The kids weren't supposed to have to fight so hard for their music. The rain they could handle. The standing for hours on end - they'd done it before. But there they huddled, a sea of poncho-muffled shadows extending far across the stadium's flooring, met by the gaze of corporate banners, fully-armed officers, and fellow fans in the upper decks.
Thousands of fans kept pouring into Giants Stadium, forking over $15 in the parking lot, surrendering umbrellas at the frisk-'em-first point of entry, and waiting in endless lines for $5 hot dogs.
And they kept standing, as morning turned into afternoon and afternoon into a gloomy dusk. They laughed with Beth Orton, shivered and danced with Underworld, jumped and howled with Blur and the Beastie Boys. A Field Day Music Festival banner depicting sun, grass, and colorful tents hung over the massive stage, and the irony was lost on no one.
What was supposed to be a weekend to redefine the music festival - replacing Coca-Cola banners with fan art and teen idols with musicians who actually write their own music - collapsed into 12 hours of "put up with it or leave" at the New Jersey stadium. Gone were the morning yoga classes, affordable local food and drink, arts and crafts exhibits, and camping. Suffolk County officials in Long Island cited an insufficient police force for the 35,000 fans expected to descend on an abandoned airfield in the town of Riverhead.
What happened to the celebration of art and nature, to the notion that exposure to new music could carry a show? Why had Field Day, with events and a lineup that had the world talking, dwindled to an audience of 20-somethings just kicking around until Radiohead came out to play?
"Our modern bureaucratic society makes it impossible to have large gatherings of any type," says Justin Doty, a recent college grad who drove two hours to Giants Stadium from his home in Hampton Bays, a town just minutes from the original venue. "With the current required logistics, anything that even gets off the ground is immediately tainted with falsehood because of the built-in compromise."
But, along with the 20,000 fans who tried to fill the stadium in spite of all obstacles and compromise, Mr. Doty was willing to put up with a lot for the music. The rain that streamed down his face as he clutched a pulpy Field Day lineup was sliding past a giddy smile.
No one in the audience that day understood what really happened, but a series of disgruntled questions simmered under the breath of the swelling crowd. "Who's fault is it?" asked a young man looking down at his list of performers from beneath a mop of blond curls and shaking his head. The 30 acts had shrunk to 14. "The promoters? County officials? Is it all about the money?"
All of the above, it seems. Two weeks earlier, a state supreme court judge was considering a lawsuit filed by a group of environmentalists to block the concert. Their main concerns: traffic jams and damage to underbrush. The judge eventually ruled in favor of the festival, but then there was the issue of a permit. Suffolk County officials had yet to grant Field Day legal permission to use the land, sending festival organizer Andrew Dreskin and his lawyers scurrying for an alternative locale.
"We're going to have a concert somewhere," Field Day attorney Christopher Kent told reporters after a lengthy town board meeting postponed any resolution.
It all boiled down to crowd control, officials claim. The Riverhead Town Police Department was a mere 74 members strong. County and state police forces refused to provide additional manpower.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Robert Kozakiewicz was hoping for the help - Field Day was expected to inject $2.7 million into the city, whose tourist-dependent economy was already suffering from eight weekends of dreary downpour.
(Bonaroo NE, another weekend festival set for late August on the same site, whose lineup includes Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, Talib Kweli, and Tom Petty, was canceled just days after Field Day. Organizers, wary of the logistical nightmare, are scavenging for a new venue.)
Mr. Dreskin, still burning up over the turn of events, which cost him "many millions of dollars," says it was wrong of Suffolk County to refuse to provide police assistance and then refuse to grant a permit because of the lack of police.
Just before stage hands set up for the final act, the clouds parted and the storm quietly abated. It has been said by critics around the world that Radiohead puts on a show like no one else, that the five skinny boys from Oxford may be the greatest band alive. So it came as no surprise when thousands of fans sang along to opening tracks from the unreleased new album "Hail to the Thief."
The band continued, undeterred. A half hour in, beneath a spotlight of hazy blues, singer Thom Yorke clutched the microphone and leaned forward. "I wanted to tell the organizers that I'm sorry it had to come to this," he said, his gaze drifting across the stadium and settling on the darkening sky. "We'll live to fight another day."
The crowd erupted into a deafening roar. For a moment the stadium didn't feel so impersonal, the festival such a failure. For a moment, at least, the music had won.