One of the toughest things I’ve found about moving to a far away country is being cut off from the music you know and enjoy. You don’t often hear familiar bands or sounds on the radio, in stores, or in bars for instance. These bands, for obvious reasons, are also hard to find touring in South America. Of course it’s great to be encouraged to listen to new kinds of music, local bands, and what Brazilians listen to, but you always have your favorites.
So a few months ago we started seeing ads everywhere, advertising Lollapalooza and Tomorrowland in Brazil. All music shows or cultural events’ tickets are available at half price to anyone with a student card and a surprising amount of people have these, students or not. Well, I’m sure we just don’t know how to work that system 😉 but because we don’t have student cards we knew we shouldn’t splurge to buy the extremely expensive tickets (more or less US$270 per person for all three Tomorrowland days, not including transportation, on-site camping and food) so instead we were committed to travelling more around Sao Paulo and southern Brazil. After Lollapalooza we heard from dozens of people how we missed out seeing Alt-J, Jack White, Kongos, and other bands, so we became more determined to see more live shows. Just as a “what if”, I signed up for the newsletter and a couple of weeks before Tomorrowland I got an email saying they were selling unclaimed day pass tickets first-come first-served. I couldn’t resist… so I mentioned it to Marelise (who needed no convincing of course), took a look at the line-up, bought tickets for Friday plus the bus ride, then passed out with a huge grin on my face.
So, on May 1st, we headed to the Sambódromo do Anhembi (same place we saw the samba school rehearsals before Carnaval) and caught their bus towards Itu – a tiny little town about 2 hours out of the city. Afterwards we learned that the population of 157,000 grew by 60,000 on that weekend, because of Tomorrowland’s attendance. The show itself wasn’t even in the city, it was in a place called Parque Maeda, which I at first assumed was a real park; it seems like a holiday resort kind of place where they offer activities for families and kids, golfing and fishing (among other things) and it was packed to the brim with warm bodies and hypnotic music for the three days of the festival. All in all there were 6 stages (which changed every day), including the iconic “bookcase” main stage, plus VIP areas, rest areas, “bathrooms” of the portable kind and the ample eating areas, serving a variety of soupy pastas, hot batata fritas (yep, you guessed it: french fries) and other food designed to mop up as much alcohol as possible, in preparation of the inevitable additional libations. If your tastes aren’t quite as plebeian as that, they had a “Gastronomia” area where 5-star chefs served… well, whatever else people eat at an electro-dub music festival (beats me what that could be… ribs?). I even heard rumors of a pool.
As typical for some events in Brazil the line to get our tickets was about an hour’s wait, we picked up our cute leather entry bracelets, and then almost another hour to pick up our locker key to store our bags and jackets for later. Finally we were free to enjoy the festival!! The first stage we really saw walking in was the main stage which was at the bottom of a huge sloping hill. There were already a thousand people or so gathered around their famous bookcase styled stage and we had no idea just how crowded it was going to get. The first set I really wanted to see was Felguk so we walked around until then exploring the imitation forests and paths, picnic table areas, magical themed decorations, bubble machines, private tents, mushrooms, and of course plenty of live music and people dancing. When he finally started an hour later he put on an awesome set and we were about 15m away, having an awesome time. The second set was Wolfpack, who signaled opening the Book of Wisdom, and a general transition to a stage with light displays, dancers, and interactive screens over the dj booth.
After Wolfpack ended it was getting chilly so our lockered jackets quite possibly saved our lives. We fueled up a little on cheap food and lite skol beer which is about as satisfying as filtered carbonated urine (for which you have to buy tokens) and made our way to a couple of the smaller stages to check out some other artists, like the famous Netsky. The vibe at the DJ Marky stage was cozy, but still had an awesome sound system. The drum and bass crowd was a little smaller for sure, but I think Marelise definitely enjoyed seeing him. There was a lot of laser play, people dancing wildly, and one unfortunate fellow we saw trying to take a small hill with four beers in his hands and fall on his ass spilling all over the couple next to us.
By the time we had made a round of the smaller tents and stages like Super you, Paradise, Full on, Q dance, and Up club, we had decided it was time to check out the main stage again. I wanted Marelise to see Afrojack and then sit tight to see Hardwell, who I’ve seen before and really enjoyed. By 10 or 11-ish the main stage was absolutely packed, all the way up the hill into the surrounding areas so that a bathroom or beer break stole a substantial amount of music-appreciation time. We managed to get a little closer and luckily the sound system carried excellently without making our internal organs bleed.
I had already worked my way through a dozen or more of those children’s beers they were serving, so Lisey and I (Lise is much easier for people to remember and pronounce than Marelise) escaped to rest our bums, her sore dancing feet, and eat something. We settled on a spongey tomorrow dog, chips, and pasta. Luckily there weren’t piles of defeated people lounging around or sickies hovering around the toilets; it didn’t seem like that kind of party. In fact people were much more sober (alcohol and otherwise) than is usual or expected for a festival like this, which made the bathroom experience thankfully vomit-free (which is important after dark). Anyway, all in all people were just as rowdy when we got there enjoying themselves, crowding the main stage, and spilling beer on each other. We sucked in our final wind and barreled back to the main stage for the final curtain, the majestically long-haired and vivacious Steve Aoki.
Tired, happy, and looking forward to a welcoming, soft bed we put the fireworks and pulsing main stage behind us and trekked the hill towards our bus home. We passed out on the bus to São Paulo towards home base and a peaceful recovery…