Off to the side of a dusty, dirt road at the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival in Live Oak, Florida, Carl Alm was locked into a game of chess.
“If he beats me, I’ll give him a free poster,” he said, moving one of the magnetic pieces across a miniature checkered board.
Alm is a psychedelic artist. His hair was long and matted. His great beard reached down to his chest. Originally from New Jersey, he is one of many people who spend months at a time following music festivals and various groups in the jam-band circuit. The poster on the line is a print of one of his original pieces of artwork. His intricate, rock-band inspired prints usually sell for $10.
“I make enough to get around,” Alm said absently, focusing on the game at hand. He moved a bishop. “Check.”
“I see him all the time,” said Ricardo Mere, an avid festival-goer. “The last time I saw him was outside the American Airlines Arena during the Phish New Year’s Eve run.”
Though unwilling to give a clear figure for his earnings, Alm makes enough between his website, http://www.carlalmart.com, and peddling art at events to gas up his car and make it to the next show. But with the festival season coming to a close, Alm will find other niches for selling his prints.
“After this, Furthur tour. Then, Phish tour,” said Alm.
Furthur is the latest manifestation of the San Francisco psychedelic band the Grateful Dead. Since the sixties, the Grateful Dead, and all the groups it spawned after the death of Jerry Garcia, have inspired ramblers and rovers from across the states to follow the show.
“It’s like a never-ending party,” said Steve the Ticket Hippie (last name withheld by request). Steve stood outside Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida this past February scalping tickets for Furthur’s first appearance. This is how Steve can afford to travel so much.
“I buy tons of tickets at a time, way in advance. By the time the shows roll around, their prices jump—sometimes double—and I sell them for whatever I can get,” said Steve.
Though such a model could prove lucrative, it could also be dangerous. Some states have anti-scalping laws that could land Steve in jail.
“Always know the state you’re in’s laws. Otherwise you could find yourself in cuffs real quick,” said Steve.
The Internet has also made the reselling of tickets much more efficient. Websites like StubHub.com offer a means for anybody to auction off tickets for events. They also give folks like Steve a means to move large numbers of tickets with a few clicks of a mouse.
Though Steve declined to give much more information on his operation, claiming it’s taken him years to develop it, he claims to travel, hustling tickets, nearly eight months out of the year.
But Steve is not welcome company to many other festival-goers.
Bradfield spent the summer of 2010 following music. Between March and September, she attended ten festivals and a number of concerts, including a three-night Phish run in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“I put like 18,000 miles on my car this summer,” said Bradfield.
In order to pay for it, Bradfield sold hemp-and-glass jewelry and hand-made tie-dyes to whomever would buy them. She sold them for between $10 and $30, depending on the work and her customer. One piece she sold was a custom hemp dog collar.
“My goal for each festival was to at least make my money back,” said Bradfield. “I just needed to sell stuff to make gas money. And I did trade with people, but I won’t tell you what I traded for.”
Bradfield made between $60 and $100 per festival peddling her art, but at All Good Music Festival in West Virginia and the Gathering of the Vibes in Connecticut, she made between $100 and $150.
As for places to stay, Bradfield relies on the numerous connections she has made with like-minded people across the country.
“I can call any of these people up to crash with them. And I would do the same for them,” said Bradfield.
Still, when it was over, Bradfield couldn’t cover her expenses. She went into debt and is currently searching for a job.
“I keep getting e-mails for early bird tickets, but I have to say count me in for zero festivals this summer. I have like negative-hundreds of dollars,” said Bradfield.
As soon as she’s able, Bradfield plans to take to the road once more, following the vibes and music she loves so much.
“It’s like a sick addiction you sort of acquire after spending so much time and money on it,” said Bradfield. “It’s a really neat community to be a part of.”