Finally getting a moment to reflect on Easterfest 2011. Enjoy!
Festival was going amazing. Ticket sales were record breaking. The campground had sold out days before the festival even started. The vibe was absolutely amazing. Anticipation was at an all time high.
Thursday I spent the day in youth camping welcoming people to festival – particularly groups who had come from all over Queensland – Cairns, Townsville, Maryborough, Emerald, Longreach, Biloela, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Taree, Newcastle…etc..etc… Everyone was excited.
Friday and Saturday I spent the day moving between the Media tent, Vision Arena stage and the green room to grab artists for their media conferences. Funnest moment was working with the Switchfoot guys. They really do seem to be sweet guys. One of the liked my hat ;-p
Late Saturday afternoon, little did I know was the calm before the storm. It was a perfect sunny afternoon to escaped from everything for a moment and lay on the lush grass hill in front of the media tent. Texted a few friends I knew were at the festival and had then come and say hi. Lovely moment.
Later, I got called down to front desk to meet up with a guy from Channel 9 news. He was keen to get a story on Easterfest. So I hook up for him to meet up with our CEO, Isaac Moody on mainstage. So we were standing side stage as Newworldson began to play. Moments into their set the rain began to fall… From no where the storm came. The sky was pitch black over the stage but to the left I could still see stars. It was almost eerie. The drops of rain quickly became like cups of water falling from the sky absolutely drenching everybody and everything in its way. The hardcore fans in the 15,000+ audience kept moshing. Many started heading for cover.
I headed off to see where I could help and to see what was going on. Ran over to my media tent to see that it had just lost power but thankfully no water was coming in and computers were all high and dry!
Next I went into Pavilion tent and saw Josh Arnold the area manager yelling with a tired, raspy voice to everyone to evacuate the tent. You could see a huge bulge in the tents roof that shouldn’t have been there. Like it was pregnant or something!
I quickly joined in and began to ask people to step back out into the pouring rain and evacuate. We knew we didn’t have long before the tents roof gave way. Reluctantly people left. Asking mums (some of whom I knew!) to leave the dry-ish tent to move back out into the pouring rain was certainly was one of the most distressing things I’ve had to do in a long time.
As the tent cleared we had to steer people evacuating mainstage to other exit gates or venues. Water began rushing through the site in somewhat freakish quantities. The profloor we’d painstakingly laid started floating and in less dramatic circumstances I would have probably chuckled at how funny people looked trying to walk on it!
I got asked to run to the ‘West wing’ to make sure there was a gate open and if not to make one. About then I was wishing I actually had a spanner on my belt! Thankfully there was a gate open so I didn’t have to kick down a fence!
At Easterfest every venue has a ‘venue manager’ and their own evacuation procedure. As I got back to the Big Top venue they were clearing it due to the copious amounts of water flooding through. So I joined in directing people to the nearest exit. By that point my radio had gotten to wet and was completely dead. One wise move I made when the rain started was to exchange my good shoes with some gumboots that I had stashed under my desk – just in case! So although they were full of water by this point there was some comfort in knowing I had protective attire on!
Eventually more of our team came round and opened a gate higher up the hill on Hume St and we allowed people to exit the park there. It was a surreal moment running into to so many people I knew and hadn’t yet seen at the festival in such an adverse situation. Apparently not even recognising some friends – according to one mum who thanked me later!
I’m so thankful everyone, although traumatically for some, made their way safely out of the park and the rain and flood waters soon subsided. Thousands of campers found accommodation at churches, friends and random strangers houses. A few braved the campsite and stayed on site.
Switchfoot did continue playing through the rain to stagger the evacuation. Hardcore fans who watched the set said it was one of the best concerts they’d seen in their lives!
So for the first time in the 13 year history of Easterfest the program on the park had to be cancelled. Quite a tough night comprehending what had gone down. Basically the storm seemed to be fairly isolated to the park (within a couple of kms anyway) and dumped between 50-70mm within 45mins. The night was spent working with SES and police to help people find each other… find evacuation centres and just shivering! I’m not sure I’ve ever been so cold in my life. I thought for sure I would wake up with pneumonia!
So grateful for the strong presence and use of twitter and facebook! This aided the delivery of messaged twentyfold. We’re still hearing of stories of how people connected with each other or with phones to make calls out of ‘tweets’! Unfortunate though was Optus’ mobile reception! We might have to get our own tower on site next year!
Sleep was really distant that night. Every worse case scenario streaming through my head. Wondering what tomorrow would bring and hoping that morning light would just reveal it all to be a dream. Alas no… the tent was still all broke and a hive of busy volunteers were already stripping the tent of its insides preparing for its dismantle. Media were every where and stories where making headline news everywhere! I guess it was one way to get nationwide attention!
I and my American assistant, Kevin, did rounds of the campsite Sunday morning to see how everyone survived. I was amazed at how many smiley happy campers we encountered. Many of them had made their way back from ‘dryer’ accommodation to see how their belongings had fared. But still they seemed in good spirits considering how wet and muddy everything was. And they were excited that we had managed to relocate some headline artists to play in the city’s centre on the CBD stage. (Which during the January flood was four metres under water!!!)
The highlight of my day was managing to sneak away from the park in my muddy, rubber boots to check out the CBD stage. Literally thousands of people lined the pond to get a glimpse of the incredible ‘vocal play’ group, Naturally 7. It just brought tears to my eyes seeing right then how something I thought had gone so horribly wrong had turned out so amazing. The city of Toowoomba was alive. The message of Easter was forced from the park into the streets.
Easterfest Today captured the scenes live here on their Sunday report. Check it out!
Love to hear how Easterfest went for you if you made it. Or if you weren’t there did you catch the news somehow either on the news or via a social media site?