Roehampton put on a small music festival at the beginning of May. It was called Homegrown, an event meant to support local artists. Chris and Sybil got free tickets from their boss Angry Ron. In actuality, Angry Ron had gotten two free tickets for himself and a guest and he had given them both away. The festival organizers had likely meant the tickets as a way to get Angry Ron interested in some local artists, the end result being record deals for some of the acts. It was a great plan in theory. Unfortunately, Angry Ron hated crowds and, generally, people more than almost anything in the world. And he hated a lot of things. So Sybil and Chris went together instead.
The festival was held on the island just off the east side of the city. It was a mere forty minute ferry trip into Lake Roehampton. It was also raining. Sybil and Chris sat on the deck, partially under an overhang, in their matching dollar store rain ponchos. They were turquoise and had cacti printed all over them. Sybil wasn’t sure if it was meant to be ironic, having desert plants printed on an article of clothing meant specifically for the rain, but she didn’t find it particularly amusing, especially while she could feel the cold rainwater seeping into her canvas shoes. The festival was rain or shine and it was beginning to look as if it would never shine ever again.
“In retrospect, Vans may have been a bad call,” she remarked to Chris, who looked absolutely miserable. The rain on its own was bad enough, but it was something else entirely to be stuck on a ferry in the middle of a lake while in the midst of a torrential downpour. It was choppy to say the least. Chris wasn’t feeling especially well and Sybil was more than a little concerned that he would throw up at any moment. At least they were both mostly waterproof. Although, she didn’t like the idea of his vomit rolling around on the deck while they were tossed about the lake like world-weary sailors about to be shipwrecked for all eternity.
“All of this was a bad idea,” Chris returned darkly. “We’re going to die on this boat. It’s going to capsize and we’ll all drown, like the poor people on the Titanic. There was room on that goddamn door.”
“We’re not that far from the shore,” Sybil said dryly, rolling her eyes. “And besides, it’s not like you’ll instantly drown the minute you hit water.”
“Oh good, it’ll be long and drawn out,” Chris retorted sarcastically. “Just what every drowning needs; to be longer.”
“You’re not going to drown,” Sybil told him again, being more direct. Clearly rational reasoning wasn’t going to work.
“I’ll probably get eaten by a whale instead,” he continued, grumbling. Sybil didn’t bother pointing out that there were no whales where they were and that, aside from that fact, it would be extremely unlikely for a whale to eat either of them anyway. It was a losing battle. Instead, she let him fester in nausea and resentment until they docked and left the ferry.
As they followed the crowds of people moving toward the festival park, it became increasingly clear that the organizers had not been expecting quite as much rain. Some rain might’ve been fine, but the amount of rain they had gotten had made everything sodden and muddy. Sybil valiantly attempted to save her shoes from too much mud for a brief ten minutes. Then she gave up entirely and just let it happen. The entire ground was mud. There wasn’t a solid, dry spot anywhere. She was at least grateful for her rain poncho, no matter how much the pattern irked her. She was wearing a white shirt; it would’ve been disastrous in mere moments.
There were four stages set up on the island. Two of them, the main stages, were side by side. While one band or performer played on one stage, the other one would be set up for the next. It was incredibly efficient. There was a smaller stage about a ten-minute walk away, next to several hot dog carts and all of the port-a-potties, and an even smaller tent that housed all of the EDM acts. Sybil and Chris avoided that one, despite the fact that it was likely the driest. They spent most of the time at the main stages where the larger and more well-known artists were playing. Amongst them was Tom, the weepy folk singer. He looked at home onstage in the pouring rain. If anything, it really added to his aesthetic. “Here Come the Harpoon Again” was particularly powerful played in the rain.
“At least the rain will mask everybody’s tears,” Chris commented halfway through Tom’s set. “Jesus, I’d forgotten how sad this song is. Now I kind of hope the ferry does capsize on the way back and the whales eat the lot of us. We deserve it.”
“Are you suggesting that it would be good for the whales to take their revenge on mankind and eat drunk festival-goers?” Sybil asked dubiously.
“Yes,” Chris answered bluntly. “Think of all the harpooning, Sybil. How would you feel if someone harpooned one of your loved ones?”
“Well, I doubt I’d want to eat their killer in revenge,” she returned shrewdly.
“You say that now, but only because it hasn’t happened yet,” Chris told her with a sage nod of his head. Sybil pushed him, but he managed to stay upright. He did lose his shoe to the mud though, and then had to spend the rest of Tom’s set trying to dig it out. It was very satisfying.
At the end of the night, they traipsed back to the ferry with the rest of the crowd, thoroughly soaked and cold. They were both hungry and tired and irritable. It was a bad combination. The rain had lessened significantly, so the water was stiller than it had been on the way to the island, but it was still raining. Neither of them spoke the entire trip back to the city or during the subway ride after that. The other passengers on the train car gave them a wide berth. It made sense; there was a literal puddle forming at Sybil’s feet.
