Alabama 3: Our hippie festival hell

Keyboardist Orlando Harrison bemoans the lack of Woodstock spirit as things fall apart at a summer bash
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The first alarm bell goes off when we get to the gate of the hippie festival and a cropped yellow jacket with Maori tattoos and Connect Four counters in his earlobes stops the van and says in a serious voice: "I just need to ask you a few questions. The first one is the most important question I'm going to ask you all day... Are we having a good time?!" The answer is no. We've just spent four hours in an overcrowded, overheated minibus, driving from London to play at a lame hippie festival, and we're being interrogated by a perky orc.

"Can I ask you, gentlemen, do you have any drugs on you?" Doh. It's a festival. We're the Alabama 3. The interrogation continues: "Did you hire this van?"; "Where've you guys driven from today?"; "How long are you staying?" The alarm bells are now ringing like it's Christmas morning in Strangeways.

On site it's business as usual: The Bong Emporium, The Brain Machine, The Oxygen Bar (that's a good one: selling air at £1 a pop). Some of it's alright, though. There's a squatter advice centre in a small tent, there's a tiny cinema showing films about the evils of globalisation and Neocon expansionism, there's a strip of creepy burlesque sideshows and, turning a corner, I see my old friend Jo Piece, as usual setting fire to himself in front of 400 people, in a silver jockstrap.

We do the gig and it's all right and all the hippies jump up and down like they're supposed to, despite the fact that the mixing desk is so near the stage that half the audience can't see what we're doing.

Fast forward a few hours: as custom demands, we're off our faces in the crew bar (the best watering hole at any festival) when Jo Piece appears, with some interesting news: Larry [Rob Spragg, vocals] has been kicked off site by security, along with some other guy. Here we go. Jo saw the whole thing. Larry's mate John has the wrong wristband, Larry tries to reason with the security, they won't have it, he remonstrates, things escalate... what follows is hazy, but after this Larry and John are told that they're being driven to an office elsewhere on site to get the right wristband. They're put into a van and driven to a field away from the site and kicked out.

You'd think that they'd cut us a bit of slack, seeing we're the main turn and we did a storming gig and all.

I manage to talk to one of the organisers and the head of security. They tell me that Larry and his friend were using "abusive language" – those poor security guards; they're very sensitive. I'm told the situation "escalated". They also tell me that Larry and his mate had been taking drugs and "appeared to be intoxicated". Intoxicated?! At a festival?! I feel it's my civic duty to inform them that I have myself noticed a number of festivalgoers whom I suspect might possibly be under the influence of narcotic stimulants.

The trouble with hippies is that they're squeamish about dealing with nasty things like money and power, so they always get the security, and the finances, wrong. And, of course, this generates the one thing that they can't face: conflict.

It takes several threats of litigation before I get to speak to a couple of the top brass. The first is an extremely posh hippie who listens to my complaints with an expression like he's tasting a rancid truffle.

"But what exactly are you trying to achieve?" he whines, poshly. I get passed on to a smart-casual off-duty executive with a very expensive-looking watch. He rounds on me for being a prima donna. "So do you think you should be treated differently from everybody else because you're some kind of pop star?"

Well, here's the thing: they love to book the Alabama 3 for these pseudo-libertarian conventions because, hey, we're a bit edgy – naughty boys who like to rock and roll, we supply an air of proper Dionysian revelry to these fundamentally rather anodyne events. But once they've sold their tickets and we've done the business for them, as soon as we're offstage, we're a nuisance. Then he hits me with the killer question: "So what exactly do you want from The Company?" Ah, The Company. Ladies and gentlemen... the spirit of Avalon has just left the campsite.

When I get home I look up the organisers' website. It's all runes and compost toilets. There's a little box on the left that says "Mission Statement". What kind of freaking hippie anarchists have a mission statement? One day, these guys will be running a conglomerate of coffee shops. Their aims include "Activating the Web of Light" and "To Live Sustainably From Our Field of 'Work'". At £60 a ticket I'm sure "The Company" manages to live very sustainably, thank you.

"When pondering our futures as event producers in the past, the dominant symbol that appeared to us over and over was the chalice. It is about developing a structure that is not leaky, that is able to receive the abundance of the universe and is always overflowing with bounty. Om Shanti."

I've learnt an important spiritual lesson, the transformational truth of that ancient mantra: never trust a hippie.

& #169; Orlando Harrison 2007; Alabama 3's album 'MOR' is out now. The band are touring to 8 October (www.alabama3.co.uk)

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