I love music festivals. Whether it’s Bjork weaving her spell at Glastonbury or the Chemical Brothers at the first Homelands dance festie. A tough crowd at the Cambridge Folk Festival brought to their feet with appreciative astonishment at Mindy Smith’s lyricism. WOMADs, or numerous other folk, reggae and dub festivals around Europe. The Michigan Womyn’s Festival.
Festivals have longstanding links to ideas of community, connecting festie goers to one another, to political ideas, often to particular pieces of land. Lots of people talking to each other. Lots of drugs, but often little alcohol. A little more kindness. Sharing eggs, mushrooms and beans cooked up on a camp stove. Dancing under the sun. A wide age range and racial mix of people. Kids face painting. Adults playing, juggling, throwing frisbees. Tai Chi.
In general a good awareness of body space, but also lots of touching, some of which is just plain sexual harassment, especially as ecstasy grabbed the UK in the 1990s.
Given this festie love of mine, of course I check out Homegrown, Wellington’s homage to local acts Minuit, Salmonella Dub, Ladi 6, the Black Seeds….
The trouble is, since coming home in 2005, I’ve realised we – the collective we – are festival illiterate. Which can only partially be laid at the door of commercialisation.
The latest Homegrown overflowed with drunken people crashing into everyone around them. Litter strewn inside and outside the dance tents. Beer and jim beam cans crackling underfoot. Everywhere. Most people not having much idea of what’s being played, or by whom.
New Zealanders chat only to our mates, the early Parihakas a notable exception. We certainly don’t share food or drugs. There isn’t as much unwanted touching that I can see – unless you count being perpetually barged, elbowed and trampled by people rushing to get to the other side of the tent. Perhaps the bare-of-people promo poster should have sounded a warning alert to the fact there is just no sense of community at all.
Despite this, everyone looks exactly the same. Why does no one over the age of 28 go to see live music in New Zealand? And what the hell has happened to our blokes, who I used to brag were playful with their hair styles and facial hair in all kinds of interesting ways?
Now festie men are all clean shaven short haired corporate looking bores. Where is the long hair? The dreadlocks? The sidies or the goatee or hell just something so I could tell them apart?
Women are no better. I saw two with hair shorter than their shoulders, a welcome break from the mid back straightened, dyed jet black or blond haired, maximum flesh showing festival clones.
I used to play a game with John, my fave UK festie companion. We would spot interesting looking beautiful people and point them out to each other. Very useful in all kinds of ways. And possible, because there were all kinds of people attending.
The game would be called off here due to lack of competition.
I won’t be going back to Homegrown. If it’s not going to provide a space to hang out with other like minded people in a way which feels connecting, I’d rather listen to those great musicians at home with no corporate sponsorship necessary, no one bashing into me, and only the odd beer can underfoot.