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Home > Places

A New York State Of Consciousness

In June, within the space of a fortnight, there were two music festivals in the state of New York. One was small, with no famous bands, off in the middle of nowhere and with a name that lends itself to stumbling and mispronunciation.

The other was a giant event, packed with some of the biggest names in modern music, smack bang in the centre of New York City and with the snappiest title this side of the Lollapalooza. The former turned into one of those weekends, full of stories and priceless moments, that you remember for the rest of your life. The latter was an enormous embarrassing fuck-up. Clearly, there are lessons to be learned.

Graham Pond reports.

20 December 2003

The Adirondack Mountain Music Festival – AMMF for snazz – is situated a good six or seven hours’ drive out of New York City. I am in the company of my fake photographer, Richard. We set off in our hired car on Thursday night. I don’t drive because I can’t, but I stay awake anyway, partly to keep Richard company, partly just to annoy him with my asinine comments.

We reach the place known to its locals as Moose River some time around seven. A hundred and ten acres of towering toilet-brush trees punctuated with clearings and lakes, streaked with dirt-track roads. Mother Nature in all her rampant, prickly, succulent glory, squatting snug around a placid leech-filled lake, like a drunken woman pissing fire.

At precisely 7.55am, we are turned away from the venue by a friendly young man in a beard and glasses. He says to come back at ten, so we return to the car and begin to soak up the atmosphere, which, for better or worse one simply must, when one is out and about under the pretence of journalism.

As we lie on our backs staring up at these densely-packed towering toilet-brush trees, which no doubt do have a name, sleep deprivation and Harlem grass begin to take their toll. The thought of giblets hanging from the fish-bone spines above gets the Blair Witch blood coursing, so there’s a bit of running about and panting with the video camera.

Half an hour later, back in the car, we watch the miles of road which lead to the site filling up with other cars. There are white Rastas everywhere. Richard is suddenly fuming, full of hatred for these people. I try to calm him. I’m not particularly keen on White Rastas myself, but this is a festival. And a festival is a time for peace, love, understanding and tolerance. Nothing else matters. A vehicle comes to a halt ahead of us and a bunch of White Rastas get out. In the back windscreen there is a sticker. The sticker reads, ‘No Blood For Gas’. The SUV it is attached to clearly uses more gas in a day than many small towns do in a fortnight. This brings Richard’s hate issues to the fore. ‘I want them dead,’ he declares, simply. I shush him, and remind him where we are.

'Did he shoo us? Pooh-pooh us? Fuck you us? Nothing of the sort. He must’ve been on as many drugs as we were.'

After a short while, the SUV Rastas seem to have us pegged for Feds. Just because we’re older than they are, because we’re dressed differently, because we’re glaring at them, taking notes and occasionally pointing cameras at them. They look increasingly shifty, before pulling out of the lay-by to look for another space. We decide to follow them just to play with their minds a little. Then we lose interest.

According to the official festival literature, which someone hands us around 9am, this place is dangerous. Really, officially, extremely fucking dangerous. Not only is the lake filled with hungry vampire leeches and snapping turtles, but the woods, where just an hour ago I was running and panting, are full of brown bears and giant unfriendly moose. (No, not meese. Moose.) We decide to stay out of the woods for now, and all thoughts of midnight skinny-dipping fade like quick-dying feedback.

At around 9.30 we head back to the site entrance, and the next few hours are taken up with the tedious business of establishing our credentials, parking up and setting up camp. Luckily, Terry, our man at Headspin, the festival’s promoters, is something of a diamond and treats us like kings of the press. Richard snatches up his photographer’s pass with all the zeal of a man who has never taken a photograph in his life, but knows an opportunity to impress when he sees one.

