I’ve often said that each year’s Big Day Out leaves just two enduring memories. Whether it was the time the Smashing Pumpkins played in the glorious sunshine while we drank beer on the main field (oh those were the days, before the beer ghettos were installed). Or the time Perry Farrell wailed Janes Addiction’s signature ‘Jane Says’ as the sun was going down. Or the time LCD Soundsystem managed to time ‘All My Friends’ perfectly with the onset of some (legal, of course) chemicals I’d ingested half an hour prior. Anyway, you get the point. Each Big Day Out = two moments.
Unfortunately, the two moments I remember from yesterday’s Big Day Out will sit uneasily in what is otherwise a pretty cool mental scrapbook.
I make a point of being friendly, chatty and polite to everyone working at the Big Day Out. I imagine dealing with tens of thousands of punters, serving endless queues constantly, managing the unmanageable is not the easiest of jobs. So I figure the least I can do is be nice. Sympathetic. I even try with the cops, although not generally with much reward in terms of engagement.
So early on in the day I was in one of the beer ghettos (the Lilypad, which was actually pretty good for a licensed area). I was looking for a way out, and saw that someone had pushed the fence open and people were streaming in and out freely. I thought I’d point this out to the security standing at the nearby exit. Y’know, helpful like. He looked, grunted acknowledgment, and turned away. I went to walk out, and he put his hand on my chest to stop me. “This is an entrance.” Both ends of the gate were empty, save him and me. No-one was entering. Or exiting, apparently. Three metres separated me from the outside world, but despite my collusion just seconds beforehand, I was still the Enemy at the Gate:
“Really? You can’t let me through?”
“So you’d rather I walked over there and left via the gap in the fence.”
“That’s not my problem.”
So I did.
Not a biggie, he was only following orders and all that. But it highlighted a mindset of slavishly enforcing the rules even when they no longer made sense. Kinda like enforcing a non-smoking ban in the midst of an inferno.
There was worse to come, unfortunately.
Later in the day it started to rain. Pleasantly at first, and slowly, surely, harder. In the corner of the Green stage beer ghetto there was a large awning set up around what I think was supposed to look like something of an al fresco wine bar. It sold only wine and cider though, so it wasn’t doing a hell of a lot of business, especially compared with the queues at the much larger drinks tent nearby.
As the rain picked up, people naturally started to take shelter under the edges of the awning. I’m not talking huddled masses, just a few groups standing around chatting and watching the bands. Plenty of room, it’s fair to say.
Fairness clearly wasn’t on the mind of one squat moustachioed member of the security as he started herding people out into the rain. “Really?” I found myself asking again? The answer this time was a rough shove in the chest. My friend Richard first discovered the shelter ban with a strong shove from behind. No “you have to stand in the rain please”, just a shove.
That is, to coin a phrase, fucked. I mean, if you want to be a dick about it, it’s assault.
I appealed to the kind-looking lady behind the bar. She shrugged. “It’s just not a good look” I pointed out, and she agreed. Another gentleman joined our conversation. James Edgars I think he said, and he was the license holder for that area. His name was on the paper, he said. It’s his arse on the line.
I asked, still trying to be reasonable, which part of the license required no-one take shelter on the periphery of the generous awning. We need, he said, to keep this area clear so that people can queue and be served. James Edgars timing wasn’t exactly perfect. “How many people are queuing and being served at the moment” I asked, just as the sole customer collected her drink and wandered back into the rain. The place was deserted, the nearest people the recently evicted, those who’d been shoved into the elements.
The thing is, as I pointed out to James Edgars, License Holder, there was literally no harm in people standing inside the edges of the awning. People weren’t standing anywhere near the bar. There was no queue – had there been I would’ve understood. There were no customers. No-one was being impeded. There was a good few metres of space before you got anywhere near the bar area. People just wanted a little bit on the edge. It was within his power to tell his thugs to chill. Instead he preferred to have security (ironic title) randomly assaulting customers. Not. A. Good. Look.
But James Edgars didn’t care. The kind lady smiled resignedly and shrugged.
I have a third memory actually. As we first arrived, and queued to have our bags searched, our pockets emptied (again, I understand, I cooperate), a large chap with a megaphone gave instructions. “No glass bottles… no cans” he said. “No alcohol… if he have any drugs, hand them to me now,” he joked. “Once you are in, you can not leave. There are no pass outs.” He laughed: “Welcome to the Rock.”
If only he knew that inside security were acting like prison guards from a bad movie, he might’ve lost the smile. We certainly did.