NH7 Weekender: A Backstage Story

What goes into putting together one of India’s most popular music festivals? An inside story.

“Three minutes! We have three minutes to disconnect the amp, take out all the cables and carry it to the Together stage. Do you understand? The minute Shaa’ir + Func finish their set, I’ll go on stage, disconnect the cables and you can help me carry the amp to the next stage. Don’t dawdle and don’t waste time!”

“I’ll take care of it! Don’t worry. Let Shaa’ir + Func finish their set, I’ll get you your amp and Randolph in time!”

This was at Bacardi NH7 Weekender Pune 2011, Eristoff Wolves Den. This happened while you were dancing to Shaa’ir + Func and walking towards the Together stage to catch a glimpse of Imogen Heap, Warren Mendonsa, Randolph Correia and all the other artists that played the finale at the festival. The team backstage rushed to get all the gear in place for the mammoth closing of the festival.

These are the conversations one usually hears backstage at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. I have managed a stage each year at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender since its inception. The stages vary from year to year but like a good bottle of scotch, the festival only gets better with age, and so do the stories.

Backstage battles Putting out fires and handling last-minute issues is the stage manager’s job; my job. We don’t get to enjoy the festival like you do. We can’t amble about the festival grounds with our friends, sipping drinks. The stage I manage is my home for the duration of the festival. Everything that goes wrong with it is my responsibility, and it’s only when things go as planned that I can breathe easy.

Having worked on Weekender since 2010—and countless festivals after it—Weekender has always held a special place in my heart. The first year, I worked on the Dewarists stage with then-festival director Dhruv Jagasia at the helm. That year, a slew of outstation artists landed late due to airline trouble. Delayed by hours and faced with a strict 10pm cut-off time, we decided to shorten the sets instead of cancelling some acts so that everyone was still afforded equal time to perform.

Between acts, a smaller stage called the Other Stage kept people occupied with more casual sets and comedic routines while we moved equipment around. Ankur Tewari played a few tunes solo, and Rohit ‘P-man’ Pereira tried out his Koffee with P-man avatar. PINKNOISE, one of the bands coming in from Kolkata, had a six hour delay which caused them to miss their sound check. We had to run through checking all their gear right before the show started, which caused a 35-minute delay.

With the crowd growing restless, Dhruv needed to find someone to do a half-hour set on the Other Stage with zero notice. I spotted a friend of mine in the audience, Alisha Batth, who is an amazing singer and told her to go play her songs on the Other stage. I ran up to Ankur who had performed a few hours earlier, snatched his guitar, and thrust it into Alisha’s hands.  She pulled off a fantastic impromptu performance that the audience and even the waiting artists enjoyed, and no one knew it hadn’t been part of the plan all along.

Before the gates open Festivals are a strange alternate reality. Anyone who works in this business long enough will tell you that going back to the real world after a festival is depressing. Everything is happier at a festival. You live and work with a bunch of equally passionate people for weeks. They become your family and your life. Everything you need can be found in those few acres of land: Wi-Fi, food, work and entertainment. To go back to your normal city life once the festival ends is the worst—no early morning PA checks where you blast your favourite 80s anthem and no 18-hour work days coupled with sleepless nights don’t sound like things that can be missed, but they definitely are.

A typical festival day starts at around 6am. I get to the site and first make sure that my entire backline—equipment including the drums, monitors, microphones and amps—is as specified by each of the artists scheduled to perform. Then my team and I start inspecting the green rooms. After a quick shot of tea, we get on to the PA check, cue the 80s anthem and make sure everything is working fine. Then, sound-check begins. The artists start to roll in around 8am and we have set up the stage as per their requirements before they arrive.

Each artist gets about 60-90 minutes where they have to setup, sound check and dismantle in time for the next band. When one sound-check runs into overtime, we have to push back every artist and that is when the chaos starts to set in. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be maintained by the stage manager and liaisons at hand to keep all artists satisfied with their sound-check so that they can have an amazing show. A stage manager never wants to see an artist unhappy after their sound check. That bad energy will carry forward to the show and isn’t good for anyone.

