Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paris Food Coma Part 6 - Hellfest Begins.. It Rains A Lot.

One may assume that after a day like yesterday - spent travelling, eating, drinking, and avoiding high-risk women of the night – that I would be out cold and dead to the world for eight solid hours of well-deserved sleep the minute my head hit the pillow.

So you can imagine my surprise as I lie awake for three and a half hours before barely dozing into the kind of light and unsatisfying slumber that makes you question whether or not it actually just happened. A little over an hour later, I find myself wide awake. I contemplate opening a bottle of Champagne, but as I ready my glass the rarely heard voice of reason chimes in, suggesting that perhaps fresh air may be a better solution than getting drunk.

I take five deep breaths while struggling internally over what to do in this situation, finally arriving at the conclusion that slugging a few glasses of bubbly right now, at 6:30 in the morning, would accomplish nothing but to put me in a hurt locker before we even board our train to Hellfest five hours from now. A cleansing morning stroll it is then.

A mist hangs in the cool, morning air as I step back out in to the streets of Nantes, this time walking in the opposite direction from where we had gone last night. One thing that I have observed thus far about France is the scarcity of tattoos, but with so many people staying in the city attending Hellfest, I start to feel right at home again. After about an hour of rambling about, exhaustion and dehydration give way to hunger, which somehow materializes in the form of an insatiable craving for a Sausage McMuffin with Egg. I know this seems crazy, but at this very moment all I can think about is the comfort and nostalgia of America's Favorite Breakfast Sandwich. Nantes is a large city, right? There must be a friggin' McDonald’s somewhere, and I intend to find it, at any cost.

I am greeted with crushing disappointment after each corner I turn. I begin to feel like Sir Galahad in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, searching aimlessly for the "golden arch beacon." Of course, if I were to encounter the same scenario as Galahad in that film, I'm sure that Joel would play the role of Sir Lancelot, heroically "rescuing" me from the hordes of beautiful women who want nothing more than to please.

For whatever reason, I can taste the chewy English muffin, instant egg, melty cheese, and potentially burnt sausage, and I begin preparing a contract for my soul in order to make it a reality. I mumble to myself like a disgruntled insane person, unintelligible phrases like “what the fuck, why the fuck can’t I find a goddamn fucking English McFuck with the sausage and what not, in this day and age? Is that too much to ask? Holy shit.”

Looking back, I have no idea how long this madness lasted, but I do know that when I finally snap out of it, unsuccesful in my endeavour, I see that it is 9:10. I have worked my way back towards the hotel, and I arrive back at the room just as Joel is waking up. Rather than explain just how much I'd already been through this morning, I cheerfully suggest that breakfast would be nice. He concurs, and we set out, straight back to the area where my little “McBlackout” had occurred not long ago.

After meandering about for an hour and a half, all we are able to procure is another “Mega Detox” from Zoom Juice, due to the usual scenario of "every place you'd like to eat is closed." While seated in goofy, brightly colored plastic chairs enjoying our juice, we begin to notice random mosaics of classic Nintendo characters displayed throughout the city. Though I would personally trade all of these little bastards in for a Sausage McMuffin with Egg, I have to admit it that this is also nostalgic and comforting.

Substituting the Detoxe Juice for a greasy, unhealthy breakfast sandwich has actually put me in a much better mood, to the point where a sense of calm begins to settle in. We travel back towards the hotel and neighboring train station, in preparation for departure. My sense of calm is violently interrupted while attempting to get food from the hotel restaurant, by a bitchy little imp who informs me, in so many words that I don’t understand, that I’m certifiably insane if I think I’m going to "find anything to eat at this hour (11am)."

Boy, I wish I could see the look on the Imp's face as I select pre-made sandwiches from a train station food kiosk. I can't get any food? Please! These are the best goddamn sandwiches I have ever had. In reality, I am so hungry that they could have been filled with live praying mantises and razor blades, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed. According to Joel, however, the sandwiches were just as tasty for someone not currently worked up into a berserker-like rage

It is a fifteen-minute train ride from Nantes to Clisson, the small town that will serve as the venue for Hellfest. Once again, it pays to travel first class, as the rest of the train is packed with sweaty and loud Norwegian Viking/Magic-Users. Clisson is located smack-dab in the middle of Muscadet, a wine-growing region known for briny, quaffable whites that are perfect with oysters. As the train rockets by the vineyards, I mentally prepare myself for what lie ahead.

