Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jul 10 2007

Hohaiyan Rock Festival

On stage at HohaiyanI wasn’t in the most alert of states when I had to get up at 5:30am on Sunday morning, get my things together and go downstairs to meet Chalaw’s rented van. The reason for the early start was a morning soundcheck on the stage at the Hohaiyan Rock Festival at Fulong beach.

The van was already mostly full by the time it pulled up in front of the 7-Eleven downstairs from me; Chalaw had already picked up David, Andrew, Hong-hao and a few others. We drove through the wet shadows of the morning, though the sky was already bright, through Xindian to the highway, up and over the city through the entrance to the newly completed Xueshan Tunnel to Yilan. It’s one of the longest tunnels in the world, but it didn’t feel particularly long, perhaps because we were talking and didn’t notice. Hong-hao in particular always seems to have a joke or story on hand. He is a policeman in real life, after all, so I expect he has a lot to talk about.

The sun hit us in Yilan after the long tunnel, and we turned up the winding coastal highway, stopping at Chalaw’s friend’s surf shop, a curious building painted bright purple and pink, where we sat on the deck and watched the waves for a while. The heavily tattooed Sky, our bass player and half-Italian drummer Samuel, who were driving, showed up, and we set out again, passing an elaborate all-white stone complex with minarets and domes like a mosque. It turned out to be some sort of museum, but the gate was closed.

Fulong beachFulong was already bustling with people, even at that early hour. I’m guessing some people stay for the whole three days, but they must book rooms months in advance. We met Doug and his girl, and then drove around the back way, up the hills and then down onto the beach where the stages were located, one big one that looked vaguely like the shuttle assembly building, and another smaller one up the beach towards the bridge. backstage tentsWe entered the backstage gate, which seemed to be pretty strictly guarded, and found a courtyard of off-white tents, one of which had our name on it. All were air-conditioned and flapping in the wind. The courtyard had plastic laid over it and featured a forlorn-looking kiddie-pool in the middle.

We got situated and did our soundcheck on the huge stage. The technicians were very thorough and professional, swarming over every problem, though they had a hard time getting David’s dobro to hook up correctly. The stage was so big that we were all spread out; I found myself actually standing on a stage on the stage.

After the check David and I walked back to town to get, among other things, a hat for me and some coffee for him. Walking along the sand was a chore, and the sun was brutal even in the morning. David was taking pictures with his new camera, a nice little digital Ricoh fixed-lens job. The town’s one 7-Eleven had a line at the counter and no cash left in its ATM, so we went to the Farmer’s Cooperative ATM instead.

PassiwaliBack at our tent we found a pile of lunch boxes in a bag. The prospect of spending the entire day there seemed oppressive, so we hopped back in the van and drove back to the purple surf shop, slathered each other in sunblock and hopped gingerly across the scorching sand to the waiting waves. Para-sails floated above, launched from the nearby cliffs and floating down to the beach. Someone found a surfboard, and we took turns using it. Doug was the best surfer, having learned in South Africa, and Chalaw got a few good runs in. I was more adept at falling off the board and semi-body surfing in, dragging the board along behind me. Occasionally I could feel a slight pricking feeling of being stung very lightly by small jellyfish. Still, it was great fun just being out in the ocean jumping over the shiny blue waves and floating under the sky.

The afternoon was wearing on, however, so we again crossed the flaming sands, strewn with the swollen corpses of prickly blowfish and the occasional jellyfish, back to the shop to shower and dry off. The heat made drying off a quick issue after showers in wooden closets, balancing on cargo slats. The proprietress of the drink stand caught me staring at one of the half-naked surfers, and gave me a knowing look. Later she asked the group if I was married and how they should find a nice aborigine girl for me.

We hadn’t even come close to Fulong when the traffic jam began. And endless stream of cars on the two-lane highway. People began walking miles out of town, as there was no hope of parking anywhere closer. Exasperated, we tried to ply the bike lane, but the shoulder wasn’t wide enough. The Colors Music people called Chalaw, wondering frantically were we were. Then someone called Hong-hao, who said, “We’ll be there in a minute, we’re almost there!” eliciting van-wide snorts of derision. Outside we were passing and then being passed continually by the same family walking besides us.

CrowdsEventually we did make it back to the stage. Fulong beach is a huge peninsula of sand that reaches out into the ocean next to the mouth of a river, and it was rapidly filling with people. The other bands had already arrived. Zhang Zhen-yue’s tent was on one side of ours, and Cui Jian’s on the other. Ah-yue was hanging out with his crew and playing some Frisbee, but there was no sign of Cui Jian except someone playing sax in his tent. David had gotten a message from Thumper, who was apparently in the vicinity, but he couldn’t get through to him, so we went for a walk to see if we could find him.

stage at sunsetThe beach was full of friendly chaos. Mostly teenage concert-goers were digging into the sand, creating makeshift lounges for themselves. The bridge was a solid stream of foot-traffic, filled beyond capacity and requiring a director sitting on a high chair to manage it. The dust kicked up by the crowd’s feet mingled in the air with the smoke from the food vendors, creating a light haze. Convoys of trucks delivering food and taking away waste rumbled around. As we walked past the smaller stage, which was holding some kind of beer-related activity, it struck me that I’d been in Taiwan longer than a good portion of the people there.

