Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The face of The Gathering"

G97/98 poster. I got "recognised" the other day, the first time it's happened in at least a couple of years. It used to be a fairly regular occurrence, being accosted in the street by total strangers who would throw their arms around me with a "thank you, thank you, you changed my life!"


It was a lovely feeling, and a huge honour to be thanked personally like that. I was only one out of over a thousand people who deserved thanks each year, many of whom deserved it far more than I did, but I was fortunate in that I was arguably the most easily recognised member of the team. I accepted the thanks on behalf of all of us - and I just wish that everyone on the crew had been able get their own special hugs like I did.

And what was it we were doing that changed so many lives, hopefully for the better? We organised a dance party called The Gathering.

I was one of the main organisers of The Gathering from 1997 until 2000, and it was an amazing time. We made magic and did the impossible because no-one told us it couldn't be done. It became New Zealand's biggest and best dance event, attracting Gatherers from all four corners of Aotearoa - and eventually from across the globe.

Our philosophy was simple, and it worked:

The Gathering is a festival of freedom, dance, music, and participation. Your presence creates The Gathering. Take care, we are all responsible for the environment. Be nice humans.

G98/99 booklet. The Gathering took place over 2 or 3 days each New Year's, and for the first four years it was held at Canaan Downs, 2,500ft up on top of Takaka Hill near Nelson. What a magical place! Grassy pastures rolling over limestone sinkholes and hillocks, surrounded by acres of native beech, and watched over by some pretty powerful spirits I reckon.

When you're organising an outdoor dance party on an isolated mountain-top, open to the weather and accessible only by a single-lane dirt track with a massive drop off one side, you're taking a few risks before you even begin. The first Gathering attracted 4,000 Gatherers, and the last one I worked on, which was G2000 - the Millennium party - there were 15,000 on-site.

We had a few close shaves during the four years I worked on the party - a van fire caused by an unattended candle one year, a bus hanging half off the road another, and a number of Gatherers with mild hypothermia (caused by days of torrential rain - the first the party had ever had) in 2000, but really, when you think about the number of people there, the terrible access road, the craziness of the party, and the dramatic temperature swings from day to night, I think we did pretty well. That's why I think the spirits up there were pretty powerful - and, I'm glad to say, on our side!

For the 97/98 party I was Wellington regional organiser, Gathering website designer, and stage-manager of the Trace Zone. I was in hippy heaven. I think that year (which was The Gathering's second and my first) was my favourite year. It was all so new and fresh, I was in my favourite place making sure everyone in my zone was happy, well-hydrated and dancing up a storm, and it was simply the most amazing, perfect, beautiful place in the world.

Gathering documentary montage. I also produced the first (and in my opinion still the best) Gathering documentary that year, together with Kylie, Zef, Sarah and Weston. I still get requests for copies, even today, and the Film Archive takes care of the master tapes, as it's now a piece of New Zealand history.

For The Gathering 98/99 I became one of the three main organisers, and I also took on the role of publicist, which I kept until I left the organisation in September 2001. It was as the publicist that I became the "face of The Gathering" (or one of the faces, anyway) - simply because I was the go-to girl for interviews, press releases and suchlike, and I was the one most often on the telly, the radio and in the press - talking about The Gathering.

I think the most-watched TV interview I did was the one on Havoc! where Newsboy pushed me round the Domain in a shopping trolley (!) while Mikey did the interviewing. The location and mode of transport were something of a compromise between us - I wanted trees, grass and nature, and Newsboy wanted the shopping trolley (don't ask me why!) so we combined the two. It wasn't that easy, actually. The ground was so bumpy that my voice came out all wobbly when I was tryimg to speak, but nevertheless it got noticed, and people still remember it.