The train station at Clisson is a scene straight out of the Third Reich, with armed policeman and drug- sniffing dogs all over the place. Luckily, we stride past without being accosted, though a few unlucky festival attendees are dragged off into what appear to be interrogation cabins of some sort. What the show's promoters have promised to be a “highly efficient and readily available shuttle service to the show” turns out to be a “free-for-all fend-for-yourself circus.”

Each time one of the small and infrequent shuttle busses pulls in to the train station, it is immediately mobbed. Joel and I have learned by now that to travel in France, you must be aggressive, so we force our way in and push cash into the hand of the driver, who ushers us straight into the back seat of the shuttle. As the shuttle negotiates the narrow town roads, we observe many unfortunate people, loaded down with huge backpacks, who have decided to make the 30-minute slog on-foot.

Clisson is a small village of around 8000 people, and the spectacle of 80,000 Vikings, Magic-Users, Rogues, Druids, Battle-Orcs, and Drow Elves invading their space has caused the seemingly friendly townspeople to come out of their houses and watch us as if we are a parade. For more detailed info about the show, here is a link to the official Hellfest 2011 website.

When we reach the festival grounds and manage to secure our 3-day pass bracelets, the walk begins towards the main stages. I am reminded of how I don’t like being outdoors, nor do I enjoy festivals, or come to think of it, large crowds of people - so this should be interesting.

Of the 80,000 people in attendance from all over the world, at least 50% are camping here for all three nights, the thought of which makes me cringe and thank some god that I’m not among that group. As we enter Hellfest, it begins to rain, and in my usual unpreparedness for the elements, I have only worn a t-shirt. I make a beeline to one of the many merchandise vendors to purchase a hooded sweatshirt, in an effort to "blend in."

After selecting a hoodie depicting what would appear to be a rabid mountain lion and the logo for the band Atheist, I ask the man for an extra large. It is 35 euro, and when I offer my credit card he seems confused, but tries to run it anyway. As has been the case with our cards sans-gold chip, it doesn’t go through, and he hands me the receipt to prove it, for my records. I hand him a 50-euro note, he makes change, and tosses me the shirt. He thanks me kindly, and as I walk away I see he has given me back my change of 15 euro in addition to my original 50-euro bill.

I spend the rest of the trip claiming that Athiest has paid me to wear their merchandise, and that I’m their emissary to Europe, until Joel quizzes me about any of their actual songs to which I reply “I only know the B-sides.”

The festival is set up with two large “Main” stages side by side, where headliners alternate, surrounded by several different tents, each housing a stage.

While I investigate the food and beer situation, Joel rushes off to one of the tents to start his "show schedule." He has a much more strict and organized agenda than I do, which is very important with over 100 bands on the bill, so I’ll catch back up with him in a bit. After cashing in some euros for neon green Hellfest coins, I am able to barter with them for a pitcher of Kronenbourg lager, that I will consume without the aid of a cup.

While assessing the various breeds of metal chicks from all over Europe, I order up what vendors refer to as the “American Sandwich,” a cheeseburger sub topped with french fries, ketchup, and mayo. This would have been fine if the bun weren’t so tough and chewy, causing the mountain of ingredients to fall out onto the ground. I am unfazed, as I know there is much eating and drinking to be done if I’m going to be stuck out in the fucking rain all day. As I stare off into the distance, a man taps me on the shoulder and points out that I've been unknowingly pouring my pitcher of beer out into the grass. I thank the friendly brigand, and proceed to pour the rest of it down my throat and all over the front of myself.

The first band to play that really interests me is The Cult, scheduled to go on in about an hour and a half. After finishing my first pitcher of Kronenbourg, I negotiate the line of urinals, mostly overflowing already, causing many to piss in the bushes. My initial thought is “I’m getting too old for this,” followed shortly after by “wait, after 80,000 people have been urinating in the soil for 3-4 days straight, I wonder what the 2012 Muscadet will taste like..”

I manage the locate the “Metal Coroner Tent,” an out of the way area where there are no bands playing, and a sign that says “Hell Bar.” Currently, there are only a handful of people around, not to mention I am able to scare myself up a Guinness and a bench to sit and enjoy it on. It becomes apparent to me that this is going to be a very long day.

