A Beginner’s Guide to Surviving the Amnesia Rockfest: Part 2

By: Maven Cade Leary


Part Two : Mosh, Surf, and Remember to Breathe 

Disoriented and confused, the sun piercing through my eyelids, I slowly awoke and stretched out on the big blue tarp. I reached into my backpack, which I was also using for a pillow, and pulled out my smokes and joints. Lighting one, keeping the other close at hand, without any consideration for which came first, I made my way to the train tracks we were apparently sleeping next too and relieved myself.

This was to be the first of many public urinations that were to take place that day. Some chick in the window of the house a few hundred meters from us was watching me… us… sleeping, pissing, and smoking on her neighbour’s lawn.

It occurred to me the look of disgust was only partially directed at us, as her gaze kept shifting to the house behind me and the small encampment that had sprung up overnight. A large part of her loathing was directed at her neighbours which were actively capitalizing from the chaos and bringing the undesirables within pissing range of her yard.

I waved and wagged, zipped up and moved on. There was no time to waste on her bad vibes. The day was young, and promised to be filled with action, adventure, and more than a fair amount of intentional insanity. Bullshit was not on the agenda.

We followed the procession of freaks into town, hoping to find something edible at a reasonable price. Not an easy task on a normal day for someone as difficult as I. This day, it might prove simply impossible.

We each found something equally expensive, with varying degrees of edibility, and hurried back to the car to stock up and get ready for the big day.

It’s a simple reality of these types of events that everything is more expensive than on a normal day. The price of the licences and other hidden fees, such as the transportation, the mobile units, the charges for the rent and power, adds a huge operating cost to the merchants for sure, but the simple density and consistency of the crowd should make up for that.

I don’t blame them and hell, I appreciate them, same as any festival attendee. The catch is simply that it means you need a large expense budget, which can sometimes be a problem when you’ve been heavily bingeing and the editor won’t take your calls until you send in that long overdue piece of junk that passes for news in these parts.

With the joints, the coffee and the movement, my bowels began to grumble. The chemical toilets I had the misfortune of glancing in where stacked to the rim with shit, and the lack of paper made even that horror show impossible.

I ended up waiting for like half and hour in a local dinner to get my chance at the ceramic throne, and found it to be surprisingly clean.

Previous years had been cursed with the requirement of waiting in line to get the tickets. This year, by popular complaint, they had mailed out the little cloth bracelets ahead of time, and we all just piled into the cattle chute and waited for the countdown to high noon.

This is an interesting moment in the day as all these freaks and mutants are standing around, waiting anxiously, trying to act normal, and clearly not even nearly pulling it off. This is it, the moment we have all been waiting for, the beginning of what promised to be a most epic weekend.

Besides the colorful, ripped clothes, the body art, and the dyed hair, every so often you glimpse a half-human/half-animal, covered in fur over large portions of their bodies. I didn’t really get these creatures. The day was gonna be hot and sweaty enough as it was. Why add all that extra stuff into the mix? Their eyes tended to be of a particular sheen, indicating research chemicals of some kind, and I could detect a strong raver vibe in most of these cases.

These poor bastards might be of a tougher ilk than they appeared, but I just hoped that they didn’t wind up front and center when things got wild. Blood, puke, booze and mud would be a bitch to get out of that fur.

The first show of the day was Streetlight Manifesto, a mesmerizing bunch of individuals, blaring brass instruments in a truly unique and very enjoyable ska-punk melody. When you listen to them at home, yeah, they’re good. But I don’t know, it lacks the whole power that goes with seeing them live. I will sometimes rock ’em at home, but I would never miss a chance to go see them perform. Not my favorite group, but top of my list for a great fucking show.

I got my first elbow to the face within three minutes of the start and it would not be the last. That’s actually part of the charm, believe it or not. The little area front and center is filled with a different crowd. Be warned if you are a newcomer. We are rough, we are tough, and we like to get physical.

The dynamic in these big festivals is very interesting and can understandably be confusing and frustrating. Apart from isolated VIP sections (which actually don’t give a better view but are merely reserved seating off to the side) all people are considered equal. This means that there is no such thing as assigned positions, or too tight a space to fit in.

The further back you are, the more space you will have around yourself. While the experience of a rock legend riffing out twenty feet in front of your face might be out of your grasp if you are a psychotic claustrophobic, there’s still excellent sound quality, and giant screens to let you see what’s going on.

