Journal (28Jun12)by Tourguide on Thu 28 Jun 2012, 11 PM CEST, Views: 1711
Upon arrival we exchanged our tickets for a wristband and a …trash bag? Apparently if you returns the trash bag full on your way you got a 10 euro refund on your ticket. Brilliance. We saw people all weekend long scavenging for these grey discarded bags and returning with them full. Hell, 10 bags and your weekend ticket costs ended up being FREE. What a great idea to motivate folks to clean up after themselves.
After going through what passed for security at a European festival we began to wade our way into this sea of humanity. Checking the map we had received on the way in it was pretty clear that the main air strip at this former military base was the main navigational landmark for orienting ourselves around here. Once you found it, you either followed it south to the main camping area (which implied the vast civilization of tents we were currently in was only the smaller alternate camp site), or the other way towards the concert stages. The staging area was located within a smaller, more secure, zone and featured 4 stages. There were two huge outdoor stages (named Blue and Green) and two, more secluded indoor stages (named White and Red) located inside circus tents.
The first thing Rachel, Todd and I did upon arriving (besides just marvel at how quickly the crush of people around us were evolving into a stable society), was try and link up with some coworkers of ours who had parked their camper the night before. However, I quickly discovered an extremely off putting technological disadvantage to such a large gathering of people in the middle of nowhere, …our cell phones were useless. Sure, they all said they had 4 bars, but no call went through. And even worse as we would come to find out, even many text messages would ended up jammed together in cyberspace or not show up at all. I had one text from Rachel show up on my phone 2 and half hours later at one point.
This was a problem. Particularly when trying to keep a group of 5 coordinated across 3 days, 100+ acres of space and 60,000 people. Now, some of the more experienced festival goers were carrying walk-talkies. That was great thinking. If only we had considered the cell towers here being so jammed. Makes sense as the other 362 days of the year, these towers need only cater to a few dozen folks. This certainly wasn’t a problem back in 1994. Of course, we didn’t have cell phones then.
So, I guess it was time to do a little time traveling and remember what life was like before cell phones. You made plans, you set up rendezvous points, and you stuck to those plans. And that’s what we did. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as hard to do as we thought. We learned quickly that “at the kebab stand” wasn’t nearly detailed enough with such thick crowds around us. You had to be more like “at the Green stage side of the kebab stand sitting down on that hill.”
But with some careful coordination everything fell into place after that. We all consulted our band lineup brochures and sorted who wanted to see who and when. Then we planned up various link up points. And if you forgot your lineup, there was even a Southside iPhone App to help you remember. Hell, it even sent you reminders when someone was going to start (and, thankfully, didn’t require an internet connection to work.)
The bands were fun, we met people from all over the world, who (must to our shame) all spoke English, and we got to do a lifetime’s worth of people watching (see my gallery on most interesting people). Plus, I was fascinated with just how much stuff they could do with duct tape. You could make a hat, a canteen, or even a pet dog. Hilarious. One guy had a whole case of beer duct taped to his body. 4 cans on this arm, 7 cans on that leg. This guy was ready to go!
It is remarkable just how similar people from all walks of life are in spirit. They all love a good time, having some beer with their friends and sharing in the culture of music. Apart from the high-end beer stands (no Bud Light tents here), and the German Fasching propensity for dressing up, there very little indicators that you were not just at some concert in the States (well, a US show would never risk the liability of a bungee tower like this one). People are people, particularly the younger generations. Truly, it was remarkable. I compiled all my best Festival Life shots into an album for you. Some insanse photos there. Check it out.
Another good thing was we had sun on our side. The first day of the Festival was June 22nd, meaning the longest day of the year was literally the day before. And in Germany, that means sun till 10pm! But it also means that by the time the sun went down, you were exhausted. But the bands were were worth it. With, often, only 1 hour time slots each they all came out trying to steal the show. And I tell ya, after 2 straight days even the turbo-charged teenage crowds around us seemed exponentially more sedate. Check this link for my album of the awsome band shots I took.
