It was to be the biggest and most talked-about outdoor rock festival in Japanese history. On two stages over the course of a mid-summer's weekend, the Japanese concert promoter Smash had managed to assemble a daring
crossover festival format, pitting some of the hottest bands in the alt-rock
scene, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day and Foo Fighters, together with the hippest of the avant-techno scene, including Prodigy, Aphex Twin, Atari Teenage Riot, Massive Attack and Squarepusher. To top it off, last weekend's event was to take place at a spectacular location on the side of Japan's Mt. Fuji, a massive volcano that stands as the very symbol of Japan. Then Typhoon Rosie paid an unwelcome visit, making a muddy mess of the festival's first day and canceling the second show Sunday. Here is Act II of my experience at Fuji.
ACT II: THE DESTRUCTION - OUT WITH A BANG
The rain wouldn't stop. And the mud, well, it only got deeper.
The Chili Peppers were trying to keep things going, playing a hilarious
version of the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" in front of their own "Stone Cold Bush," and the audience was digging the whole shtick. But Typhoon Rosie was
determined to wipe them and their audience off the face of the mountain.
I stood there last Saturday completely soaked, from head to toe, trying to get this all on film. Flea stood in front of his amp, listening for some sound. He was worried that the audience couldn't hear anything either. People on both sides of the stage shouted for the band to get off. A crew of 10 men struggled to keep one side of the stage's roof from collapsing.
This was the end of the show for the Chili Peppers and for everyone. After only 45 minutes, the band announced that the situation was getting too dangerous, before playing "Give It Away Now," and running, and I mean running off the stage. Immediately, announcements came over the PA asking people who were not camping on the mountain for the night to try to leave as quickly and safely as possible.
It was about 9:30 p.m. We trudged through the mud back to our tent -- past hordes of people scrambling to get out of there -- to survey the damage. It was still raining out, but the inside of our tent was dry. We decided to celebrate our good fortune by hitting some of the bars that set up tents on the mountain.
But the club tent was shut down -- turned into a refugee camp for tentless masses who had begun setting up camp there mid-afternoon. So, we wandered in the rain. People who were not holed up in their tents looked for
something to eat, something to drink, or both. Some kids, who appeared to have given up, were laying their sleeping bags on the ground in the cold, soaking rain. We talked to the people at club Milk, who still seemed happy to be there even though there were few people out making the rounds of the clubs. There is a Japanese phrase: shikata ga nai. It means "there is nothing that can be done," and this was the attitude of most of the people at the Fuji Rock Festival. Sure, everyone's hopes for the concert of the summer were dashed, and now we were preparing to spend a cold night in windy, muddy rain, but "there is nothing that can be done."
DREAMING OF 'WOODSTOCK'
We went to another bar on the mountain and bought a bottle of bourbon, and
retired to our tent to drink ourselves to sleep.
The rain and wind pounded our tent at regular intervals throughout the
night. We slept in soggy sleeping bags, praying against hope that Sunday morning will bring clear skies and drying warmth. Music from the clubs played throughout the night. I dreamt of Joni Mitchell singing "Woodstock." We are roused at 8:45 a.m. by a friendly Japanese voice from outside the tent.
"Anyone in there? Did you hear the announcement over the loudspeaker?
There was a lot of damage yesterday, and so the concert has been canceled today."
A DISASTER AREA
We got up to survey the situation, and suddenly everything made sense. Of
course the concert was canceled. The place was a disaster area. People were walking around in a daze. The entire area around the main stage was four inches of mud. Littering the area were the usual assortment of paper plates and cups and plastic silverware, but also shoes, clothing, discarded sleeping bags and tents. The stage itself was being dismantled. During the evening, the Levi's people had opened up the hospitality area to anyone who wanted to stay there, giving clean dry T-shirts to over 400 people who were crashed out on the floor.
People were disappointed, but not distraught. Typhoon Rosie proved to
be bigger than the Fuji Rock Festival, and the attitude among the people in attendance that morning suggested that although the weather was starting
to clear up, and there were patches of blue sky, no one seemed anxious to try to stage day two of the festival. Among the bands that would not perform: Prodigy, Green Day, Beck, Massive Attack, Mad Professor, The Seahorses, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Squarepusher and Weezer.
Caked in mud, we proceeded slowly down the mountain by bus and train,
reaching central Tokyo by mid-afternoon, only a little more than a day after we had departed.
The rain eventually stopped. But the remnants of my time hanging with the bands and listening to them rock through the wind and downpour at the majestic foot of Mt. Fuji will probably never go away.
At least, I hope not.