The radio interview which affected most parents in a positive way (and, I think, was the reason why more than one teenager was allowed by his or her folks to come to our party) was my Kim Hill interview just before G2000. For some reason which I can't quite fathom now (did I not listen to Radio New Zealand back then?) I didn't quite know who Kim Hill was. I knew she was a famous radio interviewer, yes, but what I (very fortuitously) did not realise was that she is more than capable of chewing up her interviewees and spitting them out if she doesn't like what they have to say. Or, more accurately, if she doesn't think they're being honest in what they are saying.

G2000 booklet. Luckily for me, I've always been a very honest person, and I can't bear politicians or publicists who sidestep the question or who don't answer questions truthfully. I'd had lots of practice with the most "difficult" question by that time - the one about dance parties and drug use - and I was very comfortable explaining about our harm reduction philosophies which involved a combination of providing a safe environment for everyone, and a broad-based programme of drug use risk education.

It was a good interview (not least because I didn't realise I was supposed to be scared of her), and at some point I made Kim laugh, which apparently was a fairly unusual occurrence. For weeks (and even months) afterwards I'd get feedback from people along the lines of "ooh my mum heard you on Kim Hill and she thought you sounded like such a nice woman, and she thinks The Gathering sounds like a very safe event for young people to go to!"

My last Gathering as organiser and publicist was really the 2000 event. I carried on into 2001, but by September of that year it was clear that things were no longer as happy as they had been. There were two main reasons why I left. I had a major falling-out with Murray, who was by that time the only one of the original organisers left, and who now called himself "The Gathering CEO". It was fairly public falling-out, and was primarily over how much we were going to pay the DJs and Live Acts that year. As their fee had by that point dropped below the cost of a single ticket, I felt very strongly that we should be paying them quite a bit more than we were. Murray disagreed.

The other reason was, I suppose, philosophical. I felt as though over the years, for many reasons, the party had begun to stray from its original idealistic motivations, we were forgetting what was important, and the party was becoming too commercial. I didn't feel I could "sell" it any more, because I felt that we had lost our way.

Gathering montage. In retrospect I think we would have been best to stop after G2000 (which was what we had always intended to do). I have come to understand that you can't make magic and money, and once money and power became the driving force for some people, the magic simply disappeared. We reached our "sell-by" date on 3 January 2000, and it's a shame we didn't realise that at the time. However, we were all still having such fun, and we didn't want to stop.

Despite my less than perfect goodbye, my overriding memories of The Gathering are and always will be joy, complete ecstasy, total exhaustion - and love. You see that picture of me in my profile? That's me on-stage at the end of G98/99, applauding the Gatherers after Murray's Final Trance set for being such amazing, wonderful, beautiful, inspiring people. I think it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been a part of such an amazing, powerful event, and I feel especially lucky to have become the crew member Most Likely to be Thanked.

So to the guy at the Southern Cross last Friday (at whom I was giggling helplessly) - thank you for the recognition and the thanks - which I accept on behalf of us all - it's truly an honour to have been a part of the magic that was The Gathering.

Interesting links (all from my website)
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zef said...

Nice blog Ali! Those were goodd times (mostly). You might not release it but you were also thanked on 26 July 2006!

And to the people I loaned my only copies of the Gathering Doco to - please give them back!

webweaver said...

w00t! Thanks for the thanks, Zef! I've got some ideas for the 10th anniversary of the start of The Big G - I'll be in touch soon (and we need to get started on your ideas for the re-release of the doco, too!

antimatta said...

Memories of months on the boards leading up to the g come flooding back. I still keep on bumping into crew and geting random hugz. Twas the best and wors of time. Nah best. Hugz, Tintin/Tony/antimatta (take yr pick) :-P

webweaver said...

Hiya Tintin!

GREAT to hear from you! Random hugz are the best, aren't they? Yes it was the best of times - mostly :)

I loved it!

I've just been going through some of my (many, many) backup CDs full of G-stuff. I have plans for the 10th anniversary, with a new URL, tons of old stuff and a whole bunch of archive stuff that's never been online before. Watch this space...