‘If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a BIG surprise,’ teased my Electric Picnic program. And, true enough, as I strolled down the path I stumbled upon a series of enchanting scenes; Trenchtown, where the air was filled with the smell of herb and the sound of reggae, the Salty Dog Stage where bands played on the deck of a boat, a glade where a beautiful lady performed tricks with a hula-hoop and a large man in a fur coat laid out on the ditch. The concerned faces that surrounded him told me this was not part of the show. He was in a bad way.
One of the concerned faces grabbed his wrist and confirmed a healthy pulse. Then we just stared at the sleeping giant like he was a jigsaw piece that didn’t fit the puzzle. Realising that it would seem I had just rocked up to witness their friends’ downfall unless I did something pro-active, I volunteered my water bottle as a means of rousing the man. The group nodded consent and I splashed a few drops on his forehead. His nose twitched in annoyance. This was deemed a positive sign but he was still asleep so we were back to just looking at him again.
Eventually we snapped out of it. We put him in the recovery position and notified the Order of Malta. Job done we started to chat. It turned out that nobody actually knew the man. He had lost his friends and was all alone. Or maybe he didn’t have any friends in the first place. I guess in a zany, festival sort of way, we were his friends. But, in another way, we were not his friends at all and we wiped our hands clean of him once the medics arrived.
tUnE-yArRDs The natural amphitheatre of the Body and Soul stage was the perfect setting for this post mid-night gig. With the drumming, chanting and face paint it felt like watching a tribal ritual unfold. bRiLl-iAnT.
It depends on which security guard you’re dealing with.
A gang of ‘Where’s Wallies,’ a dude on stilts and a suited man on a unicycle. Distractions aplenty but viewed through my weary eyes the happenings were more nightmare than funfair. I sipped my water and hoped it would do the spiritual equivalent of what GAA water did for maimed hurlers. The queue was not helping my hangover. The security guard was particularly thorough- emptying bags, nosing through cigarette boxes and looking under caps. I sighed and waited.
Finally, my turn came.
‘You’re not allowed bring that in,’ the security guard said in a Scottish burr.
I looked at her.
‘The bottle,’ she explained. ‘You can’t bring it in.’
‘But I need this,’ I said.
‘I don’t care. You have to leave it here.’
‘But it’s just water.’
Another security guard, built like a brick house, loomed up behind her in a ‘Problem here?’ sort of way. Not willing to allow him scratch his itchy fists on my face, I put the bottle down and bristled past, a small rant about over stringent security bubbling up inside me.
To be fair, the anger pretty much subsided once I got to the first kiosk selling light refreshments.
Later, cheerier, I was once again running the gauntlet of the security lanes with a buddy. Disregarding my warnings, he was strolling nonchalantly towards the guard with a 1.5 litre bottle of Coke and Rum. It wasn’t up his jumper or concealed in a bag; it was in his hand. He was heading for trouble.
‘What ya got there?’ asked the security guard in a Louth accent.
‘Coke,’ said my friend.
The guard raised his eyebrows.
‘And rum,’ my friend added.
‘Well you can’t bring that in.’
‘Told ya,’ I said.
My friend tutted annoyance but, accepting defeat, he placed the bottle down on the table. Without any cajoling, the security guard had a change of heart.
‘Tell ya wha. Go back to the end of the queue there, stuff the bottle up your jumper and I’ll let ya bring it in.’
‘What was that you were saying?’ my friend asked me and swaggered off to the back of the queue. After a quick pat down I bristled past, a small rant about lax security bubbling up inside me.
It was Saturday evening and the sun was out. We had a lot of laughs in the bank and the night ahead was bursting with potential. We were sitting on the grass watching Hozier perform in front of a massive audience. Everyone was singing along to ‘Take me to Church’ and nodding appreciatively for the rest. Not bad considering his debut album wasn’t even out at the time. And he’s only 24.
There are many roads to the Palace of Wisdom
There was a huge variety of food available at the stalls; ostrich burgers, noodles, crepes pizzas and falafels, to name just a few. There was even a fancy restaurant with waiters in the Spoken Word tent. I sampled many dishes but one escaped my attention until it was presented to me as I waited for Beck to take the main stage.
‘Would you like some of this?’ a fella asked, brandishing a plate under my nose. It was loaded with nachos that were criss-crossed with strings of cheese. I thought it peculiar that a stranger would offer me some of his dinner. Also strange was his bright green suit. But things were about to get weirder.
‘No thanks,’ I said.
‘It’s laced with acid,’ he added.
I took another look at the plate. It still looked like nachos but had taken on a sinister quality.
‘No thanks man. I’ll stick with this,’ I said raising a pint.
‘There are many roads to the palace of wisdom friend,’ he said and carried on eating. That might be true but I felt he had taken a wrong turn. Perversely, I was pleased that he thought to offer me his mind altering drugs – it was confirmation that I have finally shaken the ‘head of a garda’ tag.
After midnight you are allowed bring cans into the arena area. It’s limited to four per person. Imagine the organisers discussing this at a meeting.
‘Okay they can bring in cans, but only four – that’s the sweet spot.’
‘I concur. It’s on that troublesome fifth can where haters start hating.’
Thankfully there were no haters hating – only players playing.
Who would have thought that a clean living scientologist could be such fun? ‘We haven’t played Ireland for ten years so we’re gonna try and make up for lost time,’ Beck promised. And he delivered. It was rock, hip-hop, bluegrass, folk and blues all in the one show. Add Beck’s energetic dancing and his band’s funny antics and you have yourself a party.
Don’t thank the bus driver
Leaving before Outkast on the Sunday night was heart-breaking but I wrenched myself outta there and onto the bus. The benefit of leaving early was avoiding the queue. The atmosphere on board however was subdued. It was so dark and quiet I found it hard to believe that my fellow passengers were part of the colour and noise of the festival. You’d swear we were prisoners being taken back behind bars after a weekend release. As the bus rolled towards Dublin I cracked open a can and tried to relive the magic of the past three days, but, as it was minutes before midnight, Monday was banging on the door. Work and reality had not gone away – I had merely swerved them for a weekend.
On disembarking I took it upon myself to extend a hearty thank you to the bus driver. Although I used the journey to reconcile myself with some harsh truths his quiet, workmanlike efforts did not go unnoticed. Instead of receiving my words with a warm smile his eyes seized upon the empty can in my hand.
‘I hope you weren’t drinking that on the bus!’
‘Well, yeah, I was.’
‘Did you know that it’s illegal to drink alcohol on a bus!?’ he interrupted. ‘That it’s illegal to even BRING alcohol on a bus?’
I wasn’t sure what to say. I thought his anger mean and unnecessary. It was like he saw a small part of me still drifting tether-less in a carefree world and couldn’t resist yanking the chord that brought my ass right back down to earth. And that he did. Still though, a great weekend.
Thus concludes my postcards from the picnic. The weather was lovely. Wished you were there.