Twenty thousand people on a park, jostling and moving together, swaying and gyrating to music is proof of the sociability of the human species. I am less sociable than most and sometimes a crowd like this is too much. But when Michael Franti is in the crowd you want to be part of it. Hands reach out to touch him. To steal a morsel of his sweat. I wanna see you jumping. And they jump. I wanna see your hands in the air and they raise and pump them. Anything you say and we will do it. His ropey hair hurls around his head, while his strides large and gazelle-like, see him leap across the stage. Barefoot. Real Freo Type. His shirt claims he loves Perth but you know he is really only talking Fremantle.
Under foot the grass is trampled flat. In front of the stage the dedicated fans push forward. To feel the bass. To feel the rhythm through their skin, not just their ears. You want your innards to vibrate. The earth shakes with the drum beat. Back on the rise the grass is spotted red with the cardboard seats like pizza boxes. Tents hug the perimeter no-climb fencing with their generic signs: Bar, food, toilets, ATM, tickets, First aid, recycling, water. Lines of people snake their way to buy a ticket to buy a drink. Little sachets of wine to be sucked on baby-like through a straw. But why leave the music? It is the music you are here for.
On a constructed platform for the viewing pleasure of the disabled, me and my eight year old are parked. It is a logistical nightmare to get off the platform. It requires asking half a dozen other wheelchair bound people and their carers to move them and then risk losing your space. Queen to Bishop. So we don’t go. Don’t worry I have come armed with a box of Shapes, a packet of peanuts, a water bottle. We are in for the long haul. This is festival survival.
Over the mosh pit crowd we have a clear view to the stage. When Bob Dylan comes on he is small. He has a cream wide brimmed hat. He faces side on playing the keyboard. Jasper says he can’t see his face. Neither can I. Nor the remaining thousands behind. And we are so close compared to most. There is no projection of him on the screens. We look back to the sea of people. Ones outside the perimeter too, up on the hill in front of the school tennis courts, take in the sound if not the sight for free. But Bob is moving. There is energy in his swagger. The music is still his, delivered by him, possessed of his spirit, even if his voice can no longer deliver. Jasper has been drip fed Bob Dylan but the music is unfamiliar to him, the voice unrecognizable, as the man his father claims is the greatest, croaks through his songs. Jasper’s lids grow heavy. Next thing he is asleep. Mouth agape. As a hard rain is going fall. I cover him a shawl and he could be anyway.
A woman older than me, the carer for her disabled and non speaking husband, starts booing Bob as he sings. Boo Boo she goes right beside my ear. He can’t hear you I say, but I can. Please don’t boo. It’s a travesty that he’s singing like that, she says. Like she believes he has the power to change the old, aching state of his voice. Maybe this is the best he can do. She takes her husband and leaves. Disappointed. How will they feel about Bob when they get home. Trash their collection? Will he no longer be a hero of the mute man?
It is mellow. The crowd wants more. Keeps praying he will look their way. Really look at them. Maybe say something too. How wild would they go if he said Hello Fremantle? In the end he glimpses up only a few times. But when he does he seems happy to have seen us.
Grace Jones couldn’t be more opposite. You imagine her wishing to be devoured by the crowd of eyes. She wants you to see her all. Even the bits you’d rather not. She has a body of which to be proud and proud she is. In fish nets and a velvet corset she totters on heels. She nearly falls, swears and then makes fun of herself and her crew that she tortures. In her band is one of her sons and I wonder if he finds her antics excruciating. She is the original show girl able to effortlessly hula hoop through an entire song, proving her fitness. She knows how to make the audience adore her and she willingly gives them want they want. It is all artifice beautifully agreed to by both parties. Her severely short Afro and her sweat, every crevice and curve filmed and blown large on the screens beside the stage show her, transvestite-like and viper, trawling the stage like a street walker.The crowd both her pimp and her john. Pull up to the bumpa baby. Jasper is awake again and agog at her presence. He’s not sure if he likes her but he can’t take his eyes off her. Mesmorised.
We, the crowd, pour out like cattle. Slow moving through the narrow exit gates, churning sand beneath our feet. The Blind Boys are still playing and the crowd in the Big Top still hooping and hollering their love. Eight hours, nearly the equivalent of a soon to do plane journey to Hawaii, has passed. Not so long to sit and ponder perhaps. But stuffy plane air, not outdoors under moonlight with whiffs of spliffs, and clouds less entertaining than Grace on the Park.