On Waking Up

The sun snakes its way through the zipper of the tent. I lie on a camping bed, some sort of daft hammock-type situation. Arms tucked down my sides, wedged to my sweating torso by the heft of my own body weight.

Tendrils of dust float through the sunlight, buoyed back and forth by the slight breeze that flaps the tent walls.

Its seven am, and already Illawarra Folk Festival is in full swing. It starts with the cry of crows, back and forth they scream across the camp-site, short guttural screams, three or four little punches and then one long cry that starts high and descends in pitch. The menacing cries feel like they come from within my tent itself, so close these crows come, but everyone in the festival swears the crows were situated directly above their tent, so its either a single solitary crow cry carrying in the morning air or a murder of crows infesting the entire festival psyche.

With the crows comes an influx of visitors. The food trucks roar to life, cars rumble into the single round-about that marks the entrance of this thousand person festival. A man yells instructions to the best of his ability but a line of cars waits to enter the roundabout and someone up the back beeps impatiently while the cars in front pause in the middle of the roundabout itself, unsure of where to go.

I hear car doors slam. I hear tent zippers, sliding up and down in this identical tent city that houses the festival’s artists. I hear a violin spring to life, and somewhere else I hear someone else cursing them out. It is still seven am after all.

I’ve spent years of my life sleeping in close proximity to other people. At a young age it was with my brother, dual beds in numerous countries until my parents succumbed to renting houses with a room for each of us.

Through high school I bunked up with three, then two, then one of my best friends.

Memories flood back, waking to find gangly blonde Joe leant over my bunk. My Swedish Year 12 roommate brushed his teeth every morning to Coldplay. He swore his dentist told him the song ‘Fix You’ was the perfect length of time to maintain adequate dental hygiene.

Waking another night to find Joe sawing a hole through the window’s security bars with a hacksaw blade he ‘borrowed’ from the school workshop (the reasons behind his sawing: we had a nine pm curfew at boarding school and it was of utmost importance that some twenty-three boys leave the dorm that night to pull pranks on another dorm).

Waking to early morning yells and thumps down the hallway, the dorm set up with an odd hot water system that preferenced the upper floor to the lower floors. Anyone showering in the lowest shower would risk uncontrollable water stoppages. The water wouldn’t slow to a trickle, it would physically stop flowing at all. The boys on the lowest floor developed a ‘rain-dance’ to let the upper floors know their plight, stomping and stamping and yelling and tapping the roof with a couple of well-placed broom handles. Invariably the upper floor boys didn’t care so there were constant trails of suds and water leading down the fifty-metre hallway, up thirty stairs and into the next shower room.

Another odd facet of dorm room showers was the lack of privacy. I spent four years showering in a large room with three shower-heads jutting from the wall. A metre separated them, nothing else. No shower curtain, no walls, just boys trying to maintain their pubescent modesty. We eventually gave up our modesty and found a park bench from one of the school grounds and snuck it into the shower under cover of darkness. Just long enough to fit three seated boys under three shower heads, you’d wander into the shower in the morning to find half the dorm waiting for a spot while the earliest risers carried on casual conversation under the steam.

Waking on tour to find a well-drunken band member tumbling through the door in an attempt to locate their bed. Not realising it was the wrong room they cosied up on the floor and I, in a rare fit of empathy, threw them a pillow and a towel to use as a blanket and sizzled back to sleep.

Waking at nine am to missed phone calls. We’d left the gig straight after playing the night before but one member had kicked on with the intent to arrive home later that night. Six am rolls around and they arrive but can’t find the key we’d left out for them. Door knocks and phone calls to no avail, the band slumbers on. We wander out to find him happily snoozing against a pile of dirt in the backyard, head propped on a sack of gravel he procured from the garden shed.

Not sleeping on one particular tour as a six-piece band lay in a row on a friends floor. Six yoga mats, five complaining backs, one sleep-apnea affected member keeping the rest tossing and turning to loud snorts.

We’ve slept a lot this tour. Not in the conventional sense. No solid eight hours a night. No bedtime curfew and early morning rise for work. No routine at all, so the sleep invades all other areas of band life. Some members sleep in the car on the long drives down the East Coast. Some members sleep in the green room, stealing a sneaky fifteen minutes between sound-check and dinner. Some members disappear post-gig to nab the best section of floor. Some days the entire band falls asleep in the park, worn out from a day of beach and beers. One un-named member even manages to fall asleep at a gig, propped up in the back row, feet on the floor and facing the stage, soaking in Balkan strains as a raucous lullaby.

Back here I find myself. Waking to the sounds of the festival. No room for sleep in a packed day of seeing great live music, diving into vegan curry, running to the beach for some bonding band exercise, attempting band admin with a laptop in a tent and a shaky mobile hotspot, and of course playing, the main reason I wake at all. Time to get this day started.

Ps. One thing that has helped me sleep for many years in many countries over most of my life is Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

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