A Rock Concert in Antarctica?

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I was amused
when I glanced over Al Gore's
big plans for a 24-hour, worldwide-broadcasted concert on July 7th

(7-7-07, get it?) to draw worldwide attention to the issue of global
warming. After all, who ever thought that Fall Out Boy, Lenny Kravitz
and Bon Jovi would help save the world? Will KoRn's set be sponsored
by the Biofuels/Ethanol industry? (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I guess
that if people won't listen to the facts, they'll listen to Cameron
Diaz.

Anyway, I chuckled
the loudest at Al's assertion that he would be organizing "the
first ever rock concert on Antarctica
" as part of the festivities.
As someone who spent sixteen months living and working in that pristine
winter wonderland, I thought I should offer my two cents as to what's
involved in putting on a rock concert at the bottom of the world.

Antarctica's
not a pleasant place in July.

In fact, it's
the coldest time of the year in the coldest place on earth. How
cold, you ask? The kind of cold that makes your lungs clench like
fists every time you inhale. The wind effortlessly penetrates whatever
clothing you've layered yourself with, rushing up the sleeves of
your parka, down the front of your shirt, up your nose and down
into your boots. If you wear eyeglasses outside and you walk against
the wind, your breath can condense into a mist on your lenses and
then harden into frost. It's happened to me. Forget your scarf?
Prepare to experience the closest simulation to having your skin
sandblasted off your face. If you ignore the warnings from the weather
office and go outside at the wrong time, it can kill you. No kidding.
It's cold enough to make the Red Hot Chili Peppers consider changing
their name for this event. Man, that sure is cold.

Oh, did I mention
that it's dark 24 hours a day? We're talking pitch dark, total darkness,
black-sheet-thrown-over-the-birdcage dark. Even if you wanted to
land a plane full of rock stars and amplifiers, you'd likely be
doing it without the benefit of landing lights on the ice runway,
which by this time has become quite bumpy and dangerous due to accumulated
snow drifts. Don't expect any air traffic until the last week of
August, when slivers of sunlight begin to peek over the horizon
for the first time in months.

Even if they
could somehow land the plane, offload the gear (every scrap of it
retrofitted for extremely cold weather conditions, of course) and
supply enough juice to run the show (hope they brought a few dozen
generators), would it all be worth it just to see Kelly Clarkson
wrapped in a puffy parka, her eyes hidden behind ski goggles, her
high notes muffled through her balaclava and further drowned out
by the relentless howling of the wind? Yeah, right.

Aside from
the logistics of running the show itself, there are other things
to consider, such as accommodating tour
riders
for pampered rock stars. You see, as per their contracts,
famous people are allowed to demand an esoteric cornucopia of comfort
foods, oddball trinkets and other materialistic items which
must be provided before they go on stage
. However, in lieu of
foie gras and Dom Perignon, you'd likely have to settle for powdered
milk and PB&J. Fresh fruit? Hope you brought it with you. The
closest thing we have to limo service is riding in the back of a
Delta, which is a monstrous orange cargo vehicle that's built for
durability, not comfort. The ride's a bit rocky — I have many memories
of being launched out of my seat by an unexpected bump, hitting
my head on the roof, and landing back in my seat, all within the
timeframe of a second. Oddly enough, my portable CD player never
skipped.

As far as lodging
goes, you might have to forfeit your hotel suite and your 800-thread-count
Italian sheets in favor of a lumpy mattress in a drafty room shared
with a middle-aged mechanic or kitchen worker. Community showers
and toilets are down the hall, and if you need shampoo, go check
in the "Skua" bin, which is a depository for secondhand/leftover
items. Use water sparingly, and while you're at it, make sure to
sort your garbage and place each item into the appropriate bin —
Burnables, aluminum, glass, plastic, medical waste, food waste,
etc. If you get bored later, we'll be playing Monopoly in the second
floor lounge, and they're showing "Crocodile Dundee II"
on TV tonight! Sweet!

So, perhaps
a winter Woodstock for a good cause just isn't feasible at this
particular time. However, an outdoor rock concert in Antarctica
is not impossible. In fact, it happens every year.

