I've been overseas for a week, playing string of European festival dates. The fests we've played have been much like Coachella or Bonaroo back in the states; they're three or four day events, have multiple stages, feature bands of all sorts of genres, and are built around camping, imbibing, sunburns, and a constant barrage of music from about noon until 2 a.m.
For the most part, from an artist's perspective, they're a blast, albeit a little overwhelming. Having the opportunity to play in front of thousands (and in some cases tens of thousands) of people in a foreign country (check that: anywhere) is a rush of nervous energy, adrenaline, gratitude, and anxiety that I can't really put into words.
And walking past Josh Homme on the way to our dressing room, seeing in Wayne Coyne in catering, or being two feet from Iron Maiden as they walk out to stage seemed so surreal that I found myself shaking my head wondering “What am I doing here?”
Ninety-eight percent of me feels like some lucky uberfan that finagled his way into getting backstage passes, while the other eternally self-doubting two percent actually feels like he actually belongs here. It's a bizarre and horribly skewed dichotomy. It's also why this will never, ever get old. I'm a music fan/geek first, and a musician second, and days like these are like heaven in that regard.
That said, it's not all stargazing, adrenaline rushes, free booze and catering, lavish dressing rooms (they're usually tin boxes that double as convection ovens in the late-summer heat) and glorious amenities. There's another side to these festivals, a side that you don't get to see from the crowd*. This week, I give you The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the Late-Summer European Festival Circuit.
*Lest you think The Bad and The Ugly constitute whining of some sort, I must stress before you read any further that neither is that big of a deal. The positives far outweigh the negatives, I'm beyond grateful to be doing this, and I'd gladly do this for the rest of my life, or until they take my passport away and revoke my music-playing privileges. The people that brave the heat, noise, drunken idiots, dust, dirt, mud, filthy bathrooms, and greasy festival food for a long weekend are the real stars at these fests.
1) The Good: On Thursday alone, at Pukkelpop in Belgium, I got to see a strong set from Band Of Horses, a captivating blues set from Seasick Steve, face-melting metal from Gojira, and an entertaining (but sonically disappointing) set from Iron Maiden on the very same stage that we played on to start the day. Since I still haven't figured out a way to clone myself and be in two places at the same time, I unfortunately missed sets by Minus The Bear, Frightened Rabbit, and The Flaming Lips. (I'm hoping to catch MTB at either Reading or Leeds next week, and Frightened Rabbit on their US Headline Tour with my friends in Bad Veins in October.)
2) The Bad: In prior years, when I toured without having a ladyfriend, a trip to the UK and Europe meant I fell off the grid for a couple of weeks. My family and friends would understand that our correspondence would be limited to sporadic emails when I was at a venue or hotel that had reliable wifi (read: rarely.)
International phone, text, and data roaming rates are absurd, and since I'm not looking to amass an $800 cell bill from AT&T, that's just the way it had to be. Now, with a ladyfriend that I'd prefer to be in almost constant contact with, I can't possibly go dark for two weeks.
3) The Ugly: I'm fairly certain that most of us decide to take a dump when we have to take a dump, not because we've found hanging out with friends and watching bands boring, and want to do something more “fun.” Taking said dump requires a proper receptacle that, in an ideal scenario, is on the “clean” side, and is in an low-traffic area that will allow you to conduct your business peacefully and unbothered by other poopists. At these summer festivals, the functional-toilets-to-butts-with-backstage-access ratio is skewed…in the wrong direction.