By Niels Fez Pedersen
Obituary notice: We are saying goodbye to a dear friend. Sunday has passed away at the age of 44. With it, rituals disappear and maybe even the chance of a teary eye brought on by emotional music and strained nerves.
I learned many things at my first Roskilde Festival. For instance, that it is unpractical to puke when you are also squashed at the very front of Orange Stage (then called Canopy) to see the Danish band Sneakers.
That was also the year I realised that Roskilde is about more than random happenings; and that you do not have to be nervous about entering a tent with a man playing the harp.
That was Sunday afternoon in 1983. I was tired and sat in the grass inside the tent called Rytmescenen and chilled out with a couple of guys from my high school. We were done for, as you can only be on Saturday at Roskilde Festival. Even if our festival only lasted for three days then.
We sat there trying to pick up ourselves when a Swiss man with a head full of curls began to play the harp. I do not want to say that I had an epiphany, but something happened to my mood.
The man with the harp is called Andreas Vollenweider, and had it not been Sunday at Roskilde, I would have run away screaming. I am allergic to new age music, but at that exact moment (Sunday July 3rd, 1983 at 3pm) the sound of the electronically amplified egg slicer made completely sense.
That was what Sunday at Roskilde Festival did to you. Now Sunday is gone and thus ends the festival not with a day of rest but with Saturday bang.
In practice, I will not miss Sunday’s eternal deliberations of home transport and the transition to normal society, but I will mourn it if the fade-out disappears and the meeting with reality becomes a kick in the butt instead of a gentle nudge.
I have loved slowing down to Stevie Wonder, Kraftwerk, Prince and the other legends who have had a wonderful function on Sunday snight. While others have taken Sunday to the max with dance parties at Arena, I have sailed home with calm spirits. ‘Closure’ as it is called when you find peace after an intense experience. Sunday closed down the festival that way.
But the day has always been a bastard marked by endings, backpacks, camping chairs and air beds. It (and the festivalgoers) have been unfocused. For some people Sunday has been about sucking out the last energy. Fans of hard rock have met around the ‘Sunday death’ – one or more bands of the hardest kind that can set fire to the hair on Sunday at noon.
I will miss the metal people’s Sunday ritual as I will miss the sight of clean pensioners on Sunday excursion to rock land. The tradition of free tickets to the elderly citizens began as image care toward the inhabitants of Roskilde. Everyone over the age of 50 could get a free ticket. As the rock grew older the age limit rose and now the Sunday séance disappears completely.
Thus the grey free-riders join the biker brawls and other incidents that were once a steady part of the Sunday. Gone are the speeches as well.
Earlier social conscious writers such as the Danish writer Ebbe Kløvedal Reich used the Canopy stage as the world’s biggest soapbox. The Sunday speeches with greetings from activists, politicians and Indians were a part of Roskilde Festival’s core values. The tradition died out, but was revived in 2009 for a short while when the Nobel Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh gave a speech about poverty and micro loans.
After that, Coldplay played a typical Sunday concert where the festival came together, and over-sentimental ballads moved tired nerves. I remember how people around me cried and hugged each other and had a real Andreas Vollenweider moment while the music underlined that it was near the end.
This year you can say your goodbyes on an ‘empty’ Sunday. It will be all right even if it will not have a harp soundtrack.
Niels Fez Pedersen is a freelance culture journalist and have been to Roskilde Festival every year since 1983.