Learning, Experimenting and [an attempt at] Taking on the World.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The small tent was getting thrashed around consistently by the vicious gusts. I was coming up on an hour, trying desperately the entire time to deal with the lake that was forming in the bottom of my polyester shelter. Sirens blared for longer than any normal circumstances could justify. My phone flashed "Low Battery" twice before turning itself off. I sat for a few minutes longer, soaking wet and freezing cold feeling particularly unconnected. I overheard some friends in an adjacent tent. "A structure collapsed, people are dead, this thing is over." It was time to formulate an exit strategy.
If you had asked me July 17, 2008 what I would be doing a year from now, my wildest guess wouldn't have proved anywhere near accurate. The reality: speeding down highways towards the East of Slovakia without any ID, in an uninsured car, filled with liquor and an illegal American immigrant proved well beyond the imagination during my most distracted daydreams. Work had just finished for the week and two days ripe with beer, music, girls and debaucheries lay directly ahead. The drive was especially scenic as we weaved past bright sunflower fields, imposing castles and cars packed full of gypsies. We arrived at the abandoned Trencin airfield. A decrepit looking control tower and soviet era AA guns stood watch as the long cue of cars snaked in. Forest covered mountains framed the scene; Trencin castle perched on a particularly jagged jut of rock to the East providing a beautiful contrast to the rancid portable toilets and hordes of people seeking asylum from sobriety.
The sheer size of the event would remain unfathomable to me for a little while still. I started to get an idea after trying to meet up with some friends, not to mention the 35 minute walk from car to tent. Estimates put the number of party-goes just shy of 40,000. Despite the huge volume of people I managed to rendezvous with some friends from Montreal who had came to B-Slav a few days earlier. We poured contraband vodka into 2 liter plastic bottles and spent the next hours swigging vociferously as The Ting-Tings rocked out not far in front of us. As the first show of the festival came to an end so did our ethanol supply. We headed excitedly, something between speed-walking and dancing, to the nearest beer tap where we promptly punished plastic cups of beer with impunity. Half an hour after midnight we found ourselves in the front-row of the O2 tent. It was the largest sheltered area of the festival and the place where MSTRKRFT, the Canadian DJs would be performing. We managed to get their attention as they set-up. They seemed perplexed at the presence of Canadians in Eastern Slovakia and even tossed us a few tall cans. To say the show was one of the most incredible I've ever been to would be an understatement.
I staggered back to the tent, grabbing aKofola on the way. You see, by this point, I was in serious need of electrolytes. My flip-flops ravaged the skin separating my first two toes. The grass appeared more appealing than the tent and so I passed out under the stars outside the small triangular prism I was meant to share with Sarp. My concept of time at this point became unimaginably skewed and the night was punctuated by the comings and goings of various people in various states of mind. Around 5am, music was still coming from a few stages; the first rays of sunshine shot up at the Easterly sky. My buddies from Montreal, minus one, arrived back at the tent and collapsed on the ground. Butch stumbled back a few hours later. He had had some trouble trying to find one tent in an ocean of canvas domes.
I rolled around my sleeping bag and watched cumulous clouds idle in the bright blue sky as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I thought about life as a hippie before I re-inserted my earplugs and escaped chatter in foreign language and a bright-blue pick up truck filled with hornists pumping out conspicuous tunes on their twisted pieces of shining silver. Crickets jumped from my arm to my back. I began to sweat as 8 am and 25 degrees celsius bore down on me. The thing about airports is, there are no trees, and therefore no shade. I felt bad, but not too bad -knowing that all around me there were literally thousands of people who shared my woes, provided much comfort. The wind offered a reprieve and allowed me to sleep until we decided to head into town.
Without too much trouble we found an outdoor swimming pool. It was like any other community pool except everyone had a beer or seven and the lifeguard chairs were empty. I tried to make myself feel better with corn on the cob and liquor in my Kofola. We swam and slept in the sun for a few hours. I noticed that most of the people who were fast asleep on the pool deck were also toting Pahoda wristbands. As the forecast predicted, heavy, menacing clouds began to accumulate in the sky. I copped a ride back to the festival with my boss ahead of Sarp and the others who remained a little longer at the pool.
The wind was relentless, coming from every direction. A mountainous perimeter encircling the festival grounds provoked the low lying clouds, as they rolled in, to release their contents on the valley floor. As seems to be the norm, I was too hungover to properly pack for this trip and found myself in shorts and a wife-beater facing increasingly dire meteorological conditions. We returned to find thousands of people scrambling. My friend joked that Slovak's were half-gremlin, half-sugar, naturally they needed to get out of the pending rainstorm. By the time we ate a quick bowl of curry the rain began falling in heaps. Instead of heading to the O2 tent with my boss and co. I decided to check on my own tent, and wrap myself in a sleeping bag for awhile. This turned out to be one of the best decision I ever made.
I walked briskly towards the tent, silently cursing the ubiquitous yellow and blue ponchos that mocked me. Our tent was in bad shape. I re-secured it to the ground before diving inside and into my sleeping bag. Water dripped in from all sides. The thin material was saturated with cold moisture and stuck to me whenever I accidently brushed against it. No amount of packing would have protected me from the elements this time but my particularly poor clothing situation kept me prisoner in my sleeping bag. I wanted to go seek shelter with my coworkers in the O2 tent, and get too drunk to worry about weather patterns. The unfortunate thing is that that is exactly what a huge amount of festival goers did. A homegrown hip-hop act was spitting rhymes to a packed house when it all went awry [watch the video at the bottom].