We reach a spot in the shade on north-side of Moose Lake. Richard was here last year and remembers this side of the lake as the focal point for the festival drug-trade. It is known as Shakedown Alley. He insists we camp here. Within an hour or so the official vendors start to turn up. Most of these are here under the pretence of selling food and drink, which carries the lowest vendor’s fee. But of course most of them are selling grass, mushrooms, ecstasy, various glass pipes, elaborate bongs and other freaky head-shit. The first of the rains begins to fall sometime mid-afternoon, and I crawl into our shabby water-attracting tent. As I am nodding off, I realise Richard is trying to prise open my mouth and shove in some of the stiff spindly mushrooms he has just purchased from our new neighbours. I shoo him away and grab an hour or so of sleep.

This is the second annual Adirondack Mountain Music Festival. The first year was a great success. The team responsible for it are four young men who call themselves Headspin. Terry, Morgan, Corey and Wes. Four young men with a simple vision. In Terry’s words, ‘a party in the woods’. But Adirondack is much more than that.

One imagines Glastonbury when it first started out, although really one has no idea if the analogy holds water. But one imagines it anyway. A small number of people gathered together in the open air to celebrate their shared love of music, drugs (unofficially, of course) and, let’s not forget, love itself. Yeah, it’s cheesy. Especially in these days of brutal, necessary cynicism. It’s almost unbearably cheesy, which is precisely why we should embrace it and hold on tight, for dear life. Yes! Do it! Embrace the cheese of love.

We certainly tried to. At first I thought it might be a bit tricky, what with being surrounded by Americans and all, but that was just plain old nasty old racism on my part, and I’m glad to say I was quickly made to feel rather ashamed of it. As it happens, most of the people we met or molested were extremely generous and patient, warm and funny, much more perhaps than they would’ve been had the festival been held in, for example, Leeds. Joe, for one, who we first molested midway through Soulive’s funky Saturday evening set, telling him exactly how much he resembled Iggy Pop. And in return, did he shoo us? Pooh-pooh us? Fuck you us? Nothing of the sort. Rather, with love in his heart and a bag of gravel in his throat, he declared, ‘You guys are awesome!’ He must’ve been on as many drugs as we were. That’s the only explanation. But oh, how we danced! Not quite as wildly however, as we did for Amon Tobin, on Friday night, the first pills just starting to work their magic as we circled the lake and heard those gifted rhythms and funky samples coming up, ripping up from the stage. Then hurtling across the wet mud towards the crowd, the night having just settled, the lights becoming eerie; Richard, lips pursed like a wolf, stripped to the nipples. Oh, how we roared!

On Sunday afternoon we were relaxing by a lone tree on a high mound, watching the stage and a band called Garage a Trois from a distance, and there was Joe again, with his special lady, Sarah. We caught up. As we did so, the lead singer of Garage a Trois – actually it may have been another band, it was quite difficult to tell by this point – broke off from his bad-ass jazz-funk antics and hip-hopped onto his soapbox. Until now it had been a politics-free weekend – and happily so – but suddenly, here was this guy offering his insights into the War in Iraq. The highlight of his discourse was the repeated phrase, ‘Motherfuck George Bush in his eyes!’ Not exactly Gore Vidal, but enough to have most of the rather tired revellers whooping their approval.
Meanwhile Joe had found a child’s plaything in the mud, a small plastic animal, a yak maybe – no, a wildebeest we decided. Then, to our mild disappointment, he declared that it too was ‘awesome’. It did however grant me the opportunity to call after him, when he suddenly decided he had to be somewhere else, ‘Hey, Joe! Where you goin’ with that gnu in your hands?’ Which amused me, if no-one else.

Ah, yes, those conversations. So many of them. Conversations you could never really have anywhere else, only at a festival in the woods, miles from everywhere, off your face. Like the rather attractive, if very much the worse for wear, young lady I accosted by the portaloos. She told me that last year she’d seen this young boy running into the lake, then emerging only a matter of seconds later, his flesh fizzing with leeches. ‘They were everywhere,’ she said.
‘Was it like a suit of leeches?’ I asked.
She nodded. ‘It was horrible, man.’
‘Were they in his eyes?’ I asked.

She nodded again, clearly having seen no such thing but having heard it second-hand, probably from the same person I had made it up for a few hours ago. ‘They were everywhere,’ she repeated. ‘It was horrible.’
‘Was it horrible?’ I asked.

