Gathering site humming

Nelson Mail, 30 December 1998

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A small town is emerging on Takaka Hill today at the site of this year's Gathering dance party, which is expected to attract more than 10,000 people. The gates were due to open at noon today, and the music begins at noon tomorrow.

Large plumes of dust have been rising from the 12km gravel Canaan Rd as more traffic arrives at the remote Canaan Downs site, covered in pasture and rolling beech forest. Clusters of tents have sprung up around the fringes of the trees.

Co-organiser Greg Shaw said today more than 7000 tickets had been sold, and he expected this to reach between 9000 and 10,000 by tomorrow night. There will be no gate sales. Operations coordinator Joe Bartle said this afternoon would be "chaos". Co-organiser Alison Green agreed that today would be "full-on", with people coming in but none of the dance zones ready.

"We have to make sure people don't come into the zones while the crew are still working on them," she said. Party-goers would have to create their own entertainment while the crew finished last-minute preparations. The 1000-strong crew would add to the expected 10,000 dancers, she said.

Ms Green said tomorrow's opening at noon would be a surprise, but would involve huge taikos (Japanese drums) and all 100 performers.

Site coordinator Murray Kingi said he was unfazed by the logistical challenge of supplying food and facilities, saying it became easier every year. "Right now we are one day ahead of ourselves," he said of the efforts of the 120-strong crew.

Some crew members have been working at the site since December 18 - the rest arrived on Boxing Day. A huge tent provides the crew's dining and relaxation area, with two cooks working all day preparing vegetarian meals. Nearby, piles of food are stacked in the main food stall area, where stallholders are trying to keep their produce cool in the hot sun.

Surrounded by boxes of bananas, Ed van Son of Wellington surveyed his dripping five-tonne container of ice. "We've brought about 20,000 bananas and tonnes of other fruit, which will be blended and made into fresh fruit drinks," said Mr van Son, who runs a juice bar in Wellington. "The Gathering is alcohol-free and it is going to be hot dance weather - they'll need it." Mr van Son said the event had been "a logistical adventure, but I could not have done it without my friends".

Mr Bartle, operations controller for Alpha Security, is the man on whose shoulders rests the responsibility for people's safety. It is the second year he has worked at the Gathering, and he has a team of 60 security personnel to patrol the 18ha site. "The people who come here are all out to have a good time - our aim is to protect their well-being," he said. "The effects of the hot days and cold nights on the crowd are one of the worst things we have to face."

Away from the melee of food stall holders and organisers, the technical crew is working to create the aesthetics of the party. Huge dance tents and weird, colourful artistic installations are all taking shape. "We've got six large marquees and 10 smaller tents," said Mr Kingi, who is in charge of everything which can be built, switched on or plugged in.

The drum and bass zone tent alone is 50m by 20m, while the house tent is silk-lined and pristine white. The ambient zone is a decorated depression on the edge of the bush, and the tribal zone is out among the trees.

In the main trance zone, half-circled by mature beech trees, a 9.5m scaffolding and driftwood alien is taking shape - the work of Wellington designer Mike Gib. It is the third year he has designed installations at the Gathering, and he said he loved the challenge.

"The trance zone will be the main dance area - we expect about 5000 people here at the peak of the party," said Mr Kingi. He said he conceptualised the layout of this year's site at the end of the last party. "I give everyone the chance to put what they want here, as long as it fits into the design and budget."

Tomorrow, as the dancers continue to flood in, they will be able to judge for themselves whether this year's Gathering will once again earn the title of dance party of the year.

Nelson weather analyst John Mathieson said there could be a few showers at the site tonight, and the weather would be warm and humid.

Dougal Bell, Nelson Mail, 30 December 1998

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