Festival experience

If you ever thought that the life of a rockband is only made of drinking, playing music and then hanging out with all the naked babes around, you might wanna wake up to the reality of the current time and date. Now there’s a lot of hard work involved in those 30,40,50 or 120 minutes that your favorite act is on stage. Of course, some bands have it a lot easier when they are surrounded by a swarm of staff/crew who does most of the things for them. But below is what I experienced during a trip to Hellfest festival in France, together with a band famous enough to fill the two tents of the festival, but not famous enough to have an army of roadies to work for them.

It started Friday morning. Wake up 5AM, leave for the airport so that you are there sometime 6AM. Check in, waste time, go to the flight. Catch some sleep.
Land in Paris, Charles de Gaulle, a place that looks like you’re part of the Jetsons cartoons. Wait for luggage, meet the others, wait for the special luggages (instrument cases) together with another band who has plenty of instruments to pick up. The bag with the cymbals doesn’t arrive though so extra time is spent going to the SAS office, asking for it, getting it delivered. There goes probably half an hour if not more. Our group consists of 4 band members, the road manager, me as journalist and the sound/tech guy who actually arrived from Lisabon and he’s waiting for us outside
Once the luggage issues are solved, we exit airport, go to the car rental office, they handle in some papers and send us to the garage. We get one of the two cars delivered, start loading up some stuff in it. The big van is not ready though. We wait. They change the small car as well since it didn’t have a full tank. Big van gets delivered after lots of waiting. There goes some more hours, most of them at the expense of the nerves of the road manager who always has to go around with her printed papers and agreements and sit and talk to people to eventually get to the desired result…After we get out of the garage, there’s also an extra hour – I guess – just to circle around Paris and be on our way to Nantes.
We drive for what, 4, 5 hours? I’ve lost track of time. Reach Nantes and find the hotel we were booked by the festival. We were supposed to be 8, but we were only 7. This confuses the hell out of the girls at the reception who hardly spoke English. And this brings plenty of joy to the road manager’s patience skills. The confusion was of epic levels when we found out breakfast is not included, so then we had to pay for it for two nights. Dialogue was something like
“So, you are only seven? Does it still mean four rooms?”
“Yes, we still need for rooms. But only seven breakfasts”
“Seven breakfasts and four rooms. For two days?”
“Yes, two days”
“But then you only pay for seven breakfasts?”
“Yes”
“And three or four rooms?”
….
They calculated it wrong anyway and had to be corrected. Whatever. We finally had a place to drop our stuff in. 5 minutes later we meet at the reception.
We try to figure out the transport to the festival area, but it turns out it’s only by cab and not covered by the festival, so we end up driving there ourselves.
Luckily at that hour there was hardly any traffic. We followed the signs for Artists and eventually reach a point where a guy was guarding the way. The driver rolls the window down and when asked says ” We are Band X from Norway”. The dude is confused, looks at the printed mails, starts talking in his walkie talkie, comes back to check again the band name…Probably not too used with bands driving in by themselves. Plus we didn’t have anything but those printed mails to show who we were. It’s probably a bad idea to have the accreditation thingy be picked up after two control zones, rather than having it somewhere on the way, and then it makes the life of those control people much easier. But it was somewhat fun.
At the festival area, the manager gets our wristbands and fixes everything with a designated hostess.
Despite the fact that it was specified in the contract, it turns out that the festival ran out of shuttle buses for us for the next day. And then it again takes a while to debate and fix something. All in all, the time is somewhere past 8PM, Twisted Sister has switched places with WhiteSnake and there goes my main point of interest for that day. We get to walk inside the festival area, watch a bit of some shows, buy food, have a drink and 11:30 PM we all gather and drive back.
Next morning awaits with the French breakfast: croissants, bread slices, Nutella, Fruit Jam 1, Fruit Jam 2, Honey, Cream Cheese, Normal Cheese (luckily very non smelly) and cereals. And no meat. But except the cream cheese and regular cheese that tended to vanish really soon, everything else was a sugar bomb waiting to be spread on the bread.. I recently found out it is common for the people there to eat such things for breakfast. Oh well. Energized and in good spirit we get a (paid) shuttle to drive us to the festival. A bit more crowded on the way, but we still get there in good time, get a designated room to drop our stuff and to change and then start exploring. I think most of us actually went for a more decent food in the backstage area and then everyone went to check out the stage. Not to forget, we found a bottle of wine on the table in the room. It was a festival wine. Probably fertilised with lots of remains from the festival goers.
