3hree Things: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the Late-Summer European Festival Circuit

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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. 



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Riley Breckenridge
Riley watches QOTSA from backstage
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.) 

And Friday, I experienced one of the highlights of my entire touring/music geek career, as I watched Queens Of The Stone Age (who were on my Top 5 Bands I Am Dying To See Live list) and one of my favorite drummers, Joey Castillo, from the side of stage at the Area 4 Festival. The "What am I doing here?" question popped into my head at least three times during their 75-minute set. A totally unforgettable experience. 

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.)
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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. 

In an effort to avoid getting raped by AT&T, I've turned to Skype, which has made making phone calls abroad much easier, but it requires wifi, and at festivals like these the wifi is often so bogged down by hundreds of users, it's basically unusable. Cell reception is as bad, if not worse, so dropping a several bucks on a flurry of text messages isn't a viable option either. (Anyone that has been to Coachella knows this feeling.) 

That they're there and fleeting is actually more frustrating than just not even having it be an option at all. (It's also made me realize that I'm kind of disheartened by my reliance on technology, but that's an essay for another day.) Thankfully, the lady is understanding, and has been flooding my inbox with pictures and stories of home, so that when I do have access to wifi, the distance between us doesn't seem so great. That sound you hear in the distance is the Waahmbulance, coming to pick me up in Hamburg. 

(Picture graciously omitted)

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. 

This means you have to hope that when nature calls, you can luck your way into an available toilet, or that you've planned your dump with as much as a 30-minute cushion for waiting in line. Once you've found an available turd hutch, you also have to hope that it's fully functional. These poor festival toilets take a beating. They're constantly bombarded by the after-effects of a combination of nondescript meats, sauces, and veggie medleys, strong coffee, energy drinks, and warm beer/booze from a variety of o-rings (bands and crew, local crew, festival staff, security, guests, guests of guests, etc.) Toilet seats are usually filthy, cracked, or falling off the hinges; and bowls are spritzed with all sorts of bodily fluids, clogged with wads of various forms of bathroom paper, and glazed and gobbed with a variety of strains of European mudbutt. It's not pretty. 

After you've found your stall and braved its contents you have to hope that your stall has a functioning lock. Otherwise, you can be certain that you'll spend the duration of your stay on the throne, holding the door shut with all your might (so as to deter overeager fellow dumpers from yanking it open) while you try to focus your remaining might on conducting your business as swiftly and efficiently as possible. It's never easy, but if there's any plus-side to the above challenges, it's that once you've faced them and overcome them, you can do your duties just about anywhere.

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