Field of Trash“These kids! They know nothing! They’re useless!” a short old man, dressed in what I assumed to be some kind of management garb, told us. Originally he had thought that David was “showing the foreigner how awful things are in Taiwan” until David explained that I wasn’t actually the foreigner in this situation. But the old man’s words were borne out by the vast field of garbage that covered the beach in the light of the sunset. It was a truly amazing and daunting sight to anyone, much less those in charge of cleaning it all up.

Thumper was nowhere to be found, but we did bump into Sean Scanlan on our way back to the stage. He complained that he had lost his photographer and was looking for an interview but couldn’t get anywhere close to the bands. David invited him to come see if he could come backstage with us, but the security people were having none of it.

Night settled over the scene as the first bands finally took the stage. The staff had set up a TV backstage so that we could see the show from there, and a group of people had gathered in front of it. Cui Jian showed up, vanishing into his tent, and not long after trumpet and sax riffs began to emanate from within. With some reluctance I refrained from taking out my trumpet and playing along. No, no, that would be rude. But I still wanted to.

The first two bands were pretty hard-core rock. I suppose that makes sense, it being a rock concert and all. In our set we had rock songs, but also a few songs that weren’t rock songs at all, slow and melodic ballads with aboriginal themes. I hoped the audience would appreciate the change of pace, or at least not charge the stage.

Finally it came out turn, and we got our instruments together and walked up the back steps under the towering mass of the stage, now lit with thousands of lights. Instructions for going on and coming off stage were given, but I couldn’t hear them over the crowd. Then the center doors slid open, and we walked out and took our places. Beyond the lights lay a sea of people, hundreds of thousands of faces, completely covering the peninsula and framed by the dark masses of the mountains. They greeted Chalaw with a roar and seemed ready to enjoy anything. My mouth was very dry. I’d forgotten to bring water.

The show started and went by very quickly. All the sets had been cut down due to the late start, so we had had to cut a couple of songs. I gave what I felt to be a decent accounting of myself on stage, considering I’ve never played in front of nearly that many people before. A huge camera boom was swinging around over the crowd, while a mobile cameraman was running around the stage, followed closely by an assistant. It reminded me of the days when I used to do that.

Afterwards we took our bow and then, while everyone else headed off to the side, I stupidly went back to the center door, which of course opened to reveal Cai Jian-ya and her band waiting to come on stage. I hurriedly retreated to the side door and back down off stage. The group of people were still watching the monitor. Ah-yue was really into Cai Jian-ya’s show, hopping around to the music she played, including one of his own songs. Or maybe he still gets nervous before a show, as he kept running back and forth to the bathroom.

We put out instruments away and sat outside listening to the other bands. I went out to the front of the stage to listen to Ah-yue, who seemed to be off that night, shouting his lyrics out of key. Or maybe I was just in a funny place, sound-wise. I noticed then that the TV images were being projected on huge screens on either side of the stage. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t know that when I was on stage.

take a pictureMC Hot Dog was next, but I went back backstage again. Ah-yue and his crew had vanished, his tent empty. Cui Jian and his band emerged from their tent just before their show; he waved and walked quickly up the stairs. We’d made a plan for an early escape to beat the traffic back to Taipei, so we planned to only listen to two songs and then go. It was a shame, though, because Cui Jian was amazing. He really knows how to work a crowd’s emotions. He and the bass sax player wore hats with red stars on them; I wondered if that was some kind of ironic statement or a party requirement or even both. I didn’t get to see him play trumpet. It’s a pity that it wasn’t the kind of concert where all the bands can just go up on stage at the end and have an outright no-hold-barred jam session.

Reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the masses of jumping teens and piled into the van, edging carefully up the dark sand dune behind the still-rocking stage and out onto the coastal highway. Others also had the same idea, but there was only a small amount of congestion at the entrance to the tunnel. I was exhausted but still high from the show, and I think everyone else was as well, as we kept chatting instead of dozing off as our bodies wanted us to.

It was after 1am by the time Chalaw dropped me off in Bitan. My mind was still spinning from the events of that long, amazing day, but I slept better than I have in a long time.

posted by Poagao at 1:04 am  


  1. […] gives a first-hand account of performing at the Hohaiyan Rock […]

    Pingback by Daily Links - July 10, 2007 | bent — July 10, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  2. I followed a link to this article to read it, but I have to tell you that I can hardly even look at this screen with the white lettering and the black background. A lot of people choose this kind of look, I know, but for me (and probably for a lot of people) it’s impossible to read.

    Comment by Jim Taylor — July 13, 2007 @ 6:58 am

  3. Sorry to hear that. Perhaps I should make the lettering a darker shade of gray.

    Comment by Poagao — July 14, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  4. […] October 2. After the event was over, some of us, including Andrew, with whom I played on stage at Hohaiyan a few years ago, and the organizers and other artists in several field went to Alleycats for pizza […]

    Pingback by Poagao’s Journal » Future Classics — September 12, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

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