When you embark on the journey of a music festival, there are many elements that will impact your experience. There’s, obviously, the music that can create an impression; outstanding acts and the opportunity to discover new music are vital and endless. Then there’s the atmosphere that can be very good or very bad; there is a fine line between awesome and completely f*#%ed up. Lastly (and maybe most importantly) are the people you meet, and at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware last month, this point became more relevant than any other.
Let me tell you about a man named Chauncey Mitchell (see photo below). He entered our campgrounds as a regular security guard with his mischievous smile and jovial demeanor, and left a legend to all of us. Growing up in New York during a time when hip hop resided on the mean streets of the city, Chauncey recalled boom boxes being plugged into streetlights while freestyle battles and b-boys began something that was so much more than anyone could have expected. With future Public Enemy member Flava Flav growing up around the corner and the rise of the comedy club emerging onto the scene, Chauncey was born with the talent and potential to be in the limelight. Even today, his character exudes confidence, wit, and amusement that is rare amongst even the most famous of characters. He stood there and began to tell a story, one that would forever impact us as a raw, heartfelt retelling of a life gone to hell and back.
Chauncey recalled always wanting to be a comedian from the time he was a young boy. Always the class clown and life of the party, he sought a life in the entertainment industry; but show business is a glamorous mistress that can be unforgiving with one small slip, a lesson that he had to learn the hard way. After pursuing a career in comedy, attempting stand-up, and working his way into the ranks of a young Eddie Murphy, Chauncey turned down a dim path. With the allure of drugs and alcohol causing almost a magnetic draw from reality, he masked his desires with blurry nights and foggy memories. Battling his addiction on and off for many years led him to face the consequences of his actions, and Chauncey was given the choice of jail or the army; he chose the army. Being stationed in Europe, the former addict found solace in his surroundings there...and also in the love of a young woman. Although his friend pointed her out first, Chauncey’s impeccable wit and irresistible charm caught the eye of his future wife and he knew he had a new addiction.
He described how he dealt with many challenges over the years; losing a daughter, losing a marriage, losing his grip again to enter the dark world of drugs. Waking up years later and realizing his grave reality, Chauncey decided to take matters into his own hands and work on his future. After battling addiction on and off for many years, he struggled to maintain his new life but was determined to fight his demons and take a new path.
That day at Firefly, Chauncey bared his soul to us over tearful confessions and heartfelt apologies to all of those that he had affected with his struggles. He told us that some of these stories were ones he hadn’t confided to his even his closest of friends, but there was a connection made with us that was captivating and rare. Throughout the weekend, we had the chance to spend time with him every day, sharing stories and learning more about this mesmerizing person. When it was time to leave, Chauncey said that one thing he wished was that someone could tell his story, write of his hope that he can and will make it, to give him the reassurance and encouragement that he is worth this life. Though I will continue to write about the amazing music and remarkable atmosphere at Firefly, Chauncey Mitchell told a story that continues to resonate within all of us just like the echo of an unforgettable song.