It is 4 a.m. While 3,000 other campers sleep, one rowdy group has been up all night and is now bellowing the chorus to “Awake My Soul,” one of Mumford & Sons’ most popular songs.
I pull the sleeping bag over my head, fighting the parental urge to yell “Go to bed!” while nonetheless impressed that the lyrics are so deeply ingrained in my fellow fans’ minds that not even their Jameson and Red Bull binging can blur the words.
My 15-year-old daughter asks me to walk with her past the raucous late-nighters to the bathroom. She is the instigator of this weekend adventure at the Mumford & Sons stopover concert and campout in Dixon, Ill., part of the band’s Gentlemen of the Road Tour.
We have dubbed our excursion the “Gentlewomen of the Road” trip.
By the exhausted glow of the flashlight, we navigate around all sizes, colors and contents of tents, passing the pavilion packed with amateur banjo players and professional revelers. Even in my sleep-deprived stupor, I can’t help but feel the same stirring I felt the first time we heard “Awake My Soul.”
Our pastor sang it one Sunday, the lyrics and melody melancholic, but becoming a crescendo of joy and ending with the command: “Awake my soul! You were meant to meet your maker.” Although the songs of Mumford & Sons aren’t “religious,” the lyrics often bring to mind the psalmist’s raw longing when his sin has separated him from God.
Back in the tent, I crawl under the covers, waking my barely sleeping husband. “Are we ‘engaging in culture’ yet?” I ask.
“Revelries and abominations,” he mumbles in his best fire-and-brimstone preacher’s voice.
The next morning, 15,000 fans continue the second day of carrying out the mission of the band’s tour: to celebrate another small town, whose main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. Dixon is a fitting choice, hardworking and wholesome and salt of the earth, fodder for a new Mumford & Sons song about hard times and folks who turn them into cornerstones for building new lives.
Eventually, we descend on the park, and a roar rises as Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall and Ted Dwane take the stage.
The band sings “Roll Away Your Stone.” Hundreds of hands are raised, a collective reaching out for what our minds may reject but our souls know, as many of these songs seem to prod us out of slumber. My daughter and I clasp hands in the air.
Why did we choose to come here when we could simply listen to a CD in our living room? What do I want to teach her, to learn along with her through this experience? Yes, to enjoy music, to sing it, to dance to it. To be co-creators with Marcus Mumford and our pastor and the midnight banjo picker and God. But also to hear it amidst the fellow broken and the deaf.
In the forest of weary legs and reaching arms, I am reminded of how wayward and how incapable we are of saving ourselves. Here we are, thousands of voices - some yelling, some singing, but all crying out to whatever made us and may love us.
The music speaks to my husband and I and to our daughter, two generations. But we witness it speaking to far more: to Marcus Mumford, son of a vicar; to the crowd raising their hands as if in worship; to the drunk young man who throws back his head and bellows “I will change my ways;” and to the believers who recognize the words of David as he flees Saul and cries, “I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul!”
The music is not just intergenerational, but universal. For it plucks the string that attaches us to the One who composed us.