Then, quite suddenly, amidst an impromptu blizzard of dandelion spores and with Israel Vibration – or I-Vibes for those in the know – doing their rather disappointing roots ‘n’ reggae ting in the background, Richard ran off into the forest, stripped himself naked and barked like a goose.

Only in America.

On the way home, we gave a lift to a man with one leg, his girlfriend and his bag of mushrooms. Richard, as he was driving, did the sensible thing and abstained. Good for him. I meanwhile saw lots of lights and giggled to myself for a few hours, like one who collects string. Then we were all asleep. Thankfully, Richard woke up in time to avoid the central reservation and no harm was done. Then we were back and once again it was all concrete and fire escapes, sirens, graffiti and time for a long long sleep.

In the end, there were over 4000 people at the AMMF and everything went off without a hitch. The weather was shit, but nobody really gave a fuck. Apart from a tiny minority of backwoods rednecks who are only really happy moving to the sound of porcine yelping, everyone else had a whale of a time. The music was of a very high quality (most of it at least), the drugs did work (most of them at least), Richard bought a hundred-dollar didgeridoo and a splendid time was had by all. Even most of the White Rastas managed to turn themselves into beautiful human beings for the duration.

'The SUV Rastas seem to have us pegged for Feds. Just because we’re older than they are, because we’re dressed differently, because we’re glaring at them, taking notes and occasionally pointing cameras at them.'

Headspin Head Producer, Morgan Young explained what it takes to make a festival succeed. ‘First and foremost, as we’ve seen throughout the industry, is coordination with regulatory officials. From there you begin to put together a team. All parties involved – staff, artists, etc – must know their roles and be comfortable as part of the team… Our team gave themselves fully to our event and our success is a direct result of them.’ He also cites ‘a good relationship with state and local officials’ and ‘good communication between production and local emergency response’ as a priority. Which is the perfect moment to turn our attentions to The Field.

The Field was first publicised (by aptly-named publicists, Nasty Little Man) back in the spring. It was going to be mighty. It was going to be massive. Radiohead. Beck. Blur. The Beastie Boys. Beth Orton. Underworld. Spiritualised. Elliott Smith. Liz Phair. And a whole host more. It was going to be a glorious weekend event based on the European model. With camping, stalls, body-painting, themed villages, morning yoga, hippy food, hippy politics, all that stuff. It was going to be Glastonbury, NY.

The location of the Field was to be the Grumman Aerospace site in Riverhead, New York, approximately 3000 acres of old Defense Department testing land, now earmarked for economic development. It was ideal for the organisers’ purposes. And everything was going so well. The bands were booked, the ads were out, the stages were being constructed, the tickets were selling like hash-cakes. Then suddenly, within a couple of weeks of the concert, the rumours began.

Initially, there were many rumours, one of which centred on environmentalist groups, who were objecting to the potential disruption to the nesting season of the rare grasshopper sparrow. Which, although a serious concern for people who care about such things, seemed a little ludicrous. Surely something so potentially spectacular was not going to be derailed by some clucking cross between an insect and a bird? In the end, no. There was much more serious opposition. Namely, lack of adequate law enforcement, lack of adequate onsite security, lack of adequate traffic planning, lack of adequate preparation time for the various bodies involved – police, deputies, county attorneys, etc. In a word, a general lack of adequacy. And so, with more than enough justification, these various bodies expressed their concerns and the mass gathering permit required for the festival was denied.

The man behind The Field – executive producer, chief promoter, organiser, Jack of all titles, master of none – was Andrew Dreskin. Dreskin is a big wheel in the Ticketmaster organisation and owner of Andrew Dreskin Investments LLC. Which doesn’t necessarily give us the right to damn him as a corporate cog or glorified ticket tout, but what the hell.

