Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.
Date: The end of days.
Venue: A zoo.
Crowd: The pale, bloated cadavers of decomposing festival-goers.
In the late summer of not very long ago we were invited to play a festival. Festivals are great fun for many reasons, even better if you play halfway up the bill. It leaves less time for your bassist to get involved in inebriation related shenanigans before the show.
At this particular festival, on the grounds of a local zoo (the absolute truth, I swear), the trouble starts upon arrival. On the drive in, queues of cars back up for miles from the entrance. Ritchie, ever the pragmatist, asks for help from the nearest stewards. The stewards shrug. This non-committal gesticulation of total and utter cluelessness would become company policy by the end of the weekend.
We eventually find the stage we are due to play, but nowhere to camp. Between ourselves and about three other bands in the same predicament, we resolve to pitch our tents where we’re parked. Enter: Grumpy Steward. Grumpy Steward projects the same unhappy demeanour as every other steward, but for some reason is actually making decisions. His latest involves us camping with the rest of the public. On the other side of the arena. For our troubles, and despite protestation, we are given wristbands with the lowest level of access. That means we’re lucky to be able to use the toilets, let alone get back stage.
So the wagon train rolls slowly around to what can reasonably be described as the Kansas City circa 1850. A conservative estimate would put the attendance at 10,000. That’s 10,000 people that have no clue what is going on, where to camp, where to park, where to get wrist bands, water or food. It becomes immediately and painfully apparent that this festival is doomed. Collectively, we decide to lean into it.
And get drunk.
The festival miraculously starts, albeit 2 hours late. Our set, from what I recall through the whiskey induced haze, alters people’s perception of the world with its ground breaking innovation and musical prowess. Or it was dreadful. I’m really not sure. It was a pretty thick haze. But our bassist could’ve performed Mein Kampf with interpretive dance, and it still wouldn’t have been the most catastrophic part of the weekend. So the fact we didn’t get bottled is a win.
After we play, rumours start to circulate through the crowd. The promoter failed to raise the cash to pay for all the artists. This doesn’t matter to proles like us who play for free. But the rumours extend to the potential pulled performance of a prominent grime artist. To protect the innocent, we’ll call this particular rapper Woozy Scamp. But more on Woozy Scamp later.
The music abruptly stops an hour and a half early. Bored, and not yet totally floored by the all-day drinking, we stagger towards the nearest place labelled ‘bar’. We casually wave our ‘Access No Areas’ wristbands and zig zag our way inside. Which is when we realise we’re in the VIP area. After looking around, it’s clear there are no VIPs. I look back at the steward who let us in, stood next to a gate that is wide open for all. We catch each other’s glance, and in that moment I see the quiet resignation of someone who gave up enforcing the rules.
“Guys, I think this place is falling apart.” I offer.
“What do you suggest?” Ritchie asks.
I shrug. “See what we can get for free?”
At many major festivals, a large gate next to the main stage looms over the arena. More terrifying than the Gates of Mordor, it bars plebs like us from the wonders and candyland dreams of beyond. Tonight, we breach that barrier. Because there is literally no one guarding it.
It becomes apparent after a few moments that the rumours, along with our recent supposition, are true. What I’d hoped to see was a Hunger Games inspired mass of destruction. Guitars flying through the air. People garrotted with bass strings. Drums pumping the blood of war around adrenaline filled veins. Some front men just want to watch the world burn. But it’s no man’s land. It makes Gallipoli look like party central.
Amongst the post-apocalyptic debris, we scavenge for food. We find a sparsely populated marquee serving dinner to the few optimistic musicians that haven’t abandoned this fiasco altogether. Nicky and I resolve to fetch dinner for the crew. Confidently waving our inadequate wristbands, we stride past the uncaring staff to the bounteous feast. But as we’re being served, we’re denied by a familiar face.
“You’re not supposed to be here.” Grumpy Steward exclaims. I respect those who take pride in their work, and right now this guy is Sergeant at Arms. We make a swift exit before he sanctions a firing squad.
Dejected and hungry, we trudge around the backstage wasteland. Around this time, we realise Jake has been absent for some time. None of us remember the last time we saw him. This kind of disappearing act is not uncommon, especially after a war with whiskey. But this battleground is Grumpy Steward’s territory.
After a fruitless and uncharacteristically thorough search, he returns. We breathe a sigh of relief before seeking answers.
“Relax. I saw an old friend that played the main stage. He gave me his wrist band. Access all areas.”
Nicky presses him. Demanding to know where he’s been and if this place contains food. To be honest, we’re all eager to here if there’s somewhere to eat.
“I dunno. Found Woozy Scamp’s trailer though.”
“Did you find food?!”
“No. I took a shower.”
Ladies and gentlemen. If there’s one lesson to be learned from our entire time together this past year, it’s this; when you get the opportunity to access all areas, you access ALL areas.
Photo by Emily Tan via Flickr.