Saturday, March 4, 2017

Panic en La Playa Seis 2017

Sometime last year, when ticket sales were announced, we decided to buck up and head down to paradise for Panic En La Playa Seis (PELP). We figured with N's 40th birthday and our 10th anniversary we could justify the cost and the trip. Then, for months and months we put it out of our minds. Finally, February 26th came and we took off for our 6-day trip to sunny Mexico.

Day One, 2/26/17

We caught an Uber at 4am as my mom settled in to live in our house and care for our boys while we were gone. Passports in hand I finally learned the ins and outs of international travel.

 Sunrise over southern US as we flew to Houston.

We arrived in Cancun around 12:30pm, and immediately realized we were in paradise. There is a bar at the airport right in front of the ground travel buses where you can buy tropical drinks by the yard. We found the PELP shuttle and settled in for an hour drive to the resort.

The beauty in this place is hard to describe. And the people who work there are so friendly and kind. PELP reserved the entire place, but we came a day early so there were people there vacationing on 2/26 before the whole place was flooded with hippies and the good people you find during a show.

The view from our room.

Sine we were there a day early, we got to catch the sound check. It was fun to hear a few songs and watch the workers begin to set up the concert area for the music that would ensue over the next few days. They played the songs but without much gusto. It was the perfect tease of what was in store.

Sound check, 2/26/17

 I have never been to Mexico before, and have never been to an all inclusive resort. It was pretty easy to put the money we paid over the last few months behind us and pretend everything we were experiencing was free, besides tips. The food was mostly buffet style, and it was fabulous. The restaurant staff were well versed in gluten free eating and often took me around the buffet to show me what was safe and what wasn't. 

Or first meal at Toro, one of the many buffet style eateries. 

The day the tickets went on sale all those months ago, My friend J texted me about 20 minutes before and asked if we were going. I replied yes and for the next 20 minutes she went back and forth about getting tickets, too. The expense is high, so it's a tough decision to make, but at the last minute she bit the bullet and decided to go. It was so great to have another couple to hang with. We had such an amazing time with these beautiful people!

A toast to friendship and the first night in paradise. 

As we explored the resort we found some music in the lobby area near some pool tables and other entertainment.
A Mexican Beatles cover band, which is exactly as awesome as one would expect.

At some point someone, I think it was our waiter, had the idea of bringing us a shot. When asked what kind we wanted, N replied "surprise us". This is what he brought, and called it a Jelly Fish. It was gross, but made for a great photo!

My brain is just a jelly fish in the ocean in my head, 'cause I drank too much tequila, and I woke up seein' red. ~String Cheese Incident

Day Two, 2/27/17

2/27/17 was our first full day at the resort, so we did lots of exploring and taking in the beauty of this place. It was chilly with the breeze off of the ocean, and it ended up being pretty cloudy, but that didn't seem to affect the way we appreciated the beauty in this place.

These iguanas were everywhere! They mostly moved slowly, but occasionally jumped out and scared the bejezus out of us! 

This part is a little scary for me, but here it goes. At some point leading up to this trip, I decided to throw all self-consciousness out the window and wear a swimsuit that shows my stomach for the first time, maybe ever. Seriously. Even as a young teenager I was so self conscious of my mid area that I refused to bare it for anyone in public, But this time? Eff it. I was going to enjoy the pool and the sunshine and get some color to my belly for the first time ever. It felt so amazing and freeing!

Rocking a stomach-showing swimsuit for the first time, maybe ever. 

In one of the many emails we received from the planning company for PELP, they encouraged us to bring decorations for the balcony. We saw so many cool decorations. We brought a Missouri state flag and a Cardinals flag. It took us a while to figure out how to hang in the best way, but we did it! Represent!

They also had theme nights, and one was Space Wrangler, so N bought these little guys for that night, which wasn't until Thursday, so he hung around here until then,

Wrangler, Space. 

This is the only photo I have that shows the inside of our room. It was small and perfect since we really only slept there. We didn't turn on the TV once. I still wonder if there are English speaking channels in Mexico. We didn't find out!

Braids, hair flowers, and a constantly stocked mini bar. 

The stage was set up with the ocean behind it and plenty of room for everyone to see the stage. This was where we stood at each show, and we walked up to this area a few minutes before 8pm, so you can see that there wasn't really a bad view anywhere. The show was incredible. It was easy to get caught up in the "free" food and drinks, the ocean, the pool and the sunshine, and it quickly became clear why we were all here. Because of the music. While the whole show was fantastic, that Bear Gone Fishin' > Blight > Climb To Safety was killer.

Show #1, 2/27/17 

We were standing just to the right of the soundboard, which had a person manning the entrance to make sure only VIP folks walked in. I saw Luther Dickinson enter this area and got really excited! I have been an arm's length away from Luther before, and never felt brave enough to go up and talk to him.

