Me, Lil Wayne, and Spring Break 2009 on Panama City Beach

Spring Break 2009 delivered Lil Wayne to our crystal white sand beaches today.  Thousands, if not tens of thousands of people were in attendance to see who was described to me earlier as the biggest name in entertainment in the U.S. today.

What began as a foggy morning burned into clear skies by 8:30 am.  When I took my boys to school today, visibility was 100 feet at best, actually quite scary to drive in.  This afternoon at 1pm, when I arrived on the scene, the fog had returned, but was quickly dissipating.

In route to the show, traffic was backed up past Wal-Mart on Middle Beach Road.  Moving slowly, we rolled our way to South Thomas Drive, dodging spring breakers and their automobiles.  With music blaring and bass shaking my car, breakers waited anxiously for the car in front of them to advance, bringing them all closer to the single defining event that many of them had been looking forward to for weeks, even months.

After intense negotiations with peds and cars, I made my way into the parking area of the Royal American Welcome Center, just 1500 feet from the stage that Lil Wayne would perform from.  After a few friendly handshakes and hellos I made my way on foot to where the action was.  It was time to get uncomfortable and a little sun burnt.  I’ve got to do better about remembering my bald spot next time.

Had we thought about it, we may have chosen a different route to the VIP deck as we encountered a different type of traffic jam – of the variant liking to packed sweaty bodies of hostile spectators awaiting their acclaimed performer, refusing to move or make way for the “camera man.”

“Take my picture,” said one.  I hesitantly complied waiting for someone to snatch my pass and push his way through the crowd. I really was helpless, but I finally made my way up to the pavilion that served as a gateway to the Very Important Person area.  I was apparently a very important person today, well at least for a little while.

“He’s with me,” said a friend as my credentials were questioned.  Security was tight, and cops were everywhere.  I should have fit right in, it seemed like everyone on staff had tons of tattoos on their arms.  Maybe I don’t have enough.

Most of the time at events like this, I get free reign.  I can usually go where ever I want, but today was a little different.  I was limited because of the sheer size of the crowd.  I guess I could have journeyed deep into the depths of the ocean of people had I been brave enough, but I admit, I liked the security of the Press Box.  To say I was nervous and a little scared was an understatement; I don’t do too well in large crowds.

Everywhere I turned, spring breakers were drinking from bottles, cans, cups, beer bongs and just about anything else that would not leak.  Some were adorned in apparel made from alcohol paraphernalia, and others wore next to nothing at all.  There were girls on the shoulders of men and patterns shaved into the sides of heads.  Everyone, it seemed, had tattoos and one guy I saw even had a collection of very painful looking Branding marks.

I was able to travel freely up and down a boardwalk that led from the VIP deck and back stage up until about thirty minutes before the first performer came on.  “In about 10 minutes, you can’t go past this point,” said one MTV crew member.  “No worries, man,” I replied, “just tell me what I can and can’t do, I’m just taking pictures.”  I was told that the rules are only enforced by MTV but governed by the contracts they have with the performers.

The crowds were getting anxious and security and other staff were passing out waters and other non-alcoholic drinks to all those that asked in an effort to keep who they could hydrated.  I was told to help myself, so I did, to an ice-cold water in a tiny little bottle.

I was actually surprised security was able to keep everyone contained as well as they did.  Everywhere I looked, it appeared as if more spring breakers could spill over a barricade at any moment.  “You have to get off the rail,” said one member of the security staff, “if it falls, it may knock them all down in this row.”

As the crowd began to roar, I returned to the comfort and safety of the VIP deck.  “You can’t be up here,” said a security guy.  “What?”  I showed him my credentials.  “You have to leave, NOW.”  “What?!?, Why??”  “Don’t make me call security.”  “Ok, I’m leaving.”  There was a mix up and MTV was freaking out.  Turns out, the guy that was kicking me out was a friend of a friend, and he was following orders based on a huge miscommunication during a very roudy and chaotic time.  The crowd was loud and there were apparently too many chiefs.  All the media got kicked out, everyone with a camera.  “Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll hook you up.”  Minutes later, I was on the roof with the promo guys that helped put the whole show together, looking down on the crowd that I was so glad to leave behind.

I was told no less than three times that the roof was the best seat in the house.  I saw no chairs, and I was hot as the sun beat down on me and the black roof cooked me from the feet up.  What am I complaining about, it was only 75 outside – that’s nothing compared to what it could be.

From there I could see everything and would have done just about anything for a sweet telephoto lens, but oh well, perhaps someday when I have more money, or at least some money at all.

Lil Wayne was late, and the crowd was getting ancy.  People were screaming, waving their arms at the opening act as a small crowd congregated around the 26 year old’s tour bus.  From my vantage, I could see the security detail trying to figure out how to get Wayne in with as little exposure to the open crowds as possible.  They moved the bus as close to the door as possible.

With the roar of the crowd, Lil Wayne burst out of his tour bus door and quickly ran inside with his posse in tow and quickly made it to the stage to put on an energetic performance.  The mood of the crowd instantly changed when his appearance was made known.  Wayne took no delay from his bus exit to begin his performance, immediately dancing across the stage to the rhythmic beat of what was surely one of his hot singles.

I didn’t stay for the whole show, I’d had my fill.  The experience was enough to carry me home.  The energy was overflowing and the crowd was getting what they came for.  With thousands, or indeed tens of thousands in attendance this free concert could surely be categorized as a success in the heart and spirit of spring break.  The sand was down there, the beach was warm and the kids were having fun.  That’s what its all about, right?

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