The spirit endures
Let’s just jump into it. Best five things about Fuji Rock this year.
1)Spirit of Joe Strummer
If you look in the right places, the seeds of the Fuji Rock’s rebel forest were planted by the late great Joe Strummer, frontman of both the Clash and the Mescaleros. Strummer performed at the inaugural festival in 1997 and later in 1999. After his passing, a disused European ski gondola was decorated in his honor, pasted with song lyrics and correspondence and knick knacks. It sat nobly up on the hillside hosting famous guests like Primal Scream and others who sat inside and shared a smoke, safely out of rain. Harsh winter snows were unkind to this shrine, crushing it like a sardine can, and last year it was temporarily deposited in the parking lot.
Proudly, the Strummer shrine staged a return this year complete with wheels and plexiglass walls, becoming a sort of noble chariot which sat at the back of the Rookie Stage. Bob Gruen paid a visit at 1AM on the final night of the festival. Another Strummer inspiration is the hideout, Posh Tomato, which also features Joe Strummer Foundation logo behind the bar and donates 100% percent of earnings to Nepal aid. And there is the eternal Strummer campfire, here inside a tree made from mufflers tended to diligently by Jason Mayall.
Old Joe’s also doing brisk sales a the Ganban store, with both black and grey versions of the “Joe Strummer Foundation” tee shirt sold out. And finally, the Jim & Salam DJ tent is also a tribute to Strummer’s love of cumbria, world beats, and reggae. Jim West who manages the area noted that Strummer’s last recorded song was “Redemption Song”, which also happened to be both Bob Marley’s and Johnny Cash’s last recording. A pantheon of music greats if there ever was one.
2)Enduring spirit of Fujirockers
The downpour during Aphex Twin on Saturday left me utterly gutted and emotionally ruined. Everything I had was wet and muddy, and I was staying in the damn Prince Hotel! How was the average festival goer in the campground faring? I had heard that some had resorted to simply wearing rain gear with nothing, not even undies underneath. Given the dire conditions, you couldn’t blame the crowd if they simply packed up and went home. I was surprised then when on my way back to the festival at midnight on the access road, I saw the warm glow of the Red Marquee and a loud cheer went up for Mondo Grosso. Surely, what other crowd in the world could manage such a feat. The average concert goer surely deserves a hand for giving up their annual vacation leave and disposable income to endure the inhumanity of three days of rain and mud. The fact that they are able to do this and venture stage to stage to give each band a warm ovation is a tribute to their spirit and dedication.
3) Fish Eagle and Mountain
No, this aint another cool band that you may have missed on a remote out of the way stage but actually some of the local wildlife up in the hillside adjacent to White Stage. I saw a fish eagle earlier on Thursday hovering above the campsite trail. I happened to be walking with one of the Fuji Rock staff at the time and he helped me said their were similar sightings the week leading up to the festival. He also remarked that there were few birds despite this pristine mountain environment. This led me to remember an old deer hunter who told me old growth forests are akin to deserts as the lack of underbrush means there’s little place for squirrels and mice to hide, also little food for them to forage on. Where am I going, well big music festivals might be the same,— all headlining acts on big stages with no thought of nurturing a vibrant ecosystem where small, up-and-coming musicians can play. Fuji Rock makes it a point to support such artists, even if they don’t help the festival’s bottom line. .
4) Marcus King Band at Crystal Palace
He may not be the prettiest face in town but boy can he play the guitar and sing. At one point during the set he shouted out “soiee” which is a call to the hogs or something that southern people just blurt out. When he sang “Man You Didn’t Know” a tear came to my eye. Afterwards, he sat hunched in his chair with a genuine sense of appreciation as fans fist bumped him and shook his hand.
5) Elvin Bishop
I’ve been around a while and gosh darn it I have never seen a blues jam more enjoyable or better. Elvin did it in his own way, challenging his fellow musicians and not just strumming along. Along the way he created some beautiful music, and jammed with nearly a half-dozen acts over the weekend.