On The Snow

We are at the snow.

It is way too warm inside, we had to turn the heater off last night and crack open the window to let most of the warm air out, and even then most of the band was half-naked, lying on top of blankets.

We arrived yesterday arvo, rolling out of bed at six am and driving eight hours through the mountains. I spent most of the drive reading my book, a biography of Leonard Cohen. We dropped the car off at Bullock’s Flat to catch the Skitube, a train that runs through a tunnel in the mountain. The train is decrepit, reminiscent of the old Connex trains of the early 2000s, plastic bucket seats with big scratch marks from generations of skier’s poles. The brochure tells us this train is a feat of Swiss engineering.

At the top of the mountain we see glorious white slopes and streams of skiers drifting in rows. Some of them are standing, many of them are not. We meet the festival team who tell us the snow is actually pretty shit and the ski lifts aren’t running yet, so anyone who is skiing has to walk up the slope for each run. As we stand in the carpark the band stomp into the sloshy snow that steams on the tarmac. I’m over-dressed, wearing two jumpers and a jacket and sweating my arse off.

We stay in a ski-lodge at the top of the mountain, one of a village gathered around the Foodworks where a packet of noodles is ten dollars and a loaf of bread is fifteen. Everything has to be brought up by trooper, the lady tells me when she sees me looking at the price. I find out later the whole mountain runs on troopers, big 4WDs with side-facing bench seats. I’ve ridden in a trooper before, my childhood friends in Yemen had an excess US army trooper from the early 70s that could fit twelve people and had a storage compartment in the roof that made the whole thing top heavy, wobbling side to side across beach sands.

The band catches a trooper to each venue, seven of us plus gear crammed sideways into the back of it. The venues actually aren’t very far apart, most of them only a couple of hundred metres, but midnight walks across icy roads with a turtle-like cymbal case strapped to my back are not fun.

The first show is at The Sundeck, an old pub with a tiny two metre stage. The drums are tucked into the corner, and half of the band manage to cram on there with me, but we push the guitar and the accordion off to each side because they physically can’t be on the stage with us. It actually works out a bit better because Sam has a new wireless guitar system that means he can go sit by the bar while we play.

We play a rollicking set, all of the hits. People dance. We sell some CDs. It’s a good time. Then we cram in a pub meal and catch the trooper back to our accom to drop off the gear. We sip glasses of overpriced Foodworks wine in our steamy room then layer up to go check out some other music.

By this point its an icy minus five degrees outside. The snow machines on the slopes are all working overtime blasting misty water into the air and there’s a dull roar underpinning everything as we walk. It’s vaguely reminiscent of War of The Worlds – giant legged machines with lights that point up into the sky. We drop into the Eiger to catch Maddi our bass player who is filling in with Brisbane country artist Ruby Gilbert. The place is cranking and they’re tucked in the corner. We drink steins of beer.

Then we head on to the Man where Sydney band Sub-Tribe are playing a set of bass heavy dub. I’m feeling the effects of the six am start now, its past eleven pm and I’m ready to sleep, so after one last beer we wander back across the ice to our room. Various members of the band are already snoring, I’d forgotten that aspect of our last tour.

We wake up the next day slowly, band members scraping out of bed one by one, heading down to the lounge for breakfast. It’s a buffet vibe, endless toast and cereal with a set ‘hot breakfast’, depending on the day of the week. Today we get a plate full of baked beans, two eggs and a hash brown, all swimming in a soupy tomato sauce. After we eat I go back to bed to read my book, Leonard has just finished a book of poems called Flowers for Hitler, and I stare out the window as chunks of snow slide off the roof above us and crunch to the floor below.

We had big plans to hit the slopes today, but I’m not sold on walking up the mountain for a few minutes of ski-time, or hiring any over-priced snow gear, so instead we half-heartedly throw a couple of snow balls around in the front yard until its time to catch the trooper to our next gig.

We’re playing in a glorified cafeteria, a giant carpeted hall full of tables and chairs where hundreds of people in full ski gear stomp around while they eat their sausage rolls. We play a raucous set that is a little too overpowering for a group of people who are trying to eat a relaxed lunch. The sound guy gives me an enthusiastic thump on the back when we’re done and says he’ll put in a good word for the other festival he’s a part of. Job well done.

Then its back to bed for an afternoon nap. I’m still feeling zonked after yesterday’s early start, so I get some solid shut eye in. Some of the band jam in the lounge, one person edits our new live video, someone reads a trashy vampire fiction. When I wake up I read a little more of my book, Leonard has just released Hallelujah, and is in the middle of a mid-career slump. I am eating a handful of bhuja at the top of a mountain.

Our evening show is rowdy. We’re playing at a pub called The Man, a little mysoginistic someone comments, until we find out that its short for The Man From Snowy River. We probably should have twigged with the massive horse statue out the front. It’s big pub vibes, one wall covered in tv screens blasting the evening NRL game, us against the other wall. Half of the audience sits with their back to us, watching the game while we set up. When we start playing they all spin around. We’ve become pretty good at starting a set, the first song is a big old wall of sound with all seven of us blasting together, then the first four songs run in to each other. If people are ready to dance we can pull them onto the dance floor and generally keep them there. Besides, we have a captive audience, who wants to leave the warm room with beer and live music for the ice outside?

The dance floor kicks off with people we know. There’s a bunch of people we know from other bands and festivals and some of our band partied late last night with some of the other folks from this festival. Somehow everyone coalesces at this gig. It’s a silly time. We’re feeling super tight because this is our third show in two days. We’ve ironed out all of the rough bits and we start to stretch out a little on the staler songs.

We’ve been told we’re strictly not allowed any encores, so I’ve written a setlist that finishes five minutes early and fake an act where we cajole the audience into asking us for an encore. It works surprisingly well. People are predictable.

When we finish playing we order pub meals, stressing out the bar staff because there’s three bands spread across four tables trying to do one bulk order. Out the back, the kitchen burns a pizza and the venue fills with smoke. The bar staff wedge the doors open to stop the smoke setting off the fire sprinklers. For once, its cold inside. The bar EFTPOS system goes down, so there’s a line of people trying to pay for beers with cash. The bar staff tell us they can’t take cash because they don’t know what each drink is worth without the EFTPOS system. Someone jokes that everything should be free. Everyone laughs.

I wind up in bed at nine pm. Leonard has just released the biggest album of his career, an 80s synth pop odyssey called The Future. I listen to it while I read. It sounds a lot like Dire Straits, but if Tom Waits was the lead singer and was having a particularly bad vocal day. I’m tired. It’s a bit too warm. I go to sleep.

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