Backstage Journal: Childish Gambino

In case you’ve ever wondered what’s going on behind the scenes…

Life provides a lot of beauty and surprise. Looking at bushes of magnolias and roses in the winter is appalling and pretty disappointing, but wait a couple months and you will see those prickly bulbous bushes transform into something beautiful and rewarding. Heck, if you know the right people, you might even be able to snip those flowers, take them home, put them in a vase, and give people the illusion that you are the kind of classy human that knows about the finer things. Life will reward you if you let it.

In the case of these two LotusLand reporters, we waited out the cold winter months of being regular festival goers until at last, on Saturday evening, life rewarded us with all access backstage passes. With our wristband and infinity pass fastened tightly, we casually parted the hoards of people waiting to see rapper Childish Gambino, flashed our winning smiles at a bouncer, and bim bam boom, we were backstage.

The fabled backstage area.
The fabled backstage area.

The backstage area at the Squamish Music Festival was comprised of an array of silver bullet trailers, the biggest belonging to Gambino and his crew of hooligans. In the middle of the semicircle of trailers was a grassy area with picnic tables, a campfire, and a tented area with food, drinks, and couches. The people backstage were a hearty mix of Live Nations executives, people in Donald Glover’s crew, fans who had gained access one way or another, and various artists from the festival. The environment was calm. People sat on the leather couches, used laptops, or helped themselves to the bizarre array of wine, cheetos, and gummy bears which sat neatly arranged on a buffet. Donald Glover stood in the far corner, hoodie up, rapping quietly to himself.

In the distance, beyond this little haven, you could hear the screams, hoots, and hollers of an incredibly lively crowd. Twenty-somethings in homemade t-shirts printed with “Gambino Girls” in block letters held signs and discussed setlist possibilities. Backstage was calm, but out there, the storm had already hit. At long last, Glover pulled down the hood of his sweatshirt and walked on stage. For the next hour, this quiet and shy individual in pastel shorts took on a completely different persona. Onstage he was the bad boy, and the crowd ate it up. The people backstage seemed blasé. The occasional foot would tap or head would nod, but most everyone was very detached from the performance. For all the hype about backstage access, the view of the stage was limited. A crew member walked offstage holding a giant beach ball containing a strikingly lifelike baby doll. A woman at a table started blowing bubbles. I made a joke about bubblerap. She did not laugh, and with that we decided it was time to explore elsewhere. Maybe in the tech booth our puns would be more appreciated.

The view from the tech platform.
The view from the tech platform.

The environment in the tech booth was opposite to that of the backstage area. Bodies in black shirts bustled, moved, and swayed. They referred to the setlist, turned knobs, pushed buttons, walkie talkied, shouted, and laughed. These folks were performing just as much as the people onstage, and their exciting energy was infectious. The tower we stood on shook and moved as the crowd below jumped and danced to the music. The atmosphere was off the chain and everyone knew it. ElectraBelle Visuals was the company working with Gambino during this show, providing visual accompaniment the performance. It’s easy to experience a concert without realizing all the people who put infinite time and effort into making all of those small details just right. The screen behind the rapper pulsed and glowed perfectly in time with the beats and movements. The tech booth felt like a bunch of kids about to perform at their summer camp variety show: excited but focused, ready to show their peers and onlookers just what they’ve been working on all summer.

We decided to return to the crowd below to get the real nitty gritty Gambino experience. Within five minutes of standing in the crowd, we were in the arms of the strangers that surrounded us, being vaulted into the hands of the crowd. As we  surfed, Donald Glover began to freestyle: “We up in Vancouver, smoking medusa.” He took off his shirt, and the hands pushed us forward, all the way to the door of the backstage area. We returned to our quiet haven. As we walked into the grassy patch, Glover slouched down the steps of the stage, his face dripping with sweat as the backstage collective swarmed him with conversation.

I waited patiently behind the hordes, itching to talk but not knowing what to say. What would you say to a shirtless, sweat drenched idol of yours in a casual, hang-out type setting? I walked up to him with the intention of congratulating him on his show, because he totally killed it. What came out was “Donald Glover, you just performed a rap concert in pastel shorts, who the fuck do you think you are?” He laughed and responded with “Hi, I’m Donald.” Like a clammy handed seventh grader talking to their camp crush, I babbled on about scalping people to maintain my hairdo, selling my hand on ebay, and neatly finished it off by telling him I suspect I have a social disorder. He was surprisingly receptive to my terror talk, and casually pulled out a vaporizer. “Is that an asthma inhaler?” I say. Looking at me seriously for the first time in our conversation, he appeared very confused. “No… no, that’s weed.” Another joke dead in this barren, backstage wasteland of humor. Time to go.

An amazing concert is not just about the music. An amazing concert is about crowd surfing, watching rappers eat snack food, yelling to the person next to you about how this is your favorite song, mistaking asthma for drug use, and watching VJ’s design videos and eat chicken teriyaki at the same time. An amazing concert is about the people you meet, the dances you dance, and the odd happenings that occur in between. I like to think Childish Gambino named his album “Camp” because that’s what his live performances are like: a lot of incredibly fun and very weird moments you have trouble explaining to anyone who wasn’t there with you.


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