At one point he came out of the sound board area and was standing against the back railing. I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. I told him about my son, LBZ, and how we decided his name. He walked out of the area and we talked for a while. Then we danced to Panic and enjoyed the music. He turned to me and said he was going back to the inside area, and I took his hand and told him how much I appreciate his music and thanked him for sharing his talent with me and with the world.

He invited me into the inside part, but I declined. Honestly, I was so overwhelmed with the moment that I think I needed it to end, if that makes sense. As I turned to walk back to me friends, J came up to us and took this photo. Had she been 2 minutes later, this moment wouldn't have been recorded. Once I returned to N and our friends in the crowd, I busted into tears.

This moment was one of the highlights of my entire music life.
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars

Day Three, 2/28/17

I didn't take many photos this day, I think because we spent most of the day at the pool. They had a side stage where Southern Soul Assembly played a set in the afternoon. It was also fat Tuesday, so they had a Mardi Gras party during the show. It was a crazy good time. A waiter brought us a tray full of drinks and said it was watermelon juice and a surprise. I don't know what that surprise was, but it wasn't good. I didn't feel great afterwards and we figured we spent a little too much time in the sun.

Southern Soul Assembly includes Luther Dickinson, JJ Grey, Anders Osborne and Marc Broussard

We didn't let it stop us from the show! The Mardi Gras costumes were fantastic. So many beads and sparkles and happiness all around. The drums in Fishwater was an insane back and forth between Duane and Sonny and I just couldn't get enough. Tall Boy is always great and the Blackout Blues in the encore was just perfect. We were so tired afterwards that we crashed afterwards and decided we maybe needed to balance the sun tomorrow. It's easy to overdo it in paradise, and we wanted to enjoy every single moment of this fabulous trip.

In Mardi Gras style for Fat Tuesday

Day Four

The day started out just lovely as we took a nice long walk around the resort exploring the beaches and pools on the other side from where we were staying.

We got to the pool around noon and posted up in a place where we could have some sunshine and some shade so we didn't get burned. The sun there is no joke, and we really didn't want to burn. Since the performers are also on vacation, we would randomly run into one at the resort.

Colonel Bruce sat down right next to us in the pool area and swam right by us for a long time. We all chatted briefly, and I noticed when he came back to his lounger, putting his shoes on and heading to the bar. Figuring he was coming back, I didn't pay much attention to the fact that he left his shirt there, but the boys did. We tried to find him to return it, but he was gone. N decided it was just his style.

N wearing Colonel Bruce Hampton's shirt.

Even though the buffets were stocked with incredibly delicious food, we all liked the idea of sitting at a restaurant where they bring us a menu. We chose the Mexican restaurant, and it did not disappoint. We couldn't help but notice the smaller than American portions. This was exactly the right amount of food for our pre-show bellies.

Chicken with rice and mole sauce

N's dessert, which was so pretty!

My dessert, which was nice looking, too.

Night four, show #3 was so good. I felt amazing and we felt like we adulted the heck out of the day so we could hang into the show feelin' alright. The first 4 songs started with the letter G, and I never did find out the significance of that, if there is one. North was pretty great as they sang about Mexico, but the best was probably Genesis, which I thoroughly enjoyed and told the man standing next to me (a guy named Todd who was not a Panic fan but came along with some friends for the week) about a gift N gave his best friend in 2003. N had all of the lyrics to Genesis printed on a poster and mailed it to the writer for his autograph. He then framed it and gave it to our good friends for their wedding. Genesis was their wedding song.

Oh, how I love these good people!!

Day Five, 3/1/17

We woke up on day five feeling great! We knew this was our last full day here, so we got to it. We explored some more and did some souvenir shopping for ourselves and for the boys. After spending the day at the pool, we caught the Bloodkin show and I met a guy named Mike and his wife who were from Orlando and had been to at least 3 of the shows. He sat down next to me and asked if it was okay for him to smoke his cigarette. I said yes, and we talked a lot about quitting and how hard it is. And I took notice of the fact that he actually asked me in the first place.

You see, if you've never been to a Panic show, it is difficult to explain. But if you have been to a show, whether Grateful Dead, Panic, Phish or a similar band, the community is what makes this experience so magical. A woman in the bathroom line snapped at me all bitchy, which happens in the real world a lot, but she actually stopped, came back to me and apologized, which only happens in this world, if the bitchy happens at all. Typically people are kind and generous and looking out for each other. Imagine that community at a show, but now it's in an entire privately rented resort and there are 4 shows and tons of beach and pool time in between. That my friends, is Panic en La Playa.

Bloodkin on the side stage, 3/2/17

The theme of the night was Space Wrangler, so N got these awesome little space men and found the perfect little sparkly cowboy hats for them. They felt like our babies at the beginning of the show, but eventually we put them down against the metal barrier that separated the sound board area from where we were standing.

