you with me and the world!
    It truly is a better place with you in it!!!

    Travel safe and with all the peace and love of that which is all around you.


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  • lolabelle

    I found you on CL looking for a ride…
    and here I have spent the better part of the morning with you =)
    thanks for sharing some of your experiences

    • http://chuckmanley.com Chuck Manley

      Wow, I’ve been getting a bunch of hits from that craigslist ad. I even got a ride from it!

      Thanks for clicking through and checking out my page. I really appreciate it when I get to share my sliver of the human experience with everyone. Make sure you follow me on facebook for more updates!

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