BY DARAGH MARKHAM
Let’s get one thing clear: if you can survive a weekend working the bar at Desertfest, you can work a bar anywhere, in any situation. Forget other festivals. You can sling pints on deck as the Titanic sinks. You can line up shots while a mushroom cloud courtesy of Putin/Biden/Kim Jong-fucking-un towers in the distance (customers irradiated before your very eyes, what a sight that must be…). But I’m drifting.
So it starts like this: you wake up, legs still aching. You’ve only shut your eyes a minute and now you’re on your feet again, slouching back to the front. At least you didn’t follow your colleagues to their spontaneous Slimelight afterparty (they’ll roll in soon, sicker than Mike IX Williams in withdrawal during Hurricane Katrina).
At the bar, every morning of Desertfest begins with the keg hustle. How much beer does the focal point of a festival need each day? About as much as Matt Pike loves aliens — lots. You’re rolling, stacking, lifting, packing an inordinate number of kegs, the tiny cold room filled to the rafters as your frazzled brain plays keg Tetris trying to organise it all while you sweat out yesterday’s regret.
It’s like war prepping, strategising every bit of space before another full-day assault. They rinsed us of that peach sour beer yesterday — gonna need to push something fruity to the front today… Fortify yourself with a couple Bloody Mary shots and a Modelo for breakfast. You’ll need it. For today be Saturday. Or is it Sunday? Forget it. Eighteen-hour shifts don’t require day names — they all spell insanity anyway.
It’s May in England and this year, miraculously, it’s not raining. Throngs accumulate in the alley out front, allowing air into the bar. By midday, the venue upstairs reeks of beer, bud, BO and beard. The volume is unreal. It’s way past capacity up there, a line of people snaking out and down the stairs, all looking to the venue door, where all you can see is the backs of heads. The body heat and smoke-machine dry ice hang in the stagnant air like mist from a Hammer Horror film. Oh, for a big-titted vampiress to take me now.
Those too late to get upstairs congregate around the bar. Acid casualties. Serial defecators. Curious out-of-towners demanding round after round of Bloody Mary shots. Space cadets reeling from obscene amounts of weed/shrooms/beer/acid demand they be looked after by your staff (this is the second consecutive year this happens).
Time gamblers cling to the bar, gripped by the unmistakable murk of several accumulated all-nighters, well-earned sleep circling, beckoning like a vulture. Any minute now, the eyes of one of them will roll back, their head will fall forward, and their face will slam on the bartop with a meaty smack. And somewhere in the bar, a skinny white boy is a bit too eager to clarify the name of the Eyehategod song playing, yelling the racial epithet in its title loud enough to startle the dazed, glazed and blazed attendees out of their afternoon reveries. Someone comes to the bar to inform us that one poor soul/hole didn’t quite make it to the toilets, opting instead to shit in the corner of the corridor leading to the johns. A recruit drafted in from one of the sister pubs is sent on a search and destroy mission. He returns disgusted but triumphant.
Ten minutes go by and someone else informs us of the faecal matter. Turns out the wet-behind-the-ears grunt had simply doused the mound of human waste with disinfectant powder (blue-coloured, meant for drains) and cordoned it off with blue roll, so the offending corridor corner appears infested by a pile of luminous blue-spotted mutant excrement like something out of The Thing. A dishonourable discharge beckons for this soldier for his failure to properly deal with the offending dishonourable human discharge.
Naturally, a weak stomach has no place in bar work. But this weekend, my diet will consist of three Quorn scotch eggs, a Quorn cocktail sausage, 63 Modelos, and anxiety. All of which means we have to talk about the snack station — the infamous, annually expanding staff snack station behind the bar.
I’m talking four one-litre bottles of vodka, four cartons of tomato juice, and multiple packs of celery sticks. I’m talking three large bags of tortilla chips, various salsa/guacamole/sour cream and chive/nacho chilli cheese dips, along with apples, oranges and bananas. I’m talking bread rolls, slices of cheese, ham, and cherry tomatoes. I’m talking sausage rolls, scotch eggs, pasta, chicken bites and steak bakes. And I am most certainly talking four to five ASSORTED TUBS OF HUMMUS and endless Modelos.
This is how we win. An army marches on its stomach, and my unit is no different. Around late afternoon, a senior member of the Desertfest team locks eyes with me over the bar and nods to the office. I nod in confirmation and lead the way, followed by the team member and an unknown third party dragging a suitcase on wheels behind them. The door closes, and I look at the two of them, waiting for some sort of introduction, status update, or indication as to why the three of us are cramped into the hobbithole confines of this office.
The two of them ignore me and a sordid transaction unfolds before my eyes.
“You got it?” the team member asks.
“Oh yeah,” comes the reply, in an American accent.
The American unzips the suitcase and produces two extra-large ziplock bags, containing six airtight Tupperware boxes, three in each bag. The boxes are brimming with a beige–brown substance.
My eyes widen, pulse quickens. “Is that h-“
The team member turns and narrows their eyes at me, smiling. “That’s right. Pure, uncut, homemade hummus.”
I gulp. Hard. The team member pulls an artist pass out of his pocket and places it in the American’s waiting hand.
He nods and smiles at me. “I’m an artist, bro.”
I’m hip to this scene. “Oh yeah, me too,” I wink and nod back.
A clandestine hummus handoff! In my own office! I am completely aroused. And, naturally, for his silence, your boy gets a slice of this action. I nip back to the bar to grab a bag of crisps and then scurry into the office and the chilly keg room to luxuriate, alone, in my share of the contraband. Fuck yeah, I whisper to myself, dipping crisps into a hunk of hummus clutched in my hand. This’ll take the edge off nicely.
Daragh Markham has worked, attended and performed at Desertfest many times over the years, sometimes all at once. He’ll play with D-beat speed metal hellions Dungeon at this year’s edition.