Gathering wired and ready to blast off

Nelson Mail, 31 December 1998

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The Gathering was wired for sound as organisers and thousands of eager fans spent the morning readying themselves for the country's biggest dance party, due to start at midday today.

Co-organiser Alison Green said forecast rain would not mar the 48-hour event which was to be launched with a spectacular opening ceremony involving all of the party's 100 perfomers. The build-up at the Canaan Downs site had gone relatively smoothly, with an estimated 5000-7000 of the expected 10,000 crowd on site by this morning.

However, three festival-goers and a toddler from a neighbouring property needed to be taken by ambulances for medical treatment yesterday, after separate minor incidents. One young woman suffered what was believed to be an asthma attack, another fell and cut her leg on rocks, and a young man burnt his leg with boiling water. Meanwhile, the three-year-old boy from a neighbouring property was taken to The Gathering medical centre after falling and cutting his head on rocks.

Ms Green said that although two doctors and a basic emergency medical centre were on site at the time of the accidents, it was decided not to stitch injuries on site because of the non-sterile environment.

The lengthy queues and delays on Takaka Hill, which had been features of past Gatherings, were all but non-existent for most of yesterday, as festival-goers arrived. Besides opening the gates to all vehicles more than 24 hours before the start of the music, the organisers had this year moved the main checkpoint to the site entrance 8km along Canaan Raod from the Takaka Hill highway intersection, instead of at the intersection of Canaan Road. That freed up more space for vehicles to be searched (for alcohol) and for tickets to be collected, and meant they weren't queuing up on the highway waiting to get in.

However, despite the smoother system, the narrow, winding Canaan Road was packed with traffic by late afternoon as party-goers started to arrive in force. Some rain had been forecast but was not concerning organisers too much.

"We asked people to bring rain gear and if it does rain heavily we will be able to fit a lot of people into the marquees for shelter," Ms Green said.

Sound technicians were also this morning readying themselves for the task of ensuring the music would be well and truly heard from midday.

Nelson's Grant Ellis of Rage Noise Audio was in charge of the hardcore zone's PA system which pumps out 15 kilowatts of sound. But this is small compared with the neighbouring trance/techno zone sound system, put together by Terry Molloy and Glen Ruske of Christchurch's Redd Acoustics, which delivers 55kW of sound through eight main speaker stacks.

Alpha Security operations controller Joe Bartle said the welfare of the crowd was the security team's main aim once The Gathering got under way. "Looking after partygoers, making sure the traffic flows smoothly, and ensuring people enjoy themselves - that's what we are here for." Mr Bartle said the site had the population of a small New Zealand town, and "under normal circumstances things happen in small New Zealand towns which can be annoying. We have planned for those things and want to make sure nothing dangerous happens."

These plans included employing Nelson's independent Waterhouse Fire Department, which consists of a crew of three experienced volunteer firefighters equipped with a complete fire tender, four-wheel-drive vehicle and off-road motorbike. Monsoon buckets were already onsite in case of a major fire in the beech forest, which would be fought with help from the Department of Conservation.

Fire department organiser Mark Donaldson said he found The Gathering a great experience. "Just to be part of the organisation, the huge effort whch has gone into this is unreal, and everyone is happy - there's no rubbish from them."

One couple who have travelled a long way to enjoy The Gathering for a second year are Kate Townsend and Wilfred Marchant fron the Bay of Islands. "We came back this year, as we wanted some more of the same good atmosphere, good energy, and good music," Ms Townsend said. The couple said they used the opportunity to meet old friends they had made last year. "The alcohol ban is definitely an attraction," Ms Townsend said. "At drinking events everyone is out to help themselves - here everyone is out to help each other."

The Nelson Mail is giving extensive coverage to this year's Gathering, including setting up a branch office at the site staffed fulltime by reporter Helen Murdoch. Other staff reporters and photographers will also be on site throughout the event to provide pictures and stories on the party, which will feature in the paper during the next few days.

Nelson Mail staff reporters, 31 December 1998

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