On Stage With Girl Talk

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When 2011 ends, I’ll be 40 years old. That means I probably have a good decade on almost everyone on this stage, except Gregg Gillis, who’ll turn 30 two months before my birthday. But I’m determined to see a Girl Talk set from the perspective of Girl Talk himself, and with my wife and children back at the condo (far enough away not to be embarrassed by dad), I’ve begged my way onto the Boom Boom Room stage at this year’s Hangout Music Fest.

Gillis has already kicked things off, and we’re being yelled at not to dance on the rickety metal staircase leading up the back. I assume most of my fellow dancers were selected the same way the good-looking young men and women got picked for American Bandstand, though I’m making myself feel old just by thinking that. But I’m determined not to slow down during the hour-long set. My recent soccer renaissance will certainly help.

My new friends and I keep towards the middle of the stage, caring more about seeing the crowd than having the crowd see us. The room is packed with music fans, and with every new beat or chorus, there’s a wave of recognition from different portions of the audience. Girl Talk’s brilliant mash-ups borrow from a wide spectrum from across my 39 years of popular music. The Beatles and the fest’s headliner Paul Simon get equal footing with Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus, and nothing seems sacrilegious about that as the rhythm of “Party in the U.S.A.” and the words to “Since You Been Gone” alternately punctuate the ever-changing medley.

Everyone here has bought into Gillis’ irony-free vision and dances along. The mass of bodies holding up inflatable pigs and parrots and some sort of Capt. Crunch creation picks up steam with every new hook he introduces. I realize my cynical veil has completely been torn off when I find myself shouting along to that stupid song by Baha Men—but here I am jumping up and down, singing “Who let the dogs out?” with a giant grin on my face. The common language of music has trumped my own snobbery.

Gillis’ team is shooting rolls of toilet paper into the crowd using leaf blowers. I grab a section and turn it into a white headband, mimicking the man behind the plastic-covered PowerBooks. Confetti and balloons pour forth from the ceiling. It’s six o’clock in the evening, the sun is still above the water, but no one in Ibiza is partying like we’re partying here on the beach of Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The first time I saw Girl Talk was a few years ago in Austin, Texas, at the end of a long night at SXSW. It was the perfect remedy for a rare stressful day at the music festival, all the problems of the day momentarily washed away by the communal power of music. Girl Talk, while great for running, is best experienced in a sweaty tent with thousands of other people screaming and dancing along, looking at each other with that spark of knowing when a little phrase of an old Cars song is played. And if you can watch that crowd of thousands as you dance on stage, all the better.