Hungover and incapacitated by fatigue, I slumped on the bench outside the railway station and wished for a magic cloud to transport me away to a better place. As if the journey home from Gdynia was not going to be painful enough, we had taken the wrong train and headed an hour north instead of south. It had not gone unnoticed that the train’s final destination was a place called ‘Hel’. The train guard’s thin moustache had barely concealed his amusement as he told us this.
To make matters worse, I had been joined on the bench by a middle-aged Polish woman with a Scotty dog. She was lovely, but by Gods she was talkative, and just at a moment I needed some quiet solitude. I learned all about her home-life (she has just got satellite) and the home-life of her daughters (both corporate success stories, both live outside Poland). I learned that Janis Joplin was her hero and that she had always dreamed of going to a music festival. Her parting gambit, as our new train eventually trundled into the station, was “the Communists stole my dreams.” If the crippling dehydration had not robbed me of tears to cry, I would certainly have wept.
None of this would have been as painful if we hadn’t had such a great time. The Heineken Open’er Festival is set on an old airport. There is a runway and underground aircraft hangars. There is also exceptionally cheap beer (£1.20), food, and tickets (£75), no queues on the bars and tight security. There is a beach nearby, to which many decamp while waiting for the bands to start at about 5pm, but there is also a camp site bar which plays good music. Here, the sun blazes the tops of beer-branded parasols; in the shade beneath, the English can be found.
As much as the Polish have their culture of vodka, nobody seems to drink quite like the Brits. It is a sustained effort, a chain-linking of pints, broken only by trips to the nearby toilets or the grilled sausage stand. But it is also a good natured imbibing. When I saw an Englishman urinating in his jeans, he was doing so with a genial smile on his face, and when he was done he shared the story readily. I saw another Englishman drink 26 beers in one day. He had been satisfied at reaching the quarter century but then decided to chance another just because he “fancied it”. After a particularly lively afternoon session, a male friend began to weep openly as Bon Iver’s set reached its emotional zenith. But however undignified they may be, wetting yourself, drinking three gallons of Heineken, or crying to a folk musician do not constitute crimes, and there is not a spot of trouble all weekend.
There were some bands though. Here are some I saw…
Gogol Bordello - I lost my glasses in the melee but somehow got them back after performing a Moses-like parting of the audience and scrabbling around until I found them on the ground. I also saw a man in a wheelchair being pushed into the violence. I did not see him re-emerge.
Public Enemy - Chuck D and Flava Flav have some supreme skills in audience participation. The songs sound a little dated but the massive energy and aggression of the performance make sure it remains entertaining and keeps the crowd moving.
M83 - Should have been headlining the main stage rather than the tent. The crowd was huge and the reaction to the songs so loud the singer seemed genuinely taken aback.
Penderecki/Greenwood - The crowd doesn’t really know how to react to this amalgamation of the works of composer Krzysztof Penderecki and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, but the silence which descends is an eerie one and makes for a strangely affecting experience.
New Order - Didn’t really come to life until the last half an hour of the set. Doing some Joy Division was always going to go down well and left a good overall impression. But with no Peter Hook, it was left to Bernard Sumner to carry the show and with all due respect, he’s no Flava Flav.
Bon Iver - Made my friend cry, which is a testament to the emotion of the music. It later emerged that we had only brought one sleeping bag between us, meaning we had to employ a shift system of sleeping, which nearly made me cry.
Overall-summary-in-less-than-20-words-because-tea-is-ready: All in all, a great trip. I would go back and would recommend anyone else to do the same.