As one of the psyched out heavy moshers and regular body-surfers, I have had to cross all the layers of the crowd, sometimes multiple times in the same set. I’ve come to distinguish differences. I’ve come to see the power of the entire crowd when a heavy metal group plays and the dazed mock moshing of the light rock band attendees. Some groups inspire such passion as to have a crowd almost entirely composed of heavy moshers and others, you can just walk right up to the front, pushing everyone aside with the ease of a drunk traveling through a crowded bar.

Basically, what happens is, as you get closer to the center, the distance between two people gets reduced to zero, and then just before you hit the very mobile center, there’s a sudden tense layer of people trying really hard not to budge. These people are comfortable enough with human contact to try and prevent you from getting by.

In the end, they will fail to keep you out. If they really won’t move, you just find a route around. One time, in the heat of the moment, some euphoric freak moshes up to me and yells, “Ya gotta spin! You  know, to get around, you spin!” He demonstrated how it worked. I tried it and was surprised to find that it made moving through a throng nearly twice as fast. I have since adopted it as a mode of transportation when things are tight, but not overly aggressive. In those situations you need to keep your wits about you and watch your back.

But yeah, Streetlight Manifesto is something else. For music on the surface so tame, they really know how to rile a crowd of moshers into a frenzy of sweat and blood. I loved it. I got my first elbow to the face of the day, my first body surf of the festival, and my first set of teeth to the back of the head. All in all, a great fucking show.

By the time the set ended, I was drenched from head to toe in sweat, not all of it mine. Everything on me was beyond soaked, my shirt long ago stored in my cargo pants pocket. My rolling papers finished. All because I had not planned properly.

We had time between sets. None of the bands playing next were on our list of must-sees, so we went back to the cars to restock on drugs, booze, and the last food I would see on this day. Along with my spare pack of rollies, I also grabbed one of the many heavy-duty zip-lock freezer bags I had brought along but forgotten about. I passed ’em around, but apart from my brother in arms no one else seemed to feel a need for ’em. some friends had begun next to us, front and center, but I guess not everyone is as comfortable and at peace in all that chaos, and had quickly retreated out of the mosh pit.

But you know, if it’s not your thing, that’s cool. Know your limits. That’s number one on how to survive the Rockfest.

Number two is, if you’re gonna mosh bring combat boots with steel toes. You think punks wear those things just for the look? They are your toes’ best friend in the pit. And it’s not just that getting stomped on doesn’t hurt half as much. It’s also the fact that these things reduce your risk of losing your shoes down to nill. Losing a shoe really looks like it hurts. For the most part, people will let you out, but it’s not an instant thing.

You always see these groupies trying to get close to their favorite bands, people who obviously just want to say they have been there. To them it’s quite an achievement just to be in the middle of the battle. You can see the fear in their eyes, the hope that they will make it out alive with a tale worthy of spreading among their peers. I’ve helped this ilk on many occasions. I am honestly annoyed with them for making me waste precious moments, but I understand they need help and so do what I can. I carried a tiny little girl out on my shoulders once. Like others I had met before, a wild look in her eyes indicated she suddenly realized she was in too deep, getting tossed back and forth, trying to scramble away and seeming to be moving backwards towards the squash pit right up front.

And then there are those who have the crazed look of a Viking warrior in the middle of a battle/orgy, a kind of peaceful intensity, a loosely controlled sanity, an appreciation and full indulgence in the moment, in the flow and rhythm of the music and everyone around. These people belong. This is where they shine, where they feel at home. If you’re among this small band of mutants this is the only real way to really listen to a band play. Once you’ve experienced it, there’s nothing like it. It’s like the difference between sex and masturbation.

It’s funny because the people there, amidst the violence and the yelling and the deafening music, are at their most honest, and their most pure. You find friends in those moments and just a look is all it takes. No words are needed to know that you are both currently sharing a moment of truth, a single instant where everything stops, where only the here and now matters, and that’s all you’ll ever need. It’s not about affection, or values, or ideas, or even about liking each other. Who gives a damn about that. All that matters is that we are both alive, and not just breathing, but living.

There are the bastards of course, the drug-fueled psychotics, the mean sons of bitches who go in there to hurt people, flex their muscles, and try to prove to everyone how strong they are. The out of control sadists who wait to catch someone from behind and make ’em eat shit. But they’re not the majority.

Most people will try and get you down, fairly, but will stop at nothing to help you get back up and prevent any real harm from coming to you. The aforementioned assholes tend to get theirs as this camaraderie and respect in battle overcomes the few with bad intentions. Weird as it sounds, while it’s not perfect, there is a mosh pit justice, and it is usually relatively swift and fair in it’s retaliation.

So having restocked our supplies, we returned to the concert grounds with renewed supplies, invigorated by the previous show, and well-balanced substance wise. There was no abuse on our parts. At least, not yet.