Converging as one is great fun for an old festival hippie
What a great excuse, To go out on the lash, Coz mate, it’s always epic, Whenever we get smashed. The ‘‘birthday drinking’’ card in a shop is a crude re-entry to our boozesoaked culture. Every December I talk about going bush at New Year to escape boofheads. Someone suggested the Convergence festival.
A vague image of hippies in outdoor baths sprang to mind. When the website mentioned alcohol- and drug-free, I signed up. Warily. People who can enjoy themselves sober are my idyllic tribe, but a non-trippy hippie? Pull the other one.
The decades-old festival takes place in the boonies near Rangiora. All meals catered, though strictly vegan or vegetarian. Think mountains of mung beans.
I arrived on my lonesome, confident there’d be friendly faces from Nelson. The Welcome tent was staffed by a pal from my old book reading group. Another friend pitched her tent in the space behind my caravan.
Around the big marquee, tie-dyed T-shirts mingled with parachute pants. A naked man wandered through, hairless from toe to top.
OK – I wanted different. Buckle up ...
What followed was a sensory rush so consuming I still can’t make sense of it. My journal is a scattergun mess.
Each dawn found me sweating in the Hobbit-hole sauna, built inside a buried culvert pipe, with log burner down one end and thick wooden door across the other. Nordic types add a bracing skinny dip in the river.
Maximum capacity, eight bodies, thankfully cloaked in darkness.
Notes: ‘‘Sauna discussion etiquette ...
‘‘No discussion at all is preferable. After prolonged silence and rhythmical gasping for air, a Tibetanlike group chant has spine-tingling charm, so permissible.
‘‘No swapping of tips for germinating your kaffir. What the heck is kaffir?
‘‘Mindless chatter banned, especially invoking the devil, ie Facebook. The festival site has no cellphone or wifi cover. Take this opportunity to purge the F word from your life.
‘‘If the morning muster is just two naked males, position yourselves at opposite ends of opposing benches and deepen voices for the obligatory ‘Gidday’ greeting and ‘Have a good one’ farewell. Other discourse is redundant.’’
I went in at 6am on New Year’s Day, figuring I’d have it to myself after the night’s frenetic danceathon. No, the Guardian of the Sauna was stretched out on a bench. He takes his duties as maintenance team leader seriously, but this seemed extreme.
He hadn’t been to bed yet, he confessed, and had let the fire die down.
I joked that it would be appropriate for him to croak here.
‘‘Yeah. They’d just find this pool of liquid with a bead necklace in it.’’
Everyone pitches in with jobs. Apparently, even management of the event has little structure, changing hands from year to year. Attendance was up at 400-ish this time, though the ‘‘Convergence family’’ never felt crowded.
And the festival is commerce-free – once inside the gate, you never touch your wallet.
Notes: ‘‘Men’s Dance etiquette.’’ Shedding a few centuries of starched-collar social mores is entirely permissible. DJ Jaime Howell (from Motueka) had already established himself as a slide guitar maestro at an evening concert, and proved no less adept as a Mindfulness guru.
The session drew about 30 blokes, from teens to pearly-gates doorstoppers. Jaime spun slow beats, coaxing us to commune with the earth beneath our feet.
The pace quickened as we embraced fire, then water and air. T-shirts came off. This self-confessed ‘‘tuckie’’ was soon thumping bare chest while howling to the sun gods.
After two hours of primal frenzy, Jaime’s hypnotic commentary brought us down to a new serenity. Visceral, mind-blowing fun.
My ‘‘campground sashay’’ had already kicked in: uptight white guy morphs into fly black dude whose bone sockets have just been lubed.
The days became a routine of skinny dips, reading, cruising the ’hood for friendly chats, and delicious meals where chickpeas usurped mung beans.
I mostly avoided the workshops – Celtic Druid Light Exercise clashed with Rebirthing while on Shamantic Drum Journeys. After the Man-dance, my cynicism had mellowed, but in New Age territory, more than a few shysters coat-tail with shamans.
Notes: ‘‘Two French men introduce a young Kiwi lad to boules on a rutted path. He learns how to swear in another language.
‘‘Lesbian lovebirds cuddle in the shade.
‘‘A woman pours out her troubles to friends at a riverside catharsis. Grassroots compassion is part of the deal here. At Convergence, few places are free of someone baring their soul.’’
Or their dainty bits. On the fourth day, I retrieved my togs. Nudity might be honest, but honesty can be brutal. A clothed person enjoys the benefit of the doubt.
You might dismiss all this as daft hippies stuck in a time warp, but here’s the thing: those 400 ‘‘throwbacks’’ had a blast for five days, and the only intoxicant in their system was happiness – if fragile in some cases.
Boofheads don’t even rate. A Canadian sauna mate hailed his dance floor heave as the best New Year’s ever. ‘‘I didn’t have to check over my shoulder constantly for some drunken thug about to deck me because he thinks I looked at his girlfriend.’’
I never smelled dope or saw booze the entire festival. It was ‘‘epic’’. Sure, my T-shirt is tucked in again, but the smile remains on my dial.
The days became a routine of skinny dips, reading, cruising the ’hood for friendly chats, and delicious meals.
Hundreds of ‘‘throwbacks’’ at the Convergence festival had a blast for five days – and the only intoxicant in their system was happiness.