February 07, 2007

Big Day Out

By Paul McGuire © 2007

We did not have a hotel room in Surfer's Paradise with fewer than 18 hours before we were scheduled to board a flight to Coolangota Airport on Australia's Gold Coast. We were caught up with work in Melbourne and waited to the last minute to book a room. Our buddy Brandon, a professional poker player, was playing in the Aussie Millions poker tournament while Shecky and I were media hounds, covering the event for Poker News. We all assumed that we could find something at the last minute. We were very wrong since it was the middle of the summer in Australia. Surfer's Paradise and the surrounding beach towns were popular destinations. Plus, with the Big Day Out music festival nearby, everything was sold out.

After checking every major hotel and tourist website, we were ready to give up and headed to the bar to brainstorm our options. We ran into Kristy, a poker pro from Southern California, who had just won $285,000 Aussie dollars inside of four days after going deep in two different tournaments. She was having a minor celebration at the bar with her boyfriend, Ralph, a funny, soft-spoken, Aussie businessman, and invited us to join them.

Ralph bought us a bottle of wine that cost somewhere near $2,000. He doesn't just have a "black" American Express card, Ralph is such a high roller that he has a "Titanium" card. That puts him in an elite with 50 other members on the planet. That card is literally made out of steel and comes with a 24-hour concierge service... free of charge. Ralph's assistant is named Wang and attends to all his needs.

Shecky explained to Ralph about our problems finding a room on the Gold Coast.

"No worries, mate!" Ralph said as he picked up his mobile phone and dialed Wang, who was told to set us up with a room.

A few hours later, we were set up at the swanky Palazzo Versace. The room was over $600 a night or over $1,200 for two nights, which was about $800 over our price range. Shecky asked Ralph to find us a cheaper alterative.

"No worries," he said again. "This is on me. But be warned, it's a very snooty place."

Thanks to the generosity of a gregarious wealthy Australian businessman, our lack of hotel room was quickly solved. Our next problem involved the tickets to Big Day Out. Shecky was supposed to secure us three tickets to the Australian summer music festival rivaling Coachella and Bonnaroo. It had been sold out for months in every city including the show we had flown up to the Gold Coast to see. Shecky worked in the music industry for fifteen years and was associated with several major bands. He personally knew Tool's manager and had called in a rare favor several days earlier. His contact said he'd put three tickets aside for us.

On the morning of the festival, Shecky showed up at Tool's hotel in downtown Surfer's Paradise where he was given an envelope. Shecky opened it up to discover that there were only two tickets instead of three that were promised. Wicked pissed, Shecky called the manager, who was back in Hollyweird.

"I have not asked for a favor in five years," he lamented, wondering about all the positive karma he put out into the universe during his days of managing the Stone Temple Pilots or heading up Hootie and the Blowfish's record label.

Tool's manager apologized and said his assistant would contact us immediately. A late thirty-something California girl called Shecky to apologize again and promised us backstage passes, which read "Guest of Tool."

Since most of the bands we wanted to see were late afternoon and in the evening, we headed backstage and sat in the huge tent adjacent to the dressing rooms. There was free food and drinks with plenty of tables with the stairs up to the stage a couple hundred feet away. We sat down at a table to play Chinese Poker. It was a little strange because members of random bands would be walking past us while Brandon, Shecky, and I gambled as the muffled sounds of the band onstage fluttered by. The guys from Chemical Romance, Jet, The Killers, and Tool passed by us at one time or another and must have wondered who were those freaks playing poker amidst balding journalists with tape recorders and seventeen-year old groupies wearing no underwear.

I wanted to end the game to go see John Butler Trio's set. The band had walked past us and headed on stage, but Shecky would not let me go because he was in the middle of a terrible losing streak. He refused to end the game until he won a hand. That went on for about 12-15 hands and we ended up missing the first fifteen minutes of John Butler Trio. Bastard.

I had only been backstage at a major concert once... and that was Phish in Arizona in 1999. The Big Day Out backstage experience was unreal and surreal. When Kate Hudson walked by, our jaws dropped. The angelic actress was not wearing any make-up and wore a flowery sundress and oversized sunglasses as she sauntered past us. She was apparently banging the lead singer of Jet, according to the Aussie tabloids. At one point she bent over in front of me and squatted for a few minutes so she could see Muse. Shecky poked me in the ribs and said, "That's the closest Kate Hudson will ever get to your cock."

Two feet away. Spectacular. I jotted down notes and the setlist and just like the scene from Almost Famous, I expected Penny Lane to take the pen out of my hand and toss it away. And yes, she's amazingly smoking hot in person.

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.

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