At 4 pm, Kennett Square, a spotless green field, is dotted with people in colourful summer wear. There are young couples, noisy college kids, and families with toddlers and grandparents.
The groups settle down next to Tiki torches sticking out of the soft grass. They mark their territories by spreading out vibrant blankets, unfolding chairs and opening packets of chips, boxes of sandwiches and soda. In an hour or two, the location resembles Georges Seurat’s painting, ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.’
We had booked tickets for The Lights Fest in Pennsylvania almost two months ago. Since then, the registration fee rose by 33%. A few days before the festival, it was $60 — the price two of our friends paid to join in at the last minute.
We carry our lanterns and find a place next to a torch. In front of us, on a makeshift stage, an artiste plays popular songs by Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake. The children and teenagers in the crowd are hooked; their parents lie on their backs staring at the open sky.
The Lights Fest, we learn, is almost two years old. According to its official Facebook page, it has travelled to 64 locations in the US and Canada since September 17, 2016. It is said to cover a few places in England and Ireland as well. The concept is much like the famous Chinese Lantern Festival, as part of which a large number of people gather to let lanterns up in the sky. It is believed to be a metaphor of letting go of negative thoughts or seeing your dreams soar.
The sky turns an ominous shade of grey with a 50% chance of rain predicted during the day. Despite that, around 8,000 people turn up, braving the forecast, some with beach umbrellas and many with sturdy camping tents.
Meanwhile, the queues in front of the waffle, pita and ice cream food trucks grow longer. Tiny neon-arrow toy helicopters hover in the starless, moonless sky. And slowly, neon phone cases, neon writings on the shirt, neon bangles and necklaces glow to life.
A few minutes past 9 pm we personalise our lanterns with sketches and words and wait for the countdown to begin. When it does, two of us hold the fuel-cell-powered lantern carefully above the torch until the hot air fills the inside of it, and carries it up.
In a few seconds, the black velvet sky is lit by a thousand lanterns. A thousand scribbled notes float like thought bubbles above our heads. Under which we stand, for a long time, lost in thought.
You can catch the festival at the following cities on these dates
July 14: Toronto, Canada
August 4: London, England
August 11: Dublin, Ireland
September 8: Utah, USA
For details, log on to www.facebook.com/pg/thelightsfestival/events