If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut and the 2019 Granfalloon Festival

By Chris Lafave, Curator of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

One Sunday in 2014, a guest from Salt Lake City, Utah, walked into the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library and requested a tour. He was in Indianapolis because his son had a rare form of cancer and was receiving treatment at Riley Hospital for Children. He had recently read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle, and it had given him a lot to think about. I empathized, considering I read it in 2007, living in Chicago with six other college-educated 24-year-olds; all of us struggling to make ends meet in an economy that no longer had any jobs. It was cathartic to read a funny book about religion, weaponry, and the end of the world. It was comforting to know that life and the world has always resembled insanity, and rarely is there any ill intent or even logic and reason behind it.

The man stayed at the Vonnegut Library all day, joining in on several tours I gave, most of which culminated in group conversations about life and loss, humor and healing, Bob Dylan and Bon Iver. I left work that day feeling a part of something much bigger than myself. I drove home thinking about a quote that Vonnegut liked to share from his beloved Uncle Alex, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in Indianapolis, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

That connection with the man from Utah and other visitors that day was a true example of being a part of a Karass, or chosen family, if you
will.

The years have flown by, I’ve seen people with Vonnegut tattoos get married in the Vonnegut Library. I’ve seen people in treatment for addiction credit the Hoosier author for help with their sobriety. I’ve seen individuals live in the front of the Library for an entire week as a protest against censorship, and I ran into some of those people at the Granfalloon Festival at Indiana University in Bloomington two weekends ago. They were still exclaiming a great love for an author, artist, and noted music fan, who gave Indiana so much. I met incredible people this year at Granfalloon, several of whom volunteered at the Vonnegut booth – a diverse cast of characters for sure: Dr. Marc Leeds traveled from New York City to give a great presentation on the use of the underground in Vonnegut’s novels. He even threw rare books on the ground – something that should happen more often at academic conferences! And Dr. Rai Peterson gave an equally stellar presentation on how Muncie, Indiana, is the true Rosewater, Indiana, in Kurt’s 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

If that wasn’t enough, there was more, including great musical events. Khruangbin played an inspiring set at The Bluebird Nightclub, and Durand Jones & The Indications, along with Parquet Courts, offered excellent sets in the parking lot of Upland Brewing Company. The temperature dropped 30 degrees by the time Neko Case came on, and it had been raining for hours, but I and many others stuck around for Neko’s entire performance. I love, deep in my soul, the kind of people who stay at an outdoor concert even when it’s freezing, and it’s almost guaranteed you’re going to get sick. This year’s Granfalloon Festival, with its tribute to the great Kurt Vonnegut, along with the incredible line up of writers (like Dave Eggers) and bands, was well worth powering through, despite the crappy weather.

I got in my car exhausted and soaking wet and began the long drive back to Indianapolis at 11 p.m. I thought about how I started the week playing kickball with friends I made years ago after too many people my age started talking about floor tiles in their spare time, I thought about how I spoke with my grandmother recently and discovered that her mother had 68 grandchildren! I thought about my own wife and sons and how excited I was to see them. I thought to myself as the lights of home drew near, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

 

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