Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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Splendour’s Last Night

Written late July

A few minutes before getting my wristband and heading into Splendour in the Grass’ final day a man walked up and asked if I wanted any vodka because he didn’t want to see it go to waste twenty meters ahead where he’d have to pour it out. And so began my night.

Watching Missy Higgins’ performance was enjoyable. I hadn’t expended nearly as much energy or adrenaline getting in so I had more left for the show. Also, I was buzzed. I’ve never understood why people pay lots of money for a show and then get blind drunk on expensive alcohol. But I do get aiming for a light buzz on free drinks.

After her set I walked the festival grounds. Restaurant stalls, clothing vendors, random merch, smaller bars and dance lodges set up around. Paths of mud past rows of port-a-potties. A couple small double-fenced bonfires. The whole place was fairly standard in a way, and yet somehow more extravagant than the Falls Fest down at Marion Bay. I think this one had a bigger crowd to justify it.

I wasn’t hungry but there was a stall or two which looked interesting. Then again, I’d already had a couple drinks and had lost the buzz. Since getting in was pretty inexpensive I decided to allot myself a budget. It would either manage dinner or a couple drinks, but I didn’t really want to spend both. And so I pondered. Which was the direction of the evening? And I chose exuberance and stupidity.

Sometimes when you decide on a path, the universe finds ways to propel you along it.

In line for drink tickets a girl tapped me on the shoulder looking to sell her unused ones. I had a twenty and she didn’t have change. So she gave me about $36 worth of tickets and called it a day. Two whisky and coke premixed cans in my hand, I walked out of the bar to consume them and lined back up. Two more drinks in hand I headed in the direction of the main stage for the remaining act on my list. The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t a band I would pay to see or really go out of my way to see. But if I was in a festival and they were playing opposite no one else, I would love to see “Zero” or “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” They are powerful anthems.

I trudged through the mud but was largely unaffected by the feeling of my feet being held up in the suction. Though the festival is called Splendour in the Grass, the signs are usually vandalized to say Splendour in the Mud and rightly so. All pathways here are bogs. Though they put down a few inches of woodchips, they are sucked under fast and the path is at best hard dirt.

My path took me past a group of several gentlemen standing around a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. Being halfway to intoxicated and a fan of scotch I approached. Entering the circle without a word I caught the attention of the man with the bottle in hand, pointed with one finger at the bottle and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Thank god!” he exclaimed much to my confusion. He pointed to the can of bourbon and coke in my hand. “If we can pour some of that in the bottle you can have a couple large shots.”

“That seems more than fair.” I took a huge gulp of straight whisky. Then he took about half of the can to the lip of the bottle. Handing it back to me he again he also handed me the liquor and motioned for me to go again. After I had swallowed the next gulp I thanked him for the chance. He thanked me and I was on my way to the stage.

I approached right as the crowd erupted in applause. Finding my way as close as was convenient and where I still had some room (which was almost at the back of the tent) I stood and waited to recognize the song. Getting my bearings I tried to see the band. They were ants on stage as is to be expected at a large festival. I turned to the monitors to see the action and got a sense of it.

The group next to me were friendly enough to include me for a few minutes. As I broke from them and went back to the music the signature aggressive riffs of “Zero” belted out of the speakers. It was a frenzy of energy and aggression and a total blur due to the overwhelming power of the song. Or due to my increasing drunkenness. I can’t really say for certain. I can say that the crowd was into it, screaming along, jumping around, and generally getting themselves whipped up. It worked that it fed right into “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” to keep it from the same album and the same aggression. The crowd kept screaming along and I found myself twitching and convulsing a la a music video from that era. The release of tension and anger and frustrations was in full swing. There were no flaky backpackers here. No loneliness. No dwindling bank accounts or long tired drives. There was only noise and screaming, bright lights and a drunken catharsis.

When the Pumpkins returned to music I didn’t know I calmed down enough to try to get the full sensory experience. Loud sounds are great, and bright lights work through eyelids, but the presence of the band on stage is something that needs to be seen. And so watching the monitors I looked at the band.

When the Pumpkins broke into the mainstream so many years ago, Billy Corgan was a pale, bald, 20-something. He looked like an awkward but cool younger version of Moby, aggression and lean attitude. And that look was different and worked. It has been 20 years. As most lean young musicians tend to do, he’s put on some weight. Totally fair. But now he is a pale, bald, pudgy 40-something who looks somewhere between Buddha and James Carville the way the stage lights hit him. It is shallow of me to judge based on looks, I know. But aggressive and kicking rock or experimental sounds don’t link in my brain with the image they have, and watching them kept taking me out of the music.

