Heard the old joke about the ingenuous rookie journalist? It goes like this:
Rookie get’s sent to cover a performance at a famous theater.
Rookie goes off and comes back four hours later looking very disappointed.
Editor asks him if he has a story.
“No,” sighed Rookie. “There’s no story because there wasn’t a performance. There wasn’t a performance because just before it started the theater caught fire and five people died.”
That story struck Unspun as he made his way through walls and walls of people (most of them so young and they all seem to be sporting BlackBerry Bolds that Unspun had to think for months whether he could afford such a phone before making the purchse) at the Java Jazz that ended Sunday night.
The Jakarta Convention Center is huge, but clearly it wasn’t built for so many people. Unspun’s estimate was that there were probably at least around 15,000 people at the JCC during the peak times. It was probably more.
Someone told Unspun that the capacity of the JCC was 8,000 people at any one time. The organizers have apparently been going around on Sunday night saying that they sustained a record 80,000 visitors for this year’s Jakarta Jazz.
That would make it about 26,000 people per day, which is not too much off from Unspun’s estimate.
If this was indeed the case then the obvious story that the journalists have missed are not the ones telling how wonderful, electrifying, mesmerizing (substitute your own journalistic cliché verbs) the artists have been but the danger that the overcrowding presented, and how it lessened a great experience.
There is the safety angle that the journalists could have covered. Go to some of the performances such as Tompi and you would have to pull in your stomach (in Unspun’s case a major feat) to squeeze yourself into the room. It was that packed. Squeezing room only.
What would have happened if there was a fire? This scene was repeated night after night with the popular acts. You can’t simply squeeze twice the amount of people a building was built for without endangering the people there.
If Unspun were still a journalist he would question the organizers how they could allow such overcrowding to take place. He would also ask the city and safety authorities how they could allow a safety hazard like this to continue for three days running without cracking down on it.
Then there is the discomfort and inconvenience. Unspun has been a Java Jazz fan for most of the past five years. In the past there was always a good crowd, but it wasn’t overcrowded.
You could wander into any act. Sometimes there was a bit of a squeeze and if it was packed you had to stand but you could catch just about any show you wanted. If you liked an act you stayed and grooved to the music but if you did not like it you want to another. There was that element of choice that allowed you to discover new sounds.
This year, however, you had to wait up to an hour to two outside the halls for the more popular acts. Because the crowd control was pretty bad you had to do this while jostling with people passing by you (back to the overcrowding thing – you just can’t squeeze so many people into a confined space without them coming up against each other). To make things worse the only way you could get comfort was to sit on the floor, not a very dignified way to treat paying guests.
The result was a lot of time wasted just lining up and when you got in you got hemmed in by a lot of hot sweaty bodies (and the BO! Oh the BO!) if you did not get a seat. All this lessens the listening pleasure and made it more of a Jazz Marathon, which is to be endured, than a Jazz Festival, which is to be savored and enjoyed.
The organizers have begun blaming the black market for the overcrowding. Apparently the overcrowding is because of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of black market tickets.
This is a curious attribution of blame and, if true, is yet another angle that the media hasn’t picked up. Are we to believe that lack marketeers printed up hundreds of tickets with holographic labels that fooled the security staff that was holding everyone up at the gates with their infra-red, false-ticket detection devices? Or did the organizers lose control of how much tickets they printed and distributed? There is a good story here somewhere. But why is the press not sniffing in this direction?
But don’t get Unspun wrong.
On the whole Unspun thinks that the Java Jazz Festival is a great event and Peter Gontha ought to be commended for building the event to the standing it has today.
Sure, the selection of some of the bands and players may not satisfy the jazz purist but they do bring in the crowds and did, as their slogan promise, bring the world to Indonesia.
But now that the world has come to our doorstep what Gontha needs to do is ensure that they have a great time so that they would come back for more and tell others to come too.
This is not going to happen unless the organizers get disciplined about the overcrowding issue, the parking louts outside the JCC, put up better signage and start acts on time. Already the organizers are talking about moving the event to Kemayoran, a larger venue. This is a good start but they need to solve other other issues as well so that they can not only bring the world to Indonesia but have them praising this country to high heaven.
(Prologue: It is wishful thinking but it would also be fantastic if they could solve the BO problem. Nothing dampens a jazz riff as someone smelling as ripe as a 10-day old durian standing behind you. Here’s some out of the box thinking: Get AXE or some deodorant manufacturer to be next year’s sponsor and have the unwashed participants pass through a Sniff-O-Meter when they go through the entrance gates. Those triggering alarm bells would be fumigated with a healthy dose of deodorant. They then can have girls running after them all hot and bothered to amplify the AXE effect, or men if the offender is a woman. Sounds unconventional but Unspun wouldn’t sniff at this suggestion.)