Tent. Check. Lamp for tent. Check. Train tickets. Check. Passport. Check. Hellfest here I fucking come!
Thursday morning and I’m going through security at Kings Cross Euro star station with my mates and fellow bar staff of the Crobar and Hobgoblin, Olivia and Shane. In our eyes you can tell we are all mentally going through everything we have on us wandering if we might be carrying any left over’s of anything that might get us in trouble. Check.
Once on the Euro star, Shane intersperses dying slowly with chucking up a lot for pretty much the whole journey to Lille. Olivia and I on the hand chat, drink and piss about for pretty much the whole journey to Lille! Hung over and exhausted or not, we are soldiers to the cause!
Another train from Lille to Nantes, and although we are fading we continue forward, on yet another train from Nantes to Clisson, we are really heading for the back of beyonds now. After our final mode of transport, a shuttle bus laid on from Clisson train station to the site, our journey is done and in front of us are hundreds of metal heads carrying crates of booze and tents and behind them….Hellfest . Being guarded by security walking along the perimeters with big scary muzzled dogs. Damn, note to self, don’t fuck off the security. French police do not fuck about, and security are people so bad not even the police will hire them!
After meeting up with Talita and getting our passes, we find a spot to pitch our tents and then I’m off to the backstage to start work. This weekend I will be assisting one of Europe’s biggest names in Backstage crew work and his team. He has worked with everyone who’s anyone including on the recent Metallica tour. This is going to look shit hot on the ol’ C.V. If I don’t fuck it up that is.
The back stage area is vast. There is a field behind the two main stages and one of the tents. Behind that is a building, which is split in to two halls. One for artists, one for bigger artists. Between the two is the VIP bar and restaurant. Outside of that round the front is the office where all the passes are and across from that is the headliner area. A collection of porta-cabins and a marquee linked with a decked area furnished with wicker armchairs, leatherette sofas, plants and coffee tables all accented by bloody candles all over the shop. Parked outside the front of this, next to the round the clock security is a massive truck filled to the brim with food and drinks supplies from the many riders. The riders are books. Like as in big fucking hardbacks.
Too soon I realise what I’ve signed up for. Myself and friends Talita and Rachel are working with the headline acts. Both of them have done this before so pretty much know the score but for me this is all very new and very odd.
First bands on the agenda, Motley Crue. Heaven and Hell, Papa Roach and WASP. I am designated wardrobe assistant to Motley Crue and Talita and Rachel have the others. The woman I am assisting is Beth, who runs the behind the scenes show for Crue. She has been in the game for around 20 years working for bands like Rolling Stones. She is very L.A and completely adorable to us ‘girls’. And so the madness begins. We are ticking off produce from the rider like specific vodkas and whiskys, fruit platters need to be made up, food cooked and laid out just so, specific brands of condiments. This is just for crew. It’s a whole other ball game when the crew are fed and watered. For the band it’s the same plus lots of room temperature Evian water. And then some….
Right, lets see what we have here. The marquee is mainly for Tommy, who likes to chill out and listen to music after his gig. This needs to be entirely draped in swathes of luxurious velvet, silk and chiffon to resemble a harem. Nikki Sixx on the other hand prefers a moody pirate theme to his porta cabin come dressing room. Further swathes of velvet, brocade and silk are draped along with printed skull and cross bones fabric. Lots of black and dark reds. All this draping malarkey takes up approximately 7 bloody hours stretched over two of my working days. By the time we finish up on Thursday it is early Friday morning and I’m slightly shell shocked at the level of work that goes in to the back stage area. The staff to these bands run around all over the shop like headless chickens, desperate not to fuck up and lose their jobs I guess, and get a mighty bollocking from the prima donna artists they work for.
Not naming names but one of the bands that headlined that weekend refused to play until they had a particular bottle of red wine. This was at a time when everything was shut, Clisson is in the middle of no where. Fortunately after much head scratching, one of our French co-workers called their sister who was convinced to go to the closed restaurant where they were work, check for the wine and buy it at the full wack of135 Euro. No one lost their job and the band went on stage as scheduled without the audience being any the wiser.
Although the bands are getting paid, the headliners quite a generous amount I would imagine, and they have fields of fans waiting to see them play and chanting their names, they just couldn’t possibly be expected to go and perform to the best of their ability without smooth not crunchy peanut butter, this vodka over that vodka, lemons not cut up but ready with chopping board and knife. Right?
I’m being slightly naive I realise. Most these guys have been on the road for near on a year, few days off, mostly stuck in a tour bus when they do get a day off. For the brief hour that they actually ending up spending in these porta-cabins before they go on stage it must become incredibly tedious, one looking exactly the same as the last one, and the next one. And that hour being the one in which they need to syke themselves up for a massive show, get in the zone, find that head space blah blah blah. Don’t spose a bare porta-cabin is going to help much eh. And then at the end of the day, they are paying their staff very well for this service. These minions are big players in their own rights, on big wages, themselves living like rock stars.
I guess my end feeling on this massive culture shock though is this, I could never do the job of backstage dresser or whatever the job title is as a full time career. Hell no. Think I’ll stick to dipping my toes in once a year at Hellfest. Although by the end of day 2, Friday, I will be ready to pack the whole thing in.