Stage managers always plan for delays in sound-check and keep a few hours as a buffer for lunch time or a working lunch between the last sound-check and the first band that performs on your stage. If you are lucky, and there is no delay in sound check, you can sit down, possibly for the first time since 6am and eat a meal, wash up and get ready for the festival to begin as the gates open allowing punters to enjoy what’s in store for them. The real chaos is when the sound checks run into serious over time and our top brass will come and ask you to shut down the sound check and turn over your stage for the first act. Once the stage is ready for the first act to begin, you can breathe easy...for a bit.

Making the magic happen Your best friend at a festival is Red Bull. At about 6pm, when you want to sit more than you can stand, a few cans of Red Bull and bottles of water get you through till 10pm.

This is when things become really fun and relaxed. You’ve done all the hard work at sound-check, now all that is needed is to re-create it before each show. Sure you have only 10 minutes to put everything in its place, but once it’s done you can sit back and watch your favourite band perform right up close. This is the magical part, the part I yearn for each year—the joy of having been a part of something phenomenal, a memory shared with thousands of people and you were one of those few at the front lines making it all possible.

If you are not completely exhausted and can walk to the nearest food stall hoping and praying they are still open to serve you that last portion of food, dinner is taken care of. You pack up for the day, send your crew and sound team home and start this process all over again at 6am the next day.

You’re never too far from a surprise Planning and checking gear over and over again is key, but nothing prepared me for what happened on the second day of Weekend 2011 at the Eristoff Wolves Den. The artists programmed for that day were particularly bass heavy. During B.R.E.E.D’s set just after sundown, he got into an extremely bass-heavy part of his set. Thanks to the vibrations of the subwoofers on stage and all the monitors surrounding him, his DJ console collapsed, taking with it his entire setup!

Luckily his laptop was not damaged. So I positioned two crew members to sit at each edge of the table holding the table legs throughout his performance, while they tried to cover their ears from the pounding bass. Thankfully, the massive LED screen in front of his table obscured the mishap and all the audience could see was B.R.E.E.D annihilating the crowd with his beats.

Festivals bring out some of the most noteworthy collaborations and our Indian independent artists do it best. On day one in Bangalore, Pentagram front man Vishal Dadlani informed me before their show that Vishwesh (the frontman of Scribe) would perform with them after their third song. I was supposed to bring him from the Bacardi Arena. I sent out two interns to go look for Vishwesh. When they couldn’t find him, I ran to the Bacardi Arena, trying to look for him while Pentagram performed and finally saw him walking towards the stage. He made it in time for the fifth song. I was hoping that didn’t upset Pentagram’s performance but it didn’t seem to matter. There was another plan, which I had no clue about. Vishwesh took the microphone, and in front of everybody, asked his long-time girlfriend, Neysa, to marry him, who was standing up front at the Pentagram show. In the midst of all the chaos, this beautifully poetic moment really stood out for me.

Three years at Weekender have given me memories and experiences for a life time. I can’t wait for this year’s surprises, and stories to begin. Four cities, nine days, hundreds of artists—it can’t get any better than this!

My top 5 picks for Bacardi NH7 Weekender Pune 2013:

Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator Donn's bedroom project takes flight with his live band Passenger Revelator. Expect dreamy vocals soundscaped with languid beats and melodies, a sure fire way to get you to groove at sundown. Check out his Soundcloud here

Vachan Start your Saturday at the Wolves Den with Vachan where Vachan will make your insides dance with his gritty, phat beats. If Vachan is on stage there is nowhere else you can be. Check out his Soundcloud here

Nischay Parekh A little bit of Death Cab for Cutie-esque vocals multiplied with some dreamy beats and breezy guitars and samples is what Nischay doles out. Don't miss Jivraj ‘Jiver’ Singh on drums and samples and everything in between. Check out his Soundcloud here

Simian Mobile Disco This London-based duo is known for its analogue tunes and remixes, so expect happy EDM beats that cocoon you in an aural trance.  Check out their Soundcloud here

The Colour Compound Weekender newbies The Colour Compound open the Other Stage with their pop tunes and harmony-filled tracks. Expect foot-tapping, sing-along tunes while you laze in the evening sun. Check out their Soundcloud here

 

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