“Suddenly you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon”
– From Afterimage by Rush
Getting “over” Roadburn took quite some time – I’d originally planned to write and post this in the first couple of days after getting home monday, but as things would have it, it took quite a bit longer, and ended up mutating in a way that I had to break it up into two parts – so here is the first part, the one that actually pertains to the immediate Roadburn 2016 experience, and I’ll post the part of what actually got started and/or crystalized with regards to this very site, at a later time.
Dazed and quite possibly confused after one of the greatest weekends I’ve ever had, I found myself at the airport near Amsterdam, standing in line waiting for the security check. Everything was a bit hazy – mind, not in that post-alcohol stupor, but more in the kind of “what exactly just happened” haze. At the front of my mind was a single, sad thought – knowing with absolute certainty, that I won’t be able to return in 2017. Hold that thought – I needed all my mental faculties to get through that security-thing. I remember thinking, when that stern security-guy told me to first take off my hoodie (official Roadburn one – not happy to be more than inches away from that one…) and then afterwards to peel off my boots (both apparantly had to be x-rayed. presumably because of some uncanny, imagined threat, or, simply because – apparantly both survived the experience), that yup, we have definitely come to fear fear itself, and it has crippled most everything.
So, no Roadburn for me next year – but if one thing is for certain, beside death and taxes, it’s that this would not be the last time in Tilburg during this magic week of April. And next time I get there, this very site will be of a status that will allow me to be comfortable asking for press-accreditation (but that’s another story – left for the second part of this tale).
During the short, 1 hour flight to Copenhagen, most of what I had experienced during my stay went crashing through my head, and I must say I’m still in awe with regards to the physical manifestation of the festival. Everything I experienced went more or less without a glitch, bands went on at the scheduled time, queues at toilets, token-machines, food-stands, the bars were definitely manageable, security-personel were friendly and accomodating – even when telling the woman next to me at the Diamanda Galas Q&A not to film. The whole atmosphere oozed of calm and determined professionalism. Huge kudos for this. I know some people talked about very long queues, especially at Het Patronaat, and I did give up trying to get into the Misþyrming show Thursday on this account – but with just a small amount of planning and prioritizing, I got to see everything else I wanted to, and didn’t miss more than 5 minutes off a couple of sets. And the sound at most sets I attended (say 90-95%) was from good to great, which I find quite an accomplishment, given the huge variety of musical expression and genre. Plus, it was nice to see so much space reserved for band-merch – not every festival is so accomodating with regards to what is and will be a significant part of any band’s economy.
But the one thing that sets Roadburn apart from probably most other festivals is of course the vibe, the feel, the atmosphere, and the unspoken cameraderie. Which is what is so terribly hard to wake up and somehow no longer be a part of. So, I’ve been at home for a couple of weeks now, trying to do the impossible, trying to shake off Roadburn, knowing in a sort of offhand way the futility of the task. Knowing deep in my bones, there is really no going back, I’ve been transformed by the experience. Not fully transformed, mind, but rather put on a tranformative path which leads to – well, I actually don’t really know what, cannot fathom the end-state.
Here I sit, grasping at straws, squinting, trying to envision the path needed to move on, trying to envision what it is, actually, I will be moving towards, at some point ending up with the recognition that this end-state, the exact path even, really is and should be secondary – what matters will be the journey, and what matters even more will be simply starting the journey. It’s like having been partially blind for 50 years, and suddenly being able to see somewhat clearly. Like having receptors put in place that wasn’t there before, opening up a whole new way of experiencing.
Which of course brings me back to Roadburn being so much more than a mere, simple music festival. Roadburn is, as was mentioned more than once to me during the festival, a home away from home for artists as well as audience. But it’s also a state of mind. It’s the sacred halls of art aspiring to be more than simple entertainment, to offer more than simple co-opted, cheap survival, but instead be willing to suck the lifeforce from the universe and spit it out in diverse, multi-colored, multi-faceted means of existence. It’s a place where it is completely ok to let your emotions take over and give them free rein, to laugh, to exhilerate, to cry, to be near to exploding with joy – to do all the things freely, that normally gets you some kind of ridicule. It’s love. It’s hate. It’s light. It’s darkness. It’s a multi-cosmos, confined to a small part of a Dutch city, but spreading across lightyears.
All the while I was there, I knew in my heart there was a simple word or expression that fully explained what I was feeling, experiencing, what was pouring through everything Roadburn-related. So now, while browsing YouTube for just a vague afterglow of the experience it finally dawned upon me: It’s reverence – pure and simple.
And at this point it would be prudent to send out massive thanks, both to my family – my wife and companion Katja and my 3 kids – for making this happen, for gifting me the ticket and allowing this confused 50 year old to experience something of this calibre, but also to Walter Hoeijmakers and the incredible team at Roadburn for creating the whole thing out of what could seem to be simply the raw-materials of the cosmos, and for keeping the vision and the spirit alive for all these years. I’m indebted to these people, and hope dearly I’ll be able to repay at least in part along the way.