Since last we were at Fuji (last year) the organizers have built a new route that cuts a bit of time out of the trek from Gypsy Avalon to the Green Stage. They laid out a web of paths in the woods between the White Stage and Gypsy Avalon that connects to the boardwalk that takes people from the White Stage to the Green. In addition, the warren of paths is lined with small craft businesses and some odd “artwork,” which we won’t spoil by letting on what it is.
Last night’s splendid weather held up til this morning and even improved. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we woke up and while the temperature promises to be high, there’s a nice breeze coming in from the south. We also heard from a staffer that the typhoon has “veered off,” so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Apparently, tomorrow and Sunday are sold out, but there are still tickets available for today, and the crowds going through the main gate were lighter than we’ve noticed in the past. So for today, at least, we don’t have to worry about mud but rather dust.
It’s been perfect weather so far. Cool and clear, with a full moon marking Fuji Rock’s 20th year at Naeba. We walked the half mile to the entrance and the place was already hopping for the prefest party, which is open to everyone for free. We must have missed the bon odori dance, but the raffle was happening (some kid from Canada won a towel and some cash and the MCs were making fun of his lack of Japanese, but in a good natured way). The fireworks went off as scheduled at 8 p.m., and for once you could chart their definitions in the sky; no obscuring mist or clouds.
Koichi Hanafusa, one of the major domos of the festival, made his usual opening remarks at the Red Marquee, noting the 20th anniversary and making a special note of the international flavor of the festival, greeting the assembled crowd in about ten different languages. Of course, that’s part of Fuji’s appeal, which may be increasingly rara, even in Japan, where diversity isn’t quite as celebrated as it might be, though, compared to the U.S. at the moment, it’s doing better than could be expected. In any case, Fuji’s ecumenical spirit is celebrated most fervently at the prefest blowout, where groups who deign to play for free get to strut their stuff in front of the most receptive crowd of the weekend–the prefest punters, who get in for free, but are already itching for great music. The adrenalin is already present.
Interactivo, the band that opened the festival, is from Cuba, which is as ecumenical as they come. They started with a funky fusion instrumental and quickly devolved into salsa sensationalism. The crowd loved every minute and danced their best latin moves. It was over in a quick 25 minutes, and we drifted out into the food court, enchanted by the moon and the easy, friendly vibe. It should be a great weekend, rain or not.
If you were at the festival, you probably heard it a dozen times from the stage. But we’ll say it again: You’re a beautiful audience and we love you. The dancers, the singers, the shouters, the moshers, the ravers, the groovers. You’re the greatest.
We pulled into Naeba through the tunnel expecting rain, since that’s what was forecast. Instead, we were met with overcast skies studded with patches of blue. A pleasant surprise, for sure, though, given the serendipity of nature, I wouldn’t want to venture on how long that will last.
As usual, the prefestival party, open to all for free, was packed. The Bon Odori event in the middle of the Oasis rocked the crowd, who didn’t seem that interested in the lottery (ticket stub numbers) that was conceived to make people interested. People were already interested. Fuji Rock is interesting by definition.
It’s mostly a matter of anticipation. Three days of nonstop partying and excellent music ahead of them, the crowd that shows up for the prefestival party wants to get ahead of everybody else. They probably expect too much. They probably laugh too much. They definitely drink too much. When the fireworks marking the official start of the festival take off at 8 pm, they go batshit (which isn’t surprising–the Japanese do fireworks better than anyone), thus making the spectacle that much more spectacular.
And, of course, they anticipate that prefest act that will transport them, which is natural to expect. Tonight there were various Japanese acts, all excellent and appreciated, but the main event was Doctor Prats, a Basque dance rock ensemble that fit the bill to a T.
Loyal Fujirock lieutenant Koichi Hanafusa came out before the band took the Red Marquee stage and gave a rather long-winded introduction, saying how the prefest party had become such a tradition that it had been memorialized in a book, no less, and then, of course, he had a photographer take a picture of the crowd, which was enormous and chomping at the bit. He introduced the band as being in the tradition of “revolutionary” Basque groups like Furgin Mugurizuka and Manu Chao, and in that regard Doctor Prats did not disappoint. For the next 30 minutes the crowd jumped and pumped to the organic breakbeats and clever stage choreography. They did exactly as they were supposed to do. They were the perfect audience, because they wanted to be. Undoubtedly, it was the best show Doctor Prats had ever done in their career so far. The prefest party guaranteed nothing less.
(Text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)
This is the 18th Fuji Rock we’ve attended, and we would have to admit the weather was never this good. Of course, there’s still one more day to go, and mountain weather is infamous for changing on a dime, but based on the quality of the clouds in the sky right now, it doesn’t seem likely. Even in the past when the weather was generally good, it usually rained at least once. So far, nothing.