Joel joins me at my bench twenty minutes later, and fills me in on what I have missed so far. Joel is a diehard metal fan, and he knows almost every single band involved in the festival. He has been forced to make many difficult decisions on which ones to see, as several overlap with each other on the schedule. I also love metal, but am familiar with far fewer bands, so for me the choice of who to see and when is an easy one. After a few more beers, I’m not feeling so cold from being rained on anymore. I load up my hands with three more Guinness, to drink on the trudge back towards the main stage.

It’s time for more food, and I stumble upon the “Argentinean” stall, grilling up what appears to be a lot of delicious meat. I start with a sausage sandwich with chimichurri sauce, which is quite tasty - definitely a “Rainbow in the Dark” amidst all of the other shitty festival food.

While bartering with neon coins for another pitcher of Kronenbourg at the bar, a drunken swede strikes up conversation with me, telling me how much he loves me and how amazing I am. Each time he demonstrates this with a hug, I spill beer, causing me to slowly back away. In hindsight, I could have recommended the IKEA hotel to him, back in North Tours...

For the next five hours I see several bands and drink a lot of cheap beer.

My personal highlights, and lowlights, include:

The Cult:

They're getting old, but are still very, very good live. An extra added bonus comes during the first chords of “She Sells Sanctuary,” as the rain clouds parted and the sun came out from behind the stage. You certainly can’t plan for moments as amazing as this.


Black Sabbath-esque southern metal band made up of a former Pantera guys, including Phil Anselmo on vocals. I have to admit, they sucked, and played forever, yammering on in English about self-indulgent shit that no one in the audience neither understood nor cared about.


An experimental metal band from Sweden, brutal and mind-blowing, especially when vocalist Jens Kidman refers to the crowd as “French, frog-eating faggots.”

Morbid Angel:

Classic Florida death metal, in all of its glory. Around this point in the evening we notice many festival goers to be getting really, really fucked up - to the point where one would question whether they were just wasted or actually have a disability of sorts”

Iggy Pop & The Stooges

Appearing with the Stooges, I personally find it mind-boggling that he is 1,000,000 years old but still runs around screaming “fuck” at the top of his lungs. At one point, he berates the stagehands to give him a “fucking bottled water,” and when he receives it, takes a sip, throws it out in to the crowd, and begins complaining that he has “no fucking bottled water.”

Rob Zombie

I have to be honest; I was looking forward to this show. Apparently, he is even bigger in Europe than in the US, and even among the “serious metalheads.” Unfortunately, he seemed to be drunk, out of breath, off-key, and trying to invoke some kind of George Clinton-esque party vibe that the non-English-speaking crowd was completely confused over. Sure, we brought out naked goth-chicks at one point during “Living Dead Girl,” but even that couldn’t save him in my eyes. We left halfway through his set.

After being outside all day in the rain, eating crappy food and drinking crappy beer, I was ready to get the Hell out of there as soon as possible. This is when we first encountered what was easily the most poorly planned out element of Hellfest – the Exodus.

As it is now 1:00 am, the town is completely dark and as pockets of people trying to leave begin to form, it is not readily apparent that anyone is one the way to get us. After about ten minutes, a shuttle appears, quickly fills up, and speeds off into the darkness. After twenty minutes, we have witnessed two cabs, and have been unsuccessful in commandeering either. After forty minutes we manage to sneak up the road with two people we have just met, and cut a cab off before it reaches the fray. The driver agrees to bring us all back to Nantes, which is music to my ears, and for the next thirty minutes some Irish girl chats my ear off, which is not so musical.

When we finally arrive back at the hotel, I open a bottle of 2002 Rene Geoffroy Brut, pour a glass for Joel, and pass right out. When I wake up a few hours later, mind already plotting out the day ahead, I think back to Hellfest day one, and how bad of a performance that Rob Zombie gave. I remember his coming out and complaining about being stuck backstage for twelve hours, and how he didn’t know if he wanted to play now, and... all of this after we have been out in the rain for twelve hours. The fact that he had the nerve to suck so badly after all of that really pisses me off...

Time for at least one more hour of sleep before day seven begins..


  1. Reading your blog today reminds me of reading David Sedaris's columns in the New York Press in the 90's -- the best is yet to come. Be well!

  2. Comparing anything I've done to anything David Sedaris has done is about the best compliment I could ever hope to get. Thanks Sandra!

  3. I can't wait to hear about Opeth, been listening to Blackwater Park and Deliverance constantly!