The Gathering: Canaan Downs Nelson(ish)
New Zealand's biggest dance event happened over the last day of 1997 and the first two of 1998. An event where the camping area alone was so large they called it Tent City. One very surreal experience, that's what The Gathering was. Made even more surreal by the wait to get in - it took us about 4 hours, a 6km queue from the entrance, and about another 10k of dirt drive to the site.
First impressions, once past the queues, the cars and the tents: the food tent. As it turned out, they hired 4 of the things. It was a circus tent, filled with food vendors, half a dozen Playstations and seating for, oh, a hundred, and a wee canopy at one end for a deejay. This is where I contrived to spend the first 6 daylight hours of 1998, spinning tunes on Gathering FM: a toaster-sized transmitter blasting on 100.8MHz.
Back to the last night of 97... First stop, the Drum'n'Bass tent - the whole side of the tent was open to the twilight and Metalheadz beats was being broken, very nice. The Hardcore tent was next door and had a 'maze' of scaffolding for an entrance. Finding the "Trance/Techno Zone" proved pretty easy, the height of the tower topped with video screens was unmissable. At the zero hour, the hundred or so fire jugglers were something else, the fireworks were amazing, something you don't normally get while dancing in a field! Both were almost overshadowed, for me, by the sheer number of people out at the time - midnight 97/98 was the only time when the site itself, and the big grassy crater at the centre, was packed with people.
The sense of occasion was amazing, hard to ignore that 8,000(ish) people came all the way out on purpose. This is what made it special for me. If the rest of 98 continues as good as this start, we could be in for a good year.