How on earth are you supposed to communicate an experience with writing anyway? In a neat list of events, chronologically ordered? In one-word sentences and eclectic artsy sentence fragments? In a rapid series of photo captions and hash tags? Personally, I prefer the anecdote.

We were looking for a fire to warm ourselves on Friday, the first night I spent at Shakori, when we stumbled upon what we thought must have been the community fire pit we’d heard so much about — I’ve never been good at reading maps.

We lay down our blanket and settled in, immediately welcomed by the variety of people already around the fire. We casually chatted with a neighbor about the bands we’d heard that day and his future career working with alternative energy sources (after getting his foot in the door of the industry by way of the nuclear sector, naturally), and just generally enjoyed the fire, their company and the oddly Halloween-y decorations in the trees all around us.

After an hour of chips and salsa and an extensive late-night meal of potato soup served in Solo cups (all courtesy of our friends at the fire), we went back to our tent to get some sleep, despite the loudly roving packs of teenagers wandering and the bands of baby boomers playing Creedence Clearwater Revival covers at all hours of night. But it wasn’t until we started settling in for the night that we realized we’d just inserted ourselves into a random family’s fire circle — the shared fire pit was on the whole other side of the festival.

Like many families at the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival, they’ve been going for years. For many young adults there, they are simply carrying on a tradition they’ve participated in since childhood. For them, Shakori and its semi-annual music festivals represent more than a chance to soak up some music and finally get some use out of your coozies — it’s a piece of their childhood.

That’s the most striking thing about the festival: the shockingly wide range of ages and demographics. From kids climbing on old train cars and getting their faces painted, to elderly hippies dancing in nothing but oversized overalls, there’s something for everyone. (And sometimes a little too much.)

All I wanted to do was wander through and around and soak it all in. I’d settle in at the porch of the Coffee Barn, sipping some wonderful caffeine (of Larry’s Beans, the Larry of which dropped in and actually did some roasting workshops over the weekend as well), and then I’d just enjoy the drizzle and my neighbors’ conversation.

I drifted by the poetry slam in progress and the festival-goers gathering in the meditative Peace Park, all the while letting the music mix and clash in the air. All at once I’d hear the drum circle back behind me, further into the woods, I’d hear something slow and brassy coming softly through the trees from the main stage, and I’d catch a funky blues riff on guitar or a long mandolin run soaring through the air from the field upwind. All those elements and more, countless characters all chatting and jamming on their respective styles and instruments, all blended together around and for me. Then I’d separate them and pick one to trace, like one chain of dazzling lights among many, tangled in a monstrous, lit-up ball of hectic seasonal tradition.

All that color, all that commotion, all that personality. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s something special.

The next Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance will be in April. Healthy traditions in progress are like sturdy old trains in motion: they’re oddly majestic and nostalgic to watch roll by, but nothing compares to the feel of being on board yourself. Everything seems so much less finite when your only angle is from the inside out — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.