GONZO JOURNALISM AT RIVER SOUNDS FESTIVAL IN PARAGUAY

Gonzo at River Sounds

Accredited writing gigs don’t always go as planned. Not because an event in itself wasn’t perfect, but because right on that day all other conditions fail you big time. This happened to me at River Sounds music festival in Asunción, Paraguay. Therefore, although I was supposed to write an article about the attendees of the event and about the experience of a foreigner at an asunceno festival, I decided to try and go gonzo and pretend I’m Hunter S. Thompson just for a little while.

The Masterplan Before the Event

First of all, I attended the festival as an accredited journalist. The reason for my asking for an accreditation was simple: a big, one-day music festival like no other I’ve seen in Asunción and Incubus as the last act, playing for the first time ever in Paraguay. Now, as Paraguay is almost as huge on rock music as Finland is on heavy metal, imagine the importance of such a concert for the asunceno audience. So no wonder I wanted to observe and interview these people.

The festival started with Paraguayan bands Mothership, The Crayolas and Villagrán Bolaños, followed by Brazilian reggae band Natiruts. My big plan was to arrive for beginning of the festival and witness everything from start to finish — the setting, the organization, the people, the services, everything. Although the importance was on the last act, I also wanted to discover some local bands and see how the audience interacts with them. Yet, this was only a well-made plan.

Entrance to River Sounds

On the day of River Sounds

On the day of the festival (Thursday 21st 2017), I’m suddenly struck with strong nausea and headache, while struggling with an important article due for playboy.com. Maybe stress, maybe my in-ergonomic working position, maybe the vino toro (box wine) I’ve accompanied my lunch with, something has left me downright sick. And while laying in bed feeling miserable, the thought of not going to the event altogether crosses my mind more than once. Yet, I’ve been accredited, so I shouldn’t let the organizers down, right? Thus, I get up and walk out of the door.

The Setting of River Sounds

The festival takes place at the harbor of Asunción, right next to the Rio Paraguay. Due to my condition and my friends not getting off work before 7PM, we only make it to the festival area at 8:30PM. “Campo, campo!” (field, field!), the revendedores (re-salesmen) yell in unison, as me, César and Chuli search cruise towards the parking lot. We all have tickets, so no need to use any re-sales services. Moreover, without accreditation, there’s no way I could attend the event, as the cost of it is no less than 70USD. (Perhaps no need to point out that therefore also the festival audience clearly consists of the more well-off layer of the Paraguayan society.)

The producer of River Sounds is the production company G5pro — a company also responsible for previously bringing e.g. Cirque du Soleil, Morrissey and Kaiser Chiefs to the country. And I have to hand it to them: although in a Latin American country, everything is incredibly well organized and even the timetable of the festival is followed right to the point. So, just as planned, at 9:30PM the Colombian band Bomba Estereo takes the stage. Catchy songs and fun rhythms to dance to. Yet, when it comes to dancing, the Paraguayan audience is just as static as the Finnish one, if not even more.

Bomba Estereo at River Sounds

As for the biggest sponsor of the event, it’s evidently Budweiser. Right at the entrance to the area we’re greeted with a small Budweiser showroom and all around the place there are huge Budweiser signs, illuminating the fields with their bright red lights. In fact, Budweiser seems to be putting a lot of money into marketing and events in Paraguay at the moment, as they are visible everywhere, from social media to the streets, from small happenings to big festivals. At the VIP lounge of River Sounds Budweiser even gives out free beer. (Which I accept, although I’m not even a fan of beer.)

As press, I have free access to all areas, including premium and VIP areas. Most importantly, I have free access to the space between the stage and the rest of the audience, perfect for enjoying the acts from close-by, yet without getting squished between the most eager fans. And that’s where me, César and Chuli are at 11PM, as it’s finally the moment many Paraguayans have been waiting for: hearing the voice of Brandon Boyd live for the first time. And yes, the audience definitely does show its excitement when Incubus takes over the stage. In fact, at this point I’m glad I’ve left all possible interviews for the end of the event.

Brandon Boyd at River Sounds

Panicking in the Crowd

Not such a lover of rock music myself, all I really know from Incubus are the five hit songs probably even my mother knows just by having listened to the radio. And as it’s Incubus’ first time in the country, they take their audience strategically by including all these songs into their River Sounds playlist. When “Wish You Were Here” starts, I’m tucked comfortably between César and Chuli, happy I’ve decided to get up from my bed and come to the festival after all. Then, something unexpected happens.

Midway into the song, I suddenly can’t catch my breath. I feel as though I’ve been drugged, yet I know I haven’t (not so much of a Hunter S. Thompson after all, am I…). I have all the space I need around me, yet I feel like suffocating (the picture below is from the basic area. I’m standing in front of all the people in the VIP area, which is way less crowded). I gasp and gasp, but all I can sense is the strong smell of ganja surrounding me, people laughing and singing around me and some eager fans screaming out the singer’s name.Then, everything goes black.

Audience at River Sounds

As I come to my senses only seconds later, I mumble to Chuli to hand me the car keys, yet can’t make out even one word. All I can think of is my need to get out. Standing right behind me, César grabs me and prevents my fall, as everything blurs in front of my eyes again. “Are we going already?”, Chuli asks puzzled and I just shook my head. Not able to speak or see, I start to panic and literally stumble over everyone around me, as I hurriedly make my way out of the audience. César walks right behind me and leads the way as I can’t even find the huge exit on my own.

Immediately as I hit the white plastic chairs outside the concert area, everything is back to normal again. The blur is gone, the panic is gone. What the hell just happened? I wonder, as I sit there and wait whether or not it will all start again. There’s no way I’m going to conduct any interviews or see the concert to the end. There’s no way I’m going back to the crowd to take any photos. As a matter of fact, there’s no way I can even remotely think about anything else than myself, as I’ve just experienced one of the scariest moments of my life. Yet, unfortunately I haven’t even consumed any mind-altering drugs, so I can’t even full-on gonzo on this one like good old Hunter S. Thompson would. So, there’s not much to do this time, is there?

River Sounds

Basically, all I can say is thank you G5pro for the great event and sorry I did’t live up to the expectations this time.

Written by Sissi Korhonen

Fascinated by meeting, interpreting and understanding people. Strangerless at soul and heart.