When they got back to Chris’ apartment, they shucked off their rain ponchos, changed out of their wet clothes, and Sybil mourned the state of her shoes. In the meantime, Chris made a pot of Kraft Dinner. He put all of it into two bowls and they ate it perched on the edge of the bathtub, their feet in a foot of warm water, partially to warm them up and partially to clean off the mud. They heard terrible guitar from the downstairs apartment thirty minutes later. Sybil went to bed in Chris’ double bed feeling irritated and still a little cold, but not nearly as hungry.
It was still raining the next day, but significantly less so. Sybil had learned her lesson from the day before and had worn floral, combat boot styled rain boots that she’d borrowed from Tallulah. Chris was still a little unwell on the ferry, but not nearly as bad. It was gearing up to be a much better day than the one before. But then, when they turned up to the main stages, they discovered that Skankhole, the absolutely abysmal band Oscar played with, was filling in for another band that had had to drop out last minute. Honestly, it would’ve been better if the organizers had left the slot empty. Skankhole was not good. Sybil had been told that they weren’t good, but she didn’t really believe they were as bad as everybody had said until she had to endure it herself.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Chris said partway through the set. Sybil had been gritting her teeth against the noise for the past fifteen minutes.
“Oh, it’s so horrible,” she agreed. “So very, very horrible. This is torture. How can they not hear this themselves? Is this a Hoobastank cover?”
“Yes,” Chris answered flatly. “It’s a bold risk and it has not paid off. The drummer’s alright. He’s actually the best part. If we could only hear him, this would be roughly eight billion times better.”
He wasn’t wrong, which was nice for Oscar. Oscar looked like he wanted to die, like he was waiting for the rain to wash them all into the lake where the nonexistent whales could eat them all in revenge. And Sybil kind of wanted that to happen for him. She presumed it would be sweet, sweet relief.
At the end of Skankhole’s set, which was met with some very tepid applause, the band left the stage looking crestfallen. Instead of following backstage, Oscar climbed over the edge of the stage and pushed his way into the crowd. People moved aside from him, as if his musical affiliation with the worst band at the festival was contagious, like some kind of musical leprosy. Sybil moved to meet up with him before he could get too far, dragging Chris along behind her. Chris, as per usual, was content to just follow along. Perhaps it was less contentment so much as it was apathy. He cared very little about most things, the revenge of whales excluded apparently.
“Your set was…,” Sybil said to Oscar once they’d reached him. Oscar looked at her in a mixture of expectancy and dejection. Sybil struggled to find a way to say what she wanted in a nice or even slightly positive manner.
“God awful,” Chris concluded before she had come up with something. Oscar sighed deeply.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Trent, the lead singer, was hoping this would be the band’s big break.”
“It wasn’t,” Chris assured him.
“No,” Oscar continued to agree. “I told him that too, but he didn’t listen to me. He thinks I’m jealous or some shit because I’m not actually a permanent part of the band.”
When Sybil and Chris looked surprised, he continued.
“I’m just filling in because their old drummer joined the navy,” he explained. “It’s for the best. He had terrible rhythm. Fortunately, I think the navy actually spends less time singing and dancing to ‘In the Navy’ than I imagine they do.”
“Probably,” Sybil nodded.
In the early evening, the three of them saw The Wicked Nuns perform. Iggy had told Sybil that she was not under any circumstances to miss their set. She claimed they were amazing. Sybil had to admit that they were quite good, especially after watching the entirety of Skankhole’s set. At one point, the bassist attempted to crowd-surf while still playing the bass. It did not go well. It was raining and his bass was still plugged into the amp. Plus, the neck of it smoked someone in the eye when he landed. Sybil assumed they were drunk. The drummer, Iggy’s favourite apparently, kept winking at people in the crowd. At least, that’s what Sybil assumed he was doing. Either that or he kept getting rain in his eyes, which was entirely plausible as well.
The day was closed by Rattlesnake. The band entered the stage in various glittery elements. The drummer was wearing a sequined vest without a shirt underneath, which Sybil found particularly bold because it was so chilly in the rain. Noel was the last to enter the stage in what appeared to be a magenta, metallic kaftan with accordion pleated sleeves. By the end of the first song, the crowd was captivated. He was also dripping wet. His eye makeup was running down his face. His hair was flattened to his head. And yet, despite all that, he was still the sexiest in the band. He was the sexiest at the festival. Sybil was amazed to find herself thinking that.
When Rattlesnake left the stage and the festival ended for the night, Sybil, Chris, and Oscar met up with Rattlesnake backstage instead of heading toward the ferry like everybody else. Oscar had a performers wristband so he could hang out in the performers section. Sybil and Chris were admitted solely on the merit of knowing Noel, who met them enthusiastically. In a few short minutes, they were being dragged off to the ferry to return to the city with Rattlesnake and The Wicked Nuns. One of The Wicked Nuns began passing around a hip flask full of gin. It was just the beginning to a wild evening.
To be continued…