01 August 2009
All Points West: My Perspective
I've been to a couple music festivals in my day, most memorably the little-recognized Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, TN, but none can compare in scale or spectacle to All Points West, AEG's indie-rock/hip-hop infused strangely anointed tribute to Woodstock - except way smaller (if any of that makes sense).
Yesterday I had the "pleasure" of working at the box office on day one of this three day event with a different headliner each night ranging from Jay-Z, last night, to Coldplay closing out the festival on Sunday. The day started out well enough with a good clustering of folks buying tickets at the door and a hefty amount scrambling to pick up will-call tickets (my job) but the rest of my time in Jersey City left much to be desired.
Of course, I am leaving out the best part: THE NATIONAL.
Any and all things can be made instantly better with the contribution of the greatest band on the planet, the band that surprises me with every live performance and kills me with every new song. I don't know what other way to say it: I'll tell you I can't love The National more and then immediately love them more than I love my own family the next day. I'm quietly obsessed most days and overly crazed the next. There is nothing wrong with this band. They are perfection. (I'm sorry that this gushing is doing nothing but making me sound like an idiot but I swear - I cannot help it!)
Hudson County was entirely washed out last night. With the mixture of torrential rains, electricity in the air, lightning striking the ground, and thunder roaring overhead, Friday's edition of this lovely hipster festival was almost cancelled several times as the man wearing the "Stinky's Fish" shirt explained to all of us box office personnel over and over again.
"When the 50 to 60 mph winds arrive here in about 30 minutes, this trailer won't be safe. We'll have to evacuate both you and the concertgoers so be prepared."
Me: "Well, won't it be unsafe to walk on the wet grass if there's a tornado as well?"
Him: "Pick your poison."
Wrong thing to say to me. We were sitting in a wooden trailer full of electrical equipment that was leaking before the rain even started. I get scared of minor thunderstorms when I'm sitting in the comfort of my own home, never mind the idea of walking through a field right next to a large river with 14,000 other people during a violent tornado. I was obviously freaking out - and one of my only thoughts? The National comes on in 25 minutes!
I had been harassing every person I could email within AEG during the past two weeks forcing them to assure me that regardless of my duties to the box office and any other requirements they might see fit, I could definitely see The National's set at 4:50pm. This was my only goal for the entire day. The measly $100 they were paying me be damned. I need to see my favorite band. Isn't that how they're making so much money on all these concerts? They're feeding off people like me that feel more passionately about their favorite music than they do about their own relationships. They need to feel that drumbeat in their chest whether it means spending $107 for a day in 4 foot mud puddles and freezing raindrops or not.
It was crucial that if I had enough brainpower to withstand the winds and lightning that I would be able to get a break and make it over to the other side of Liberty State Park to the main stage where The National would be performing. I finally got up enough courage to ask the festival ticketing manager if I could take my break as he had promised in three emails prior.
"Um, yeah, sure. Wait until 5 though, I'm sure you'll be able to catch a couple songs."
Okay. I tried to stay calm. I was anticipating seeing the entire set in a day of beautiful sun and happy, clean people. The fact that the day had now turned into a nightmare complete with heart palpitations, disgusting outdoor bathroom facilities, thoughts of hurricanes, and NOW only seeing a portion of The National made my morning egg and cheese sandwich almost vomit out of my mouth. (Also: I will not even give the most horrible person alive a mention within my lovely blog but I will say she has no brains, works at the artist sign-in at APW, and made my life a living hell yesterday - worse than any of the other things I'm discussing.)
I sat in my fold-up seat within the trailer that could fall down at any second, tapping my feet in anticipation, biting my nails, and dreaming of a day better than this one when suddenly:
"Angelica, you can go on break now. I think you can still catch a few songs. Take 45 minutes or so."
With my ungrateful, uninterested boyfriend in tow, I tried to walk/run the mile or so to the main stage and take my place with the other die hard National fans underneath the pouring rain and thundering sky. A few hundred feet away, I heard it. "Abel" was playing and it could not have sounded more beautiful. I mean really - it has never sounded better. We had run through so much mud I couldn't see the skin on my feet anymore and gotten so wet that it wasn't even comparable to a shower but it was so worth it. I got a spot in the middle of the crowd and watched Matt Berninger work his magic on the soaked yet completely fulfilled audience. The huge amounts of rain falling in front of him gave the illusion of a sheer curtain over the stage but it only added to the eerie magic contained in every National song.
The first full song I was able to hear was the new "Blood Buzz Ohio" and it was like I had never heard it before today. The sound was seriously unbelievable. Major congratulations are in order for the sound technicians at APW because they clearly have mastered their art. You know I don't even remember the next song and I knew in the moment that looking back I wouldn't because the incredibly silly feeling of giddiness I had took over by this point. I was standing in mud, getting soaked, thinking I was going to be electrocuted and listening to The National live. No other band can do that.
A beautiful rendition of "Fake Empire" was next and then the closer: "Mr. November" complete with Mr. Berninger freaking the security detail out by trying to jump off the stage, while falling/slipping, with his microphone into the awaiting audience. He would miss a few lines of the song, then get back on track, and sing right into people's faces. It was almost as if he was deliberately trying to get wetter than the crowd. During the line "I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders" he was picked up by the audience in the front and ushered back on stage. I guess it could sound a little 'cliche' but the moment was fantastic and knowing what National lovers know about Matt Berninger, it was so special. When people were starting to get worried about the performers getting on stage on time and wanting to go on, I knew The National would be there no questions asked. I knew they'd make it amazing.
With my sparkly production bracelet, I was able to get backstage after the performance and see the little trailer labeled "The Nati-onal" in childlike letters and catch a glimpse of Bryan Devendorf, the most talented drummer I have ever heard. Matt Berninger was nowhere to be found but what would I say to him anyway? I've thought of things but none could really convey anything and even if they could - why the hell would it matter to him? He knows he has some major fans, I don't need to tell him that.
Later on in the night someone came to will call wearing the same National shirt I was wearing only a few days earlier. I made a little comment about how they're my favorite band to which he replied, "really? they're my cousins."
Such a silly thing but it was Eric Dessner, cousin of National members Aaron and Bryce (also co-founders of Brassland Records). And he was just like they appear to be: quiet, reserved, and well dressed. Once again, I didn't say anything to him either.
So after the last person was done paying $100 just to see Jay-Z at 9:30, we packed up and went home. I'm still a little disappointed my boyfriend didn't want to stick around for the last act as I heard he was awesome but there's always another time I guess.
Overall I enjoyed The National but strongly disliked the event from my box office perspective. It was unorganized and over ambitious. Maybe if I were a concertgoer I would've felt differently.
We'll see how Sunday goes.