Festivus for the Rest of Us

I’m watching my newsfeeds fill up with photos of blissed out friends soaking up festival season like hungry hybrid camel-cactis. Melburnians are starved of festival weather, and take to it like the teenage Amish when the season ripens. It prompted me into wistfully recalling the salad days in which I was one with them, so I promised I’d write a post about those days because we all know as long as you can read it IT IS TRUE.

It was 2004, a very good year.  A well known country music festival, back then it was cheap and if you lost your ticket you could still get in if you did a funny dance for the crew on the door, who were actually  mostly the CFA blokes and only there to make sure you didn’t drop your ciggy on a furze bush.  What a wonderful world it was in 2004. Oh how I loved you, Meredith.

It was a great time. In the early hours of the morning I popped my head up to the surface in a sea of tents and realised I had lost my way. And my friends. And my mind.

Luckily, in those days I could handle such things with the finesse and joy de vivre only the carefree have, and I took a deep breath and submerged myself into the underworld.

Far away, the hub of the festival pumped with thousands of heaving sweaty ecstatic bodies, the energy filtered into the camping zones and thunderous beats soaked into the cooling, beer soaked earth. I was one amongst the seedy wonder of the pikers, the drug fucked, the returning refillers, the esky returners,  the greened out, the chillers, the ones who thought the music was too far away to bother, I was among the overwhelmed, the camp-bound…the base camp die hards.

Every festival has them. Every festival I’ve been to, I loved being one of them. Not all the best festival moments occur shoulder to shoulder under the stinking hot sun swigging warm barcardi out of a plastic drink bottle and swaying – sorry, dancing-awkwardly to a band you suddenly adored, no, some of the best festival moments I’ve ever had occurred within in the campsite, in the strange glow of a tent while the stink of a freshly opened tin of tuna hung heavily in the non-circulating air while some well meaning Isrealite took it upon himself to appease the camp bound masses with a little Pete Murray ditty. (He lasted less than 8 seconds)

Anyway, the underground at a festival is a mystic and fantastic place to be lost. Your navigational skills are magical and you can’t go wrong, even if you do end up in line at the boys dunnies when you thought you were waitng for a kebab. I passed a tent attached to a small white van and the nice boy in there was very hospitable. He talked to me about bands and how his friend Aaron was having a bad time for what seemed like five hours . He even gave me a nice ring to look at which he said I could wear! I left without a care, straight after I declined to give him anything back. “Piss off and don’t come back.” said a voice from underneath a parka by the annexe entrance. Aaron had been there the entire time! “Bye!” I replied, and off I merrily skipped with my new ring and a little more energy than I’d arrived with. That was a very good festival campsite experience.

Also, the stage is a good place to go to if you need to forget how bad your campsite is.

Unfortunately, in this next story there was no stage, only a performance in the town center full of idiot schoolies. It was 1998 when a friend and I drove to the Golden Coast on a journey that was supposed to take 6 months. We lasted 6 days.  When we arrived at Belongil fields, my friend ( who remains the most forgetful but lovable person I know) lit a joint and decided to lock the keys in the car. This, ironically was the only time I failed to ask my friend not to lock the keys in the car. So, without money, without water, we were stoned in the middle of a camp field the size of a small city. People were laughing at us (weren’t they?) so we smashed our back window, and realising that we still couldnt get in to the car, smashed the front one. We guzzled down a liter of water each and realised we needed to pee but couldn’t leave our car. Too dangerous. Too many idiots around.

By this stage, we needed somewhere to hide. So, we elected to set up our tent. Popping the boot, I looked forward to the anonymity the tent would bring us. “It’s a good tent,’ my friend reassured me, ” My brother used it when he camped in the Flinders Desert.” Looking back, the alarm bells were ringing under my stoned ears. She pulled the tent out and in a grandiose display, shook it free of dust like an Italian restaurater laying out a tablecloth might. Only to reveal it was not as she had told me, a good tent, but a tarp. A fucking tarp.

There was nothing to say, and nowhere to hide. We lay the tarp over the car from the passenger side and sat underneath the tarp as it drooped sadly on our stupid heads while our legs poked out from underneath. I looked at her glowing blue face in the stinking festering humid heat and wondered what my friend would look like with two black eyes.  As the sun set and we didn’t get drunk on 12 warm beers, festival goe-ers passed our site and laughed with non-camaraderic glee, giving thanks they weren’t us and snorting mercilessly at the two pairs of feet sticking out miserably and soberly from underneath the tarpaulin. In the early hours of the morning I crawled, mosquito ravaged, bladder wracked and wet from sweat into the passenger seat and covered my head with a beach towel. We packed up and drove to Nimbin the very next day. That was a bad festival campsite experience.

I got better at camping when I lowered my expectations. Who needs a tent anyway? The future would decide I didn’t, I made it back from many festivals alive after sleeping in my boot underneath a coat. Anyway, leaving out the tent meant you didn’t have to pack one up or feel irresponsible for leaving it there because you couldn’t remember where you pitched it anyway.

Aahhh, festivals. I hope we meet again. I do feel like my days of flippant packing are well and truly over, comfort has become increasingly important to me over the years- but I do have moments of twinging excitement when i remember what it feels like to have your ticket stamped, a band wrapped firmly round your wrist, and your boot lining ripped off to make certain you weren’t holding any unsolicited bottles of voddy, only to be released into the glorious landscape of a thousand tents pitched under the boughs of a gorgeous and equally precarious snowgum, or the blistering funk of the hot Summer sun while you tip the first of many glorious beers down your already thoroughly whetted throat.

To everyone lucky enough to partake in a festival or ten this year, HAVE FUN. That is all.

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