Smack!…Smack!….Smack! "Woooo! Coachellaaaaaaaahhh! Gimmie five!"
That's the sound of a loud, burly Kentucky man high-fiving his way through the sunburned Sunday crowd on weekend one of Coachella. Though he appears to be just another dude with a GA wristband, right now he's feeling more like one of the beloved performers of Indio's massive, three-day festival. Not just because he sorta looks like Action Bronson. It's because of the rapid swell of energy he's giving and receiving as he walks through the crowd. Standing about 5'9 with a husky, country boy build, truck driver Jeffrey Epperson's thick brown beard glistens with sweat. He sports a backpack, blue shirt, and a matching backwards University of Kentucky hat.
Just up ahead are his two truck driving compatriots, also from Kentucky—a wiry, fit black dude with glasses named Maurice "Bull" Bullard and Rob Record, another large mountain man with a heavy beard, backwards hat, Slayer shirt and sunglasses. The three twentysomethings with syrupy southern accents form a loose conga line as they roam through the festival collecting high fives from a blur of endless festival goers. For the last three days, they've been trying to high five everyone they see at Coachella. Literally. Everyone.
As the flood of Coachellites rush behind them after receiving a passing high five, rows of listless, apathetic looks are suddenly transformed into smiles. As they pass, most of the high five-ees are reciprocating the energy with hoots and hollers as they float through the festival. It's as if one meaty hand slap and a "wooo!" is enough to suddenly wake them up on the last day of the festival, giving them permission to start enjoying themselves in between rushing around to different stages.
"People here can be so uptight and we're just trying to loosen everybody up. Break the ice, so to speak," Record says. "A couple people blow you off but that's just a given, man. You gotta take the good with the bad."
Three days ago, Record, Epperson and Bullard each drove their own 18-wheeler refrigeration trucks from their previous stop in Chicago all the way to Indio for the festival. Over the past few years, they've driven all over the country hauling frozen produce, chicken, and other items you might buy in supermarket without a second glance. But this weekend, they're taking time off of work to rage during their first trip to the festival at Empire Polo Club. Obviously, their investment in a good time is more than warranted. But after a full weekend of endless high-fiving, it appears to be rubbing off on everyone they touch, no matter how far away they drove to get there.
"They're so hyped. I love them" says Michelle Rosas, 25, from LA who was just hand-slapped by the trucker trio. She came into the festival early, waiting nearly five hours to grab a good spot for night three headliner, Drake. "It's been a long wait. It's sad, but I've almost caught myself being bored. So that [high five] reminded me to stop being boring."
For Southern Californians, Coachella and other world-class festivals are a big part of our culture—almost to a fault. So many of us are accustomed to splurging on high priced tickets, and spending weeks or months-worth of income on supplies, outfits, food, drugs and alcohol. It's all done for the promise of an experience that will live on long after our amateur pics, tweets and grainy video have been erased by the cell phone gods. The opportunity to live the Coachella experience is all around us the minute we enter the festival gates. But how many of us actually get it? How many of us are so overstimulated by festivals like this that we forget to truly connect and be a part of it with the people who are actually there?
The answer to that problem is simple. Just give someone a high five and you'll be alright. Why, you ask? Because, it's science.
A 2010 psychological study based on the mental effects of participating in a high-five helps explain how touch is one of the biological mechanisms that helps us form and sustain intimate bonds which are essential to our survival in groups. In the U.S., the high five is even given its own day— National High Five Day—which falls on the third Thursday every year in April). The holiday also happens to be today, April 16. If you haven't high fived someone yet, get on it.
A study from a lab at the University of California at Berkeley demonstrates how consistent physical contact predicts which people will shine in competitive environments, or in this case, a festival where it feels like people's job to out-cool each other on a constant basis.
The study, led by research scholar Michael Kraus, psychology student Cassy Huang and social psychologist Dacher, focused on interpersonal contact (ie. high fives, shoulder bumps, hugs, huddles etc.) exchanged among National Basketball Association players during their 2008-2009 season.
When the researchers analyzed what transpired between players during and after their games, they discovered that moments of physical contact indicated more than just bromance or bravado: The amount and the type of non-verbal communication between players was clearly tied to the performance of the group. The more team members bonded via fist bumps and group hugs, the more success they experienced.
When put in context of a festival or a concert, that logic also seems to make a lot of sense. We're all here together in a confined space for the common goal of having a good time. But as software engineer Doron Maman explains in a 2013 Ted Talk about the psychology of the high five, sometimes being together isn't enough. "By increasing positive emotions in the other, we can thereby increase their emotions of self worth," Maman says. "And by making them better, we make ourselves better. In the end, it's all about recognition, appreciation and love."
For the past three days of Coachella, these high-fiving truckers have put this application into practice. In a sea of over half a million people, they've managed to pick up new friends left and right, as if they'd been coming here for years.
"The positivity that comes from it is fucking amazing man," Bull says. Within a half-hour of their latest high-fiving venture, the trucker crew has struck up conversations with tanned blonde beauties, hyped crowds of hipsters, and a pack of Spanish guys from Madrid. At one point they stop to high five a pair of Australian dudes—also Coachella virgins— in one of the beer gardens. Suddenly they were laughing and conversing with total strangers about soccer, Tame Impala, and experimenting with molly for the first time.
"Once you dip your finger in the bag and put some on your tongue, it tastes like the back of a cat's ass for about 30 seconds," Epperson says in his thick Kentucky drawl. "But 20 minutes later you'll be higher than a giraffe's pussy."
Beyond the banter, the happiness radiating inside of these three Coachella truckers comes from a place of gratefulness. "I mean look around," Epperson says, "whether you look [towards the stage] or [towards the mountains] or up in the sky…you can't beat this. You just can't, man."
"You gotta understand," Bull says, "we're from Kentucky…we don't get to see anything like this. Ever. So when I see someone and I high five them, it's like this transfer of energy. Like, I'm just happy to be here and they recognize it and then they give it back to me no matter how shitty their day was. It's like none of that matters anymore."
There's no reason why all of us can't properly party our asses off in this sunny, palm-lined oasis like it's our last night before heading back home to a place that looks nothing like this. Somewhere where the grass isn't half as green as it is right now on the polo fields of Indio. So the next time someone offers up a high five at Coachella, reciprocate the hell out of it. Slap it hard and move on to the next stage with a smile on your face. There's a good chance that the stranger is just another Kentucky trucker trying to show you love, appreciate your vibe and test your here-ness.
Of course, as a health precaution, just don't go too long without washing your hands.