Perhaps anticipating questions about piss-ups in breweries, Dreskin refused to be interviewed, both before and after the event. So instead we have to assume that everything everyone else has said about him is true. That he really is a phenomenal dumbass. But then it’s obvious, isn’t it? If you’re going to organise an enormous festival with an international line-up, you don’t advertise the thing all over the world before getting your permits sorted out. Unless you’re a bit of a dick. And this was Dreskin’s fundamental error.

Before finally accepting defeat, Dreskin’s response to the week or so of rumours was to try and blag his way through it like a child. Yes, he kept insisting to the press, the festival will go ahead as planned. He promised to pay for any extra security required and even threatened to sue Suffolk County, presumably for his own lack of professionalism.

There is also another rumour, which might actually paint Dreskin in a slightly less ridiculous light – although only slightly, for he will always be a dumbass. This rumour features one Ron Delsener, co-president of the omnipresent Clear Channel, who book most of the major concert events on Long Island. Apparently Delsener saw nothing underhanded in contacting local businessmen and asking them to oppose the Field festival. He then contacted Robert F. Kozakiewicz, supervisor for the town of Riverhead, outlining long-term proposals for a beautiful partnership between Riverhead and Clear Channel. So in the end, it may have come down to a case of corporate dog eat dog. As well as Dreskin’s idiocy.
Doesn’t really matter. The upshot was, with just three days to go, the two-day New York Field Festival had become the one-day New Jersey Football Stadium Festival. In the consequent organisational mayhem, the various agencies involved went into buck-passing head-burying overdrive.

So for anyone looking for another weekend of wide-pupilled outdoorsy music-related fun, as we were, it was all looking horribly dismal. Then, quite unexpectedly, we met a man called Brian in an East Village bar. Brian told us that if we popped along to the Giants Stadium tomorrow – the day before the big day – he should be able to get us an interview with Radiohead. Suddenly, it was back on.

Brian was big, butch, talkative and Texan. He was pissed off too. He and his colleagues had spent the best part of a couple of weeks setting up the site in Riverhead, only to be informed a couple of days ago that they had to take it all down and build another bunch of stages in a football stadium instead. He seemed to want the story of the fuck-up to be told, as did we of course, but not as much as we wanted our Radiohead exclusive. So bright and early the day before the festival, Richard hired another car and we made our way to the Giant’s Stadium.

It was a fantastically hot day. We got lost on the New Jersey Turnpike, sidetracked by memories of Being John Malcovich, but we made it. Brian met us at the stadium. Radiohead were already in there. Soon we’d be face to face with Thom Yorke’s mighty squint. Brian took us to the canteen and we got stuck in.
An hour or so later we were standing there in the middle of the football field, on that giant covered grid (scene of so many awe-inspiring sporting triumphs, we had no doubt) with Sting, the Emperor of Bland, pumping sporadically, deafeningly, through the giant speakers. Suddenly we were overwhelmed by an enormous sense of apathy. It was going to be horrible. Truly horrible. Even if everything went right from here on in – which it wouldn’t, not by a long chalk – it was now so far removed from where it had started out that it had already failed. The long weekend, the getting back to nature, the camping – all of the Glasto-type-aspirations that Dreskin and Co may actually have had – were all still in the Field in Long Island, pushing up the daisies along with rusting chunks of old F1-11s.

In the end, we didn’t meet Radiohead, obviously, or there would have been some mention of it on the cover. Neither did we meet any of the other people behind the scenes with whom Brian had promised to set up interviews. Instead, after listening to this man rabbit on for a good five hours, and getting some lovely photos of a football stadium, we ran into a slack-jawed security goon in a golf cart who fairly ceremoniously told us to fuck off. Our indignant cries of, ‘But we’re with Brian!’ were met with humourless mockery. ‘Brian’s what we call a gopher,’ we were told. ‘He ain’t got no authority.’ He jiggled his thumb in a ‘hit the road’ type gesture. ‘No press,’ he said.

As we shuffled back along the baking path leading out of the stadium, away from Thom and the boys, we glanced back at Brian, silhouetted against the descending sun. He shrugged apologetically. We smiled self-pitifully, saluted the man’s monumental blag and headed back into Brooklyn for a bagel.



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