The problem with that is the dust. Usually, the organizers are careful to spread water on the paths and in front of the stages to keep the dust down, but we haven’t seen anything like that yet. Then there’s also the danger of dehydration, and there are lots of announcements to drink enough liquids, which, of course, you have to pay for. We’ve already seen a few people being carried to the first aid stations.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not complaining, but sometimes a little squall is just the thing to break the heat. Besides, we want to try out our new rain coats.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that Keen shoes had a booth this year at the festival, just east of the Green Stage area. We always wear Keen hiking boots at the festival and they’ve never let us down, despite all the walking we do over the course of the festival. Even more interesting is that the booth offers shoes for rent…or maybe we should say they lend shoes, since they don’t charge you for their use. Sandals, too, though we tend to shy away from sandals because pebbles always find their way in. Of course, the purpose is to get you to like the shoes so that you’ll eventually buy a pair. We’re already sold.
For once, the rain in Tokyo didn’t intrude on Naeba. When we left the capital in the early afternoon it was pouring and rained most of the way up to Niigata Prefecture. As we climbed the winding roads up to the festival grounds, the rain became more intense, but as soon as we surmounted the hump it was dry–overcast, but dry.
The pre-festival party is free to everyone. It’s sort of a thank you gift to the locals, but a long time ago it just became an integral part of the festival. For some reason they cut the bon odori dance this year, opting instead for a raffle (tickets were given out at the entrance to anyone who passed through). It was sort of cheesy. It was also packed, as if the party had already started and everyone who was going to be here was already here.
The fireworks didn’t have to compete with the rain or mist this year. Though it was overcast, the hanabi came through clear, even if the emcees on the stage at the center of the Oasis seemed hard put to get the crowd excited. After all this time you could call them jaded. They were already settled into their festival faces, happy, slightly drunk, itching to be impressed.
Con Brio, the San Francisco soul-funk outfit was maybe the best Prefest opener I’ve seen here since Danko Jones more than 10 years ago, and for the same reason. The audience didn’t know them and that itch to be impressed was thoroughly scratched. Lead singer Ziek McCarter shimmied and slid across the stage as the six-piece backup churned a greasy soul stew that ust became more intense during the half hour they commanded the stage. Festival regular Koichi Hanafusa introduced them by trying to find out how many in the packed Red Marquee had been there for the first Fuji Rock 20 years ago. Not many, you can imagine, and hardly anyone cared. The great thing about Con Brio was that they made you appreciate the moment all the more. Screw those memories. Live for today and raise your hand.
Firestarter + flyboys @ Palace of Wonder (aka Field of Hell).
The current state of the former Orange Court. In the distance is the Cafe de Paris and an amusement area featuring buskers, a drum circle, and bowling alley.
While deadmau5 shook the trees around the Green Stage with chesthumping doofdoof, the DJs at Jim Vinyl Nasuim found a simpler way to make us dance.
The foundations of the Naeba Shokudo are shaken nightly after the Green Stage shuts down. And every night you are guaranteed a bands that have no problem getting up-close and personal with their fans. Aside from the keyboardist and drummer, every member of ska powerhouse The Man took a stroll through the crowd while playing. And they blew the roof off the mother.
Perfect festival weather. Check.
Morning exercise at Kodomo no Mori (Kid’s Forest).
No toil, no trouble
Not sure how mountains effect the movement of typhoons, so the storm that was threatening Honshu on Thursday didn’t concern me as far as how it would affect Fuji Rock 15. Driving up to Naeba, the clouds were dramatic but withholding. It wasn’t until we emerged from that last tunnel and entered Yuzawa town, where the festival is held, that we encountered rain. It was a very familiar feeling.
The pre-fest party was in full swing when we arrived, and packed with celebrants. The light drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of the bon odori revelers, and the fireworks exhibition that officially opens the proceedings could be seen clearly by all, though the humidity seemed to thicken the consistency of the accompanying smoke. On occasion the rain would intensify to a shower, and since the Red Marquee was the only shelter available within the limited space open for the party it was more crowded than it would have been normally–but “normal” is a pretty relative term for Fuji and weather. In any case, in dealing with food issues and meeting up with friends we hadn’t seen for a while, we missed the Districts, one of the groups who deigned to play the pre-fest party (for free, rumor has it), but we did catch the tail end of the second act, a lively blend of female idol-inspired kayokyoku and Moulin Rouge called Charanporantan, whose etymology I will have to study. The lead singer wielded a wine bottle throughout the set in solidarity with the party hearty crowd. The all-girl group’s theatrical flair extended beyond their sartorial extravagance. They were cute by design, as if to point up through contrast how musically fluid they could be. The lead singer, dressed like some Lewis Carroll character, had her stage patter down, saucy and yielding in turn.
The Circus of Horrors was mainly a taste of the vaudeville act that would be playing continually at the Palace of Wonder throughout the weekend, a sideshow presentation set to heavy metal. The whitefaced ringmaster in top hat did karaoke to headbanging back tracks while various unusual persons demonstrated their imperviousness to pain or some peculiar athletic skill, which wasn’t really so peculiar–juggling, moving multiple hula hoops, that sort of thing. The main theme seemed to be an old-fashioned disregard for political correctness: the barely clothed women strutted their stuff, there was a “simpleton” and a dwarf. Anything goes, I suppose.
The closer was the Chilean duo Perrosky, yet another, blues-based drums and guitar outfit and just what the doctor ordered for this party: loud, tough, a little sloppy, and totally heartfelt, delivering on the promise that the festival so desperately makes: you will be rocked, typhoons and drizzle be damned. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)