Steve McAlphabet Motorcycling Music Across America
My Weekend at Peace, Love, And Vans

My Weekend at Peace, Love, And Vans

In 2016, my friend Zach built his first van. He retrofitted a Dodge Ram cargo van with Ikea hardware, solar, electric, and full plumbing, going on to create a few more before starting Van Life Outfitters after the pandemic created a surge of people wanting to build livable vans. This weekend, Zach hosted his second van life festival, Peace, Love, and Vans, and ask me to come perform at the late night lounge.

Zach and his team spent a full week setting up for the festival at Withlacoochee River Park near Dade City, Florida. We all knew that the weather forecast was calling for rain the entire time and made accommodations as well as we could. I arrived the day before the festival started and was amazed at how well organized it was, but knowing Zach, I was not surprised.

Zach showed me to a camping spot where I could set up my hammock, tent, and tarp, and then gave me a tour of the festival grounds, including the Leafy Lounge, where I would be performing. They had decorated the forest with glowing orbs and glistening white lights along the pathways. I was really looking forward to playing, but with the coming weather, I braced myself for it to be canceled.

In my nearly 40,000 miles of motorcycle travel in the last few years, I have been very fortunate in avoiding inclement weather. I have had to ride in the rain a few times, but have managed to escape torrential downpours. I’ve also never had to camp in the rain, and since I knew the rain was coming, I figured this weekend would give me a good testing ground for how well I could weather a storm.

I set up my tarp to cover my hammock and one man tent. I spent the first night sleeping in the gentle sway of my hammock, and after walking over to get some morning coffee from the donut truck, I set out on the motorcycle to go check out the rest of the park. As check in for the festival began at 11, by the time I left the festival grounds, hundreds of largely non-descript vans were lining the road, waiting to share their hidden secrets inside.

I hiked for a few hours, wandering through the woods and appreciating the beauty of nature. By the time I returned to the festival grounds, the cracker jack team had checked nearly every van in, and they were all lined up perfectly in rows that were given creative street names building on the themes of peace, love, and grooviness. All things considered, it was one of the most organized festivals I’ve ever been to.

The second night, I slept in my hammock as well, anticipating the rain to start around four in the morning as my weather app warned me. Fortunately, the rain didn’t start until after 8:00, but it didn’t stop for the next 48 hours. The team had already added a meeting tent so that the scheduled talks could continue despite the rain, and they had a box of plastic ponchos so that we could all weather the moisture. Since the evening’s entertainment wouldn’t start until later in the day, I set up my typewriter and pay-what-you-want poetry sign on the stage, and quite a few people approached me for a custom poem or just to look at my 1959 typewriter.

I did pretty well, with one poem garnering 60$ worth of gratitude. I tend to get paid a lot more for poems when my patrons read them before paying me. And although I came fully stocked with an assortment of trail mix and other dried goods to eat, I was glad to support the food trucks and enjoy jambalaya, truffle fries, mac and cheese, and a crab cake.

Throughout the weekend, a number of talks and workshops were scheduled to discuss various aspects of van life, ranging from where to find places to camp for the night to how to build your own van. During certain hours, even with the drizzling rain, many of the bands were open for tours, with the owners gladly discussing things they had learned, and improvements they had made. Some of the implementations were truly astonishing, and it was easy to see how “living in a van down by the river” has become such a cultural phenomenon.

The attendees ranged in age from their twenties to their seventies. Retirees and digital nomads found common ground in their love for travel and independence, and despite the inclement weather, everyone was still happy to be there. I don’t think I heard a single complaint the whole weekend, which I think is a testament to both how well the festival was organized and how amazing these people are.

By the time it was my turn to perform that night, some volunteers had set up tarps in the Leafy Lounge to keep me and a couple dozen other late night revelers dry while enjoying music for a few more hours. My performance the second night included an opening act who also gave me some relief between sets, and an even bigger audience. The great thing was that they liked my original songs as much as my covers, if not more, and asked for a handful of encores, which I obliged them with until my hands cramped.

As an artist, I had a fantastic time, and was so thrilled to share what I have to offer with people that enjoyed it. As a traveler, I was incredibly inspired. While I do aim to fulfill my goal and finish riding my motorcycle through all 48 contiguous states by the end of summer, and I hope to be able to visit many more festivals along the way, I am starting to imagine what van life might look like for next year’s tour.

Although my tarp covered my hammock, it still wicked up water pretty good so I slept in my tent for the next two nights. I did stay dry, but neither I nor my back are big fans of sleeping on the ground. Eventually, I’m gonna need another upgrade.