Fuji Rock positivity

Red Hot Chilli Pipers on the Green Stage | Mark Thompson photos

Day One proper dawned sunny and breezy, the dampness on the grass the only indication of the previous night’s rain. The weather forecast for the weekend leans toward the positive, but everyone knows what that’s worth. Still, positivity is what the festival is about. There were long lines from the camp ground to get across the bridge to the festival entrance, and owing to the unfortunate fact that the bridge is the main conduit between the festival and the Prince Hotel, it was very slow going, but no one cut the line, no one complained.

Those killers in kilts, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers expanded on their pre-festival set with even more positivity, running through their repertoire of big, emotive rock covers that, in fact, tended to center on positivity (“This Is Me,” “Don’t Stop Believin’”), and played for a full hour, which is not always the case for the festival’s opening act. But this is exactly the mood you want people to be in at the start of three-day bacchanalia — pumped and ready for anything. The field was packed and rocking, totally happy with familiar songs from an unfamiliar band that counts on its novelty element — three bagpipers — to get people interested. With this crowd, you put 2 Queen songs in your set and you’ve got friends for life. Nothing new or startling. Just giving people what they want at 11 in the morning.

Piping it in

AND THEY’RE OFF | Mark Thompson photos

The 2019 Fuji Rock Festival officially kicked off at 8 p.m. on Thursday night with the big fireworks display. Up until that point it was the usual fare: bon odori followed by a lottery drawing. The folks on hand could attend for free, because that’s the way Fuji rolls on the night before the actual festival starts. It’s supposed to be a celebration in appreciation of the local folks, but over the years it’s turned into something much different. It’s essentially a show of commitment by the Fuji Faithful, those who show up year after year regardless of the headliners or the weather. And this year, the faithful showed up in force. By the time the fireworks started, you could hardly move.

Part of the problem, if you can call it that, was that people to the north of the main platform were exercising their right to sit, in camp chairs, a situation that’s becoming increasingly dense during the festival, but was practically unheard of during the prefest party in the past. Consequently, the line around the food court moved at a snail’s pace. At least people stood up when the fireworks went off.

Of course, everybody moved over to the Red Marquee when the first of the evening’s live acts, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, did their half hour set. The band, which is essentially an earnest cover band with bagpipers for novelty effect, captivated the audience completely. All bands who deign to play the opening slot at the prefest party are undeniable hits, because those who show up are raring to go; ready to party, and probably drunk enough to make good on that claim. Realistically, it was almost impossible to get even into the tent, the place was so packed. The repertoire was predictable: Journey, Queen, Deep Purple riffs. But with bagpipes substituting for classic guitar lines, how could anyone resist?

And then it finally started raining, though no one seemed to mind, and not just because the majority of punters were inside the tent. “Don’t Stop Believing” and “We Will Rock You” are pretty bullet proof songs, even on bagpipes. Or maybe I should say water proof?

It promises to be a great weekend.