Now once you got close to the stage I must say I did notice some things. They had set up various fence lines about every 50 yards or so radiating away from the stage. These were only waist high fences (and were great for leaning on), and could easily be walked around. But, they made for a very effective, yet subtle, method to prevent crowd surge from getting out of hand. Having heard the horror stories from bands like Pearl Jam who, in 2000, watched helplessly as people suffocated to death in the crowds right in front of the stage in Denmark, this river-lock system was a stroke of brilliance.
Further still if you wanted to get into the staging area right in front of the stage itself you actually had to get into a separate line. They only let a finite number of people enter in. And people always entered from the left of stage and exited the inner corridor field to the right of stage. Security used walky-talkies to make sure the crowd coming in was always proportional to the crowd leaving. More brilliance.
The final night of the festival Rachel cut me loose so I could work my way up to the very front with Todd (inside the inner-most gate corridor). We had to move our way into the queue two full bands (or 2.5 full hours) beforehand so we could be assured on getting let in (as the crowds wouldn’t leave for the bigger bands, security had to stop letting people in).
And as cordial and non-pushy as were the crowds on the parameters of the fields, the spirit of camaraderie right in front of the stage was even at another level altogether. It was very surreal turning my back to the stage and just looking at everyone behind me. Even more surreal was watching people still jumping off the bungee tower during the shows. Hilarious.
The two bands I had moved up for were both punk bands, and Wow, I had forgotten how cathartic raging around in a mosh pit (even if just for a few seconds, …wheez) was. Mosh pits are actually very safe places, assuming you don’t have any douchebag trying to ruin it for everyone; i.e. this guy near us who set off a road flare!. Basically, you jump in and just kinda go with the flow.
Typically the crowds circle clockwise (do they spin the other way in Australia? LOL), and the you just kinda bounce off people. Make sure you glance off others at soft angles. Crashing into someone in a hard perpendicular line is considered bad form. They have to be able to deflect you off. As is trying to mosh against the grain; i.e. the other way. When someone comes at you just deflect them off you and give them a little nudge as they’re leaving (typically equivelent to the speed they came torwards you with). In this way everyone just kinda radiates around like Brownian motion (yes, I just dropped some thermodynamics knowledge on you.)
The only real rule of moshing is this: Don’t ever stop. If you panic, or get banged too hard, just think back to your roller skate days in the roller rinks. Just keep “skating” and slowly spin your way out to the outer rim, find a break in the wall, and slip out.
Despite stereotypes, moshpits are not about shows of force. You keep your elbows up, but in, you let the crowd dictate the relative volatility of the moshing, and you take care don’t bang hard into those braver-still souls who have taken up the job of maintaining the outer circle you all spring off of. It’s actually pretty safe. Even in some of the more brutal pits I’ve been (i.e. death metal shows), the second I, or anyone, got knocked over in a pit, there would be 10 hands reaching out to help you to your feet and great you with a cordial “Hell ya!”
Exploring my inner teenage angst aside, I would say the inner gates of the Green Stage were the highlights of the Festival for me. You can keep your camp-city life, or your sitting on the hills overlooking the stage from afar. Stage front, lasting through 3 straight bands, barely able to keep standing, but having a blast meeting new folks was what it’s all about for me. I met one guy who had a pocket full of balloons with his Facebook page on printed on them, and watched as he indiscriminately blew these all up one at a time and sent them adrift onto the crowds. A modern day message in a bottle, awesome.
But that’s what’s great about festivals. There is a truly unique, life affirming experience here for everyone. I watched as a coworker’s recovering-Mormon wife climbed onto a tower attached to a bungee cord, and to the absolute roar of the crowd …jumped off. She was not the same woman when she came back. I saw groups of friends stacked in a pile 10 high singing Barry Manilow with a freedom in their voice even I had problems recalling. I saw 30,000 people in front of me surging in unison. For me, it was a chance to be 18 again, even for a few visceral seconds in front of Raise Against.
That is why people come to places like this, and why they always will. I saw a tattoo on a woman’s back walking out of the Festival on the last day. It was of a young girl swinging on a swing. Head tilted back, hair in the wind, a single foot kicked out. It was childhood innocence in one inescapable moment. It was her childhood innocence.
It made me smile that this woman, clearly decades removed from that little girl, still made pilgrimages to places like Southside.
To come and be that child again.