As December
draws to a close and the temperatures rise to a balmy +30F/–1C
(austral summer, remember?), the rusting hulk of a flatbed trailer
is dragged in front of an open area located adjacent to Building
155, which houses dormitories and the dining facility. A canvas
parachute is deployed as a backdrop for this makeshift stage, and
a colorful, hand-painted banner is draped across the front. The
weather is unusually cooperative for this type of an event; it's
almost as if the local organizers have a tacit agreement with Mother
Nature to keep the clouds away and the winds at bay so that everyone
can come outside and have fun.

Welcome to
Icestock.

It's everything
you'd expect from a great outdoor festival — Flashy costumes that
would fit right in at Mardi Gras, hula hoops, beach balls, decorations,
and hundreds of Antarctica's summer workers convened together under
the afternoon sun for a one-day celebration of music and friendship
that marks the closing of a year and the beginning of another.

Two rows of
lavishly decorated conex shipping containers serve as refreshment
stands, all of them offering various concoctions of homemade chili,
which is handed out enthusiastically in paper cups with plastic
spoons. The annual chili cook-off is a major event, with participants
arranging for their special ingredients to be shipped down weeks
in advance in preparation for the show. There's plenty of beer and
soda available, even if it's a bit less potent than expected due
to a few months of lapsing in storage. There's an easy solution
for that, though — Drink more!

The music is
provided by the same people who drive Antarctica's vehicles, fix
her computers, plow her runways and serve meals to her guests. A
few of them have brought their own instruments from home, but most
of them are content to pound away on the weathered equipment that
has been passed down from season to season. They're not getting
paid for this, save for applause and a free drink at the bar afterwards.
Many styles of music are represented here, from hippy folk jams
to harmonica-puffing blues ensembles to angry punk rock, the latter
of which is provided by a youthful crew with the hairstyles to match – Antarctica's one place on earth where you can show up for work
with a blue Mohawk. I cheer during a Social Distortion cover and
climb on the stage to sing the "Whoa-oh-ohs" for their
rendition of Pennywise's "Bro Hymn Tribute." They close
out their set with a "punked-out" cover of the Cure's
"Just like heaven," which makes me roll my eyes and wander
back for some more chili.

Beach balls
bounce through the crowd as the next band kicks off their set. In
between songs, the frontman is constantly shouting out instructions
to the soundman, who takes off his gloves so that he can twiddle
the knobs to their appropriate settings. "I'm getting a lot
of feedback in the monitors over here – oh, maybe that's just the
wind. Never mind." The band laughs and clicks into their next
number, which is likely a standard classic rock cover of Bob Seger,
Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Rolling Stones.

The highlight
of the event, for me at least, is the final set of the day by Antarctica's
much-celebrated Ramones cover band, the McMones. The frontman yelps
out the classic Ramones intro of "One too tree foah!"
and the first wailing, distorted note ignites the mitten-wearing
moshers in front of the stage. The ensuing conflagration of activity
kicks up a spreading haze of dust, which rises around the churning
circle-pit like smoke, a cool visual effect that you'd expect to
see in a music video. Hats get yanked off and sunglasses get stepped
on, but everyone is smiling and laughing. After all, they're all
in this together, a surrogate family to each other. It's not unusual
for a scientist to jettison his professional decorum for a few seconds
and dance like an idiot with all the youngsters. Have you ever slam-danced
with an evolutionary paleontologist? I didn't think so. Massive
cheers erupt between songs.

After the last
note of rock and roll echoes off the surrounding hills and gradually
fades out over the Ross Sea, the amps are taken down, the trailer
pulls away and the empty beer cans are collected and sorted for
recycling. 24 hours later, it's as though nothing happened at all.
The clouds move back in and the winds pick up, and everybody goes
back to work in the laboratory or the lavatory. Friendships have
been cemented and memories have been built, and there's plenty of
digital photographic evidence to encapsulate it all. Nobody asked
for anything more than a cup of chili.

While I admire
your ambition, Mr. Gore, I'm sorry to inform you that you're not
the first person to hold a concert in Antarctica. We beat you to
it.


Behold,
an Antarctic mosh pit in all its glory. I'm in there somewhere.

June
19, 2007

Nick
Vineyard [send him
mail
] lived in Antarctica for sixteen months. When he wasn't
working at his regular job, he hosted two weekly shows (including
Frozen Mohawk Radio, playing '77 punk at 77 RPM at 77 degrees South
latitude) on Antarctica's indigenous radio station, the venerable
104.5 Ice Radio. He also wrote a semi-monthly humor column for the
Antarctic Sun. He's currently living in Austin, TX and trying
to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

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