A Rumpeled West Fest

How often does one have the chance to give a fool a ride back to his house sit in Lower Haight? Before my eyes, in the dark of a sliver moon night in late October, stood Rumpel the Aussie fool. I couldn’t stop staring at his vest, all full of ridiculous shiny things that idiots like me can’t help but look at. I tried to avoid the man’s pointy shoes and the mouse nose that forced Greg Mooney to ask “is that nose your real nose?” Rumpel dodged the answer, saying he has 300 noses, and I believe him.

Poor Rumpel, not from San Francisco and way too stoned to find a direction home (sorry for the Dylan/Hendrix reference, but Jimi Hendrix was the patron saint of West Fest today. His signature even blazoned the label of an energy drink, most likely licensed by the guitar great’s brother. That same sibling was on stage when a rag tag group of guitarists “played” Purple Haze in an attempt to break a world record. I don’t think they pulled it off). Mr. Rumpel was cold, in the dark of Golden Gate Park, and looking for the after party “where some of the bands were going to hang out.” He heard an address and was too high to remember it. Or too foolish to write it down.

But he found me and Greg in the middle of a field chatting. I played with a broken branch and Greg toyed his lit-up unicycle. Rumple showed up and fell in “with the folks you need to meet tonight” (Greg’s words), getting a ride home from Jonathan and the Wonder Truck. We dropped the fool off at the corner of Fillmore and Oak, still unsure about what he was going to stumble into next.

Stumbling into small surprises seemed to be what the day had in store for the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, which incidentally turned 40 back in August. Jonathan and I got up around 6am this morning to drive over to the park and set up the carny games. While skating over to Bryant St. to pick up the truck, Jonathan found out that there was a mad rush for space when all the vendors showed up on time to begin setting up. So Jonathan and I ran late on purpose and hoped for the best.

When we arrived I skated down and scouted a major jam or vendor cars before the huge geodesic dome where we were supposed to set up. Bad phone reception so I had to walk all the way back to tell Jonathan to try to find another way to our area. Tried to get a guy with a walkie talkie to help but he was busy dealing with cars going down the wrong way of a one way street. Jeez! Jonathan skated down to the car jam and then came back and said it was all clear. How did that happen? Hippie magic? No, a crew with a gasified car on their truck just barreled through and cleared the way.

So we sailed past the huge geodesic dome, past a tricked out cruiser of a bus (Jonathan drooled), and began to set up out games in the Kid Zone, by Dr. Solar’s vardo wagon. The guy in charge of the Kid’s Zone wasn’t around much during set up, so Jonathan helped folks place in our area. Some guys from the Geek Squad wandered up and tried to claim space, but Jonathan used the force and guided them elsewhere. Hmm, why is Best Buy at the free hippie festival in the park? A few folks asked us if we had permission to vend, which we did. But it felt like people were just making things up as things got set up in the early hours.

Being official performers meant our wearing lamented VIP passes that “got our ass backstage” and led us to porta-potties with short lines. Maybe they were too stoned to remember to put the porta-sinks by the potties? Jonathan and I had two volunteers working the games, so we took a break and wandered back stage. The line for free food (Free food? Was it the Hog Farm or Family Dog piling up those plates with 4 protein choices?) was long, as was the (free?) beer. We grabbed cheese and honey on bread, and Jonathan ran into the one person he knew backstage. “I’m a familiar looking guy,” he told her when she asked him who he was. Got a laugh from a woman standing beside me, so was worth the time. Didn’t see a soul I knew back there, not event the usual folks I run into all the time (like Greg Mooney).

I went back to the backstage area a bit later in the day and they were still passing out food. Shorter line, so I hopped in and managed to pick up a Phuket Lager from a vendor while in the queue.

“Might you have another beer to spare,” I asked in my polite voice.
“Can I see your ID?” he asked me.
“Are you kidding?!” I replied. Haven’t been asked that in a while.
“Do you want me to lose my license?” he asked back.
“No. I wanted someone to check my ID today!” I show him my CADL, gladly showing him my birth date. “I was born a few days before Woodstock!! I’m so glad you asked to see my ID.”

When he passed the beer over to me, I looked at the guy in line behind me and smiled. “He just carded me :)”

Seriously: four free proteins. They had beans, chicken (tough), sausage (no thanks), and two fish chopped up together. The guy serving the fish had a “Grand Wizard” laminate on his neck chain.
“Wow, you’re a Grand Wizard. That looks important.”
The guy serving the sausage responded, saying “he’s worked years for that title!”
“How long? 40 years?” I ask.
“Hmm, let’s see,” the fish server started. “1971…. that’s, say, almost 40.”
“Thank you for all your service,” I finish, and headed over and pick up some bread pudding.

I guess you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned the music much. We had no program, but tried to grab a pile to give out at our games. We were stopped and told that they cost $1 a piece, so we said why bother. We had no idea who was playing and when on the two big stages. I did catch a small bit of Jefferson Starship singing “Somebody to Love” as a set opener. We were too far away to tell if it as Grace Slick on stage or not. She’s my favorite hippie fem lead singer. Dark vibe for that era of love.

Our area had Dr. Solar doing a great stage shows for the kids, mixing environmental themes with a dash of Vaudeville. On the other side of our midway, Rock the Bike pedal-powered a stage that had good beats on there for most of the day. Oona made an appearance, before some dreads dropped dancehall for a short set. A jam band cover band (that’s an odd turn of a phrase) played before Oona, giving a sweet, drippy version of the ABB classic “Dreams”.

The general “whatever” attitude of the day was refreshing, except for a few random drunks that staggered around looking like postmodern village idiots. One drunk had a stenciled shirt on, but I didn’t bother asking to photograph it. Especially after he said that I HAD to set the GMO Freak Show tapestries lower so women would have to bend over to put their heads in them (and thus other parts of their bodies would point up). ewwww. Double ewww since the Kid’s Area was sponsored by NOW. Another drunk threw his beer bottle and then yelled a bit about Dr. Solar not getting his electricity facts straight before staggering off. But no one was really in charge today. The Rangers and SFPD didn’t seem too in charge of things. Chet Helms probably would’ve liked that chaotic attitude, and I actually looked for his spirit there in the crowd.

Some other observations about the day included the fact that, with thousands of people attending the event, the games only made $6 in tips. Saturday at the Green Peace 350 rally, with maybe 500 attending, one game (not three) made a whopping $33. We were a bit off the beaten path at West Fest. You couldn’t even see the huge dome down on the meadow! The live music on our tiny stage drew the crowds, and some of them played the games. We connected to the folks that found us!

And just like that, the last weekend for the Conscious Carnival local tour was done. November approaches and the festival circuit is now heading into early planning for 2010. Not a busy season for the Sustainable Living Roadshow. Only three weekends of gigs actually. When times get tough, the carnies get the short end of the deal. But the games looked nice at the two events I worked this weekend. And they’re still fun to work and play. Heading into the month before the deeply important Copenhagen climate talks, who doesn’t want to “toss out fossil fuels”? Well, those of us who think about climate change do. That’s a start and hopefully enough to get serious about it.