I spent the rest of the set with my eyes closed, blissed out in connection with the music. I spent a good chunk of the set meditating. Focus on the music. Tune the conversations around me out. Tune people bumping into me out. Full concentration is something I’ve never been good at. Call it an evolved response to be always aware of my surroundings, always partially tuned into other conversations and alert to what is coming from what direction. It also has the side effect that I rarely am 100% into something, that I can’t be hypnotized, and that I can’t have a conversation if there is a television on in the background. My time didn’t necessarily give me any break-thoughs in the field, but it is the practice of meditating that will eventually get me there. And it was good to focus on the music as much as I could.

With the set over I had a few more drink tickets and an hour to abuse them. Handily drunk already I didn’t need more. But it was free. On my way I ran into a guy I had met outside while waiting around. I wanted pizza. So did he. We headed for the booth as it was closing. Neither of us had enough (in coins) for a slice. The guy behind the counter took pity on us and gave us each one for the price of one total.

I stood in line to get another ticket so I could get a drink I wanted. In line a guy clearly on something came up with a bag of drink tickets, handed them to the guy next to me, and said, “Be generous,” before wandering off again. I got about 8 out of the equation.

Another whisky and coke down I headed to the next bar. The only one I could find still open. The S.S. Strongbow. Two ciders in hand I felt this was the end. Partially because I really didn’t need any more but mainly because I had 20 minutes to close, was full, and had about 660mL of cider in my hands.

I went through them as best I could. I looked around for someone to talk to but it was all groups and couples. There were no seats and no guys who seemed up to share an inebriated conversation. I stood there and sipped.

As we were ushered out of the bar I tried to find my way to the long circuitous route that confuses drunk punters trying to leave but also makes it harder for those without tickets to get to the fence to hop in to start with. The path took me past various tents and stalls that had been hawking overpriced food all weekend. It wasn’t that the food was overpriced by concert standards, but that all food here is expensive. I found an Indian place that served me some lamb, rice, and a samosa for half price. While devouring that I passed a place with chicken skewers and chips, which I also saw fit to buy. I had bailed on Tristan since he was taking too long to get ready to come out, but I figured some drunken satay would make up for it. I picked a mostly unconsumed muffin off a table for good measure.

In line with everyone else for the shuttle bus the 4km back into town I found out it wasn’t free. Though I had told every booth and the guy out front it was my last $X, this time I had nothing left*to pay for the bus. Besides, if they don’t want us driving to the festival and parking there, the shuttle buses should be included in the $350 tickets (yes, $350, which is why I didn’t have the festival on my To Do list). I was vocal in my disagreement with the policy. I’d walk back, no worries. The guy behind me said he would pay for my ticket. I couldn’t ask him to do that, and would walk. He insisted.

Aboard the bus a girl with amazing blue hair took the seat next to me. Having taken my own advice on complements to heart, I informed her of its amazingness. From there we exuberantly talked. I’m pretty sure it was about how great the Pumpkins’ set was, the way they had ripped into the old and thus helped us connect with the new. We could have actually talked about the bus, the mud, or how much Ke$ha’s video for “Blow” is a true work of genius. I was pretty hammered so couldn’t say for sure. But we did manage to keep it going the whole ride back and disembarked with well-wishes.

The walk back to the car was functional, and I didn’t manage to drop the satay skewers I carried. Back at the car I found my compatriots equally coherent from a night of partying on the beach. We caught up and spoke of what we had each done. This was a conversation we would have to repeat the next day since none of us would really remember the answers.

I faded pretty fast from there. I fell asleep standing up. And after that moved to the back seat to lie out as best as I could. My sleep was dehydrated and not particularly comfortable. But when the morning greets you and the air is clean and crisp, the sounds are gone, and you get up and breathe it in deeply, a bottle of water by your side and you are ready to take on the world. Or at least a couple pieces of bread with Nutella.

* I have drunk proofed my wallet. Sober me hid most of the money so I couldn’t spend it.

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This entry was posted on August 15, 2012 by in Australia, Concert, Queensland (Brisbane) and tagged , .

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