At festivals, there are pretty tight schedules. If you, as a band, play at 4PM, then you can start loading in at 1PM maybe, but at max 3 you need to be ready to get your shit on stage. It’s more or less that as soon as the previous band ends playing, they start packing their instruments and pedals and whatever, someone pushes out the drumkit and then the reverse process starts: the drumkit that you have set up is being pushed on the stage, banners are set up, cables are plugged, things are tested, a soundcheck is done. In case you understood that the band members are the ones who do these actions, then you’re wrong. First, there’s a stage manager guy who supervises everything. Then there’s a lot of local festival crew who helps with the drumkit (the drummer only sets up his own cymbals and adjusts everything to his size). There’s a lot of actual stage people who take care of cables and such details. And then there’s a huge amount of work from the band’s own sound/tech guy. His actual job on the stage starts from the moment the load in begins. He already has a big list of requirements from the band on how he should set up the various channels. A lot of these requirements have been sent to the festival in advance. And now his job is to talk to the local techies to see that everything is in place as per the request, and to get an overview of how stuff looks like. Then he goes around and checks the cables and all the set up. Then he runs back behind his sound board and starts doing soundcheck. And every now and then he runs back to the stage to adjust a bit of this and of that. Not to mention his focus during the concert and his big contribution to actually removing everything from stage and making sure no piece of equipment is left behind.
Once all preparations are made and each detail is taken care of, it’s time for action. Intro music, people on stage, crowd cheerings, lights, photographers in the pit, black metal, spikes, crowd surfing, and so on. For about 50 minutes.
Then you’re done, say goodbye to the fans, leave the stage, greet your mates, wipe the sweat off your face, go back on stage to pick up your stuff, put it in boxes, take some photos, pack some more and then go back to the dressing room. Then we went to the artists restaurant to use our food coupon and we can’t really complain about the quality of the food. It was funny to see that every Norwegian a the table ended up with a burger, while the rest of us had anything else but burgers. Once we turned into happy stuffed pigs, we left to watch some more of the shows from that day. It all culminated with KISS on the main stage and to my excitement I found a great spot to photograph the band for the entire duration of the show. Now I only need the time to go through those photos, hopefully before the year ends. 
We had a shuttle back to the hotel booked at 2AM. We got thrown out of our changing room at 1AM, so we spent a while in an idle state, with the legs on the guitar cases and the asses on the chairs we took outside the room. Close to 2AM we go to the main entrance/exit and one of us calls the driver. She says she’s on the way. We start waiting (or go on with it, as it was our main activity for the last hour or so). We see another Norwegian band who had been waiting for way longer and they were quite exhausted. Then we witness a lot of other bands coming out from the festival area and being picked up, but our bus is not arriving. We call again, she’s still on the way. Thank God. Which way now, it’s a mystery. A guy responsible for stuff find a shuttle bus for the other band who had been waiting for like forever. They’re jumping in instantly. He also disappoints us even more saying that he heard from shuttle bus drivers that they’d be there in 10 minutes. That happened 40 minutes ago. It looked like transport that evening was not their main success.
Eventually our white van arrives and we find out from the driver that it all got messed up due some superstars at the festivals. They even needed police escort (not sure if on their way in or out). I think after this point everyone must have felt asleep. I seriously can’t remember how I got to my hotel room. Early alarm the next day, the same sugar bomb breakfast, we check out, split in two, as a part of us have an earlier flight and they have to leave in good time. The rest of us drive back to the festival to drop a person, then we driver back to Paris for some more 4 hours or so, with stops on the way and small sightseeing moments when the driver would misunderstand the Tom tom. Deliver cars, checking, meet the others at the gate since they leave from the same area, get checked for drugs like every other metalhead who passed the security gates. Gotta love French stereotypes. Then fly to Oslo and have the whole trip ending with the discovery of the festival wine bottle that got broken into many many pieces inside a big boot. It must bring a special flavor next time those boots will be used on stage.

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