Our little space wranglers.

During set break a group of resort employees saw them and took them off of the railing. I don't know what they said, but they seemed so happy to find these space men. N and I decided to let them have them, but not before we got a good photo.

I seriously think it made their night!
Even if they did tear the little hats off.

It isn't hard at all for me to talk about the biggest highlight of show #4. The entire set list was full of dance party awesomeness, so I shouldn't have been surprised when they went from >Surprise>Ride Me High>Surprise into the song I have spent 16 years and about 50 shows chasing. My favorite Panic song of all time: Airplane.

During set break I told a lovely lady dressed in a super sparkly space wrangler outfit about my love for Airplane. She said she was in the very front row and if they played it, she would make room for me to go up close to hear it.

As soon as I heard the first 3 notes, I knew. I stood there frozen for a bit, then J asked if I wanted to go up front and said she'd go with me. We wiggled our way to the front row and couldn't find the woman I spoke to at set break, but that didn't matter. I looked at the cute little 20-something hippie in the spot directly in front of JB and told him of my 16-year quest to catch this song. Without a hesitation, he moved to the side and held his hand out for me to take his place.

It's hard to put how much I love this song into words. I sang it to my boys as they fell asleep. LBZ loved it so much, he created his own rendition with a small adjustment that includes a helicopter.
Check it out. This moment was also a huge highlight in my music life.

Front row center for "Airplane"

Show #4 was by far my favorite. They had special guests, they opened with Sewing Machine, which our whole group thought they closed with the night before, but they in fact only played part of the typical combo of Protein Drink>Sewing Machine at show #3. Conrad. Wrangler. Red Hot Mama. Parsons. Time is Free (with Colonel Bruce). Blue Indian. And a closing song of Life During Wartime, another one of LBZ's favs. And of course, Chilly Water. (For a 50-second clip of Chilly click here)

A nice shot of the water being tossed around during Chilly.

Day Six, 3/2/17

Oh, day six. Veterans of PELP tried to warn us about re-entry and the difficulty of leaving after show #4. Many veterans stay an extra day, unlike us who came a day early. As much fun as I had, I missed the boys like crazy and really couldn't wait to get home.

Our plan was to meet at 9am, check out at the main convention center, drop our bags in front, eat some breakfast and catch the 10am shuttle back to the Cancun airport. We met at 9am, went to the convention center and checked out, then walked outside and somehow ended up in the lane to get on the shuttle that was leaving right then. They took our bags and put them on the bus instead of on the stairs for the 10am bus.

We tried to tell them, but at that point we all felt committed. We got on the bus behind our bags and had no water, no food and a one hour trip to the airport. We weren't very happy, but we made the best of it. As we were pulling out of the resort, I realized that not only did I not get breakfast, but I also didn't get a chance to say a proper goodbye to the resort and take any final photos at the resort, but we did get a few of the journey home.

The only vacation sunset photo I caught.
Mostly because of timing and position of our room.

Nevertheless, the trip home was uneventful. Traveling out of the country brought some anxiety, so having the trip go smoothly makes me want to do it again as soon as possible. I was thrilled to see my boys, who were at the airport when we landed, and as I snuggled them to bed last night I realized what a perfect balance this trip was for us. N and I got to have an adventure, to see our favorite band, to connect after 10 beautiful years of marriage and to return home to the loving arms of our boys. It was perfect.

Home, sweet home.

This weekend, on the other hand, has been a little rough. The boys are just off and having trouble listening, the memory of no worries on the beach with nothing but our favorite band's concert on our schedule is fading into the reality of routines and housework and laundry. The workweek is looming, and the struggle for re-entry into the real world is a real thing.

To my friends who could not attend this year, I seriously encourage you to build this trip into your vacation spending plans. Start saving now. It's expensive, but worth every single penny. We will have the opportunity to pre-buy tickets for next year, and I think we just might. We'll be the veterans and can give some good advice going forward. Basically, just do it. Go to PELP.

Other fun stuff to note
(I may add to this as I recollect noteworthy details)

The room key is actually a waterproof bracelet you wear when you check in and they cut off when you check out. So it leaves basically zero chance that you will be locked out of your room.

I read the whole book "Born to Run" this week. It includes a lot of stories about running in Mexico, and it was perfect for this trip.

Even though I didn't run at all during this week, I managed to get over 20k steps every single day we were there, making this week one of the highest in steps I have ever achieved, even with weeks that include my longest races.

If you pay attention, they tell you every single thing you need to know about traveling internationally. Miss something, and your'e pretty screwed.

They took a ton of footage of PELP and will likely make a 4-5 minute video like they did last year. I may or may not be hoping for a cameo in the seis version, 

Street tacos are divine. That's all I have to say.