The festival space is usually where the festival is found, and not least where my fieldwork inquiry would typically start. As an anthropologist, fieldwork means observing, participating and not least living with the people and materials I study; staying in a tent for the duration of the festival, being part of a concert crowd, chatting in the food truck queues, drinking (a) beer, shielding from a rain shower under a rain poncho, and communal showering not least at the festival space. At Tønder Festival this space is a green field, just a short walk from the town centre.
This year’s Tønder Festival was scheduled for August 27th to 30th, but like any other festival was cancelled due to COVID-19. This year this festival space was in fact just a green field, though of much longer than usual lush grass, only holding significance in peoples’ memories and hearts. Despite this, I soon learned that the festival’s cancellation however did not result in its disappearance. As this year’s celebrations of Tønder Festival around the town of Tønder testified, the field did not disappear, rather it scattered. The festival – or these festival-like celebrations – was there, but where?
In the following excerpt from my fieldnotes, I walk the streets of Tønder, trying to locate and experience the distanced-distributed festival field on Saturday afternoon August 29th, 2020.
As I leave the supermarket Kvickly the sun is once again shining. Walking, I feel the Tønder Festival beers against my hip through the tote bag. I bought the beers in Kvickly, when I escaped from a short rain shower. The path to Heidi’s garden party takes me through the neighborhoods of Tønder. I prick up my ears as I walk here, look over a few hedges to get a peek; is someone hosting a party at that place? Or that one? No. Coming here, I would have thought there’d be more parties going on; that I could walk down any neighborhood street of Tønder and feel the festival permeating the town this weekend. Now and then I hear some music playing in the background, but I’m unsure if it’s just the spectacle from the city square that I hear here at a distance. Tønder isn’t that big a town after all, and the music there is quite loud. Far into the backyard of a house I pass, I spot a party tent; could that be another garden party? I hear no one. It’s almost 2 o’clock pm and I wonder if some of the garden parties have gone to Schweizerhalle to experience the extra support concert at 2 pm?
My GPS tells me that I’m approaching Heidi’s house. Talking about how to find my way to her house in our e-mail correspondence, she jokingly told me to simply follow the noise as she guaranteed they’d be noisy. Standing in front of her house, looking at her mailbox with her name and house number, I however still cannot hear a thing. I walk past the two cars parked in the driveway, into the backyard where the sight of 3 tents meets me. There are two smaller igloo tents and a 4 people tent large enough for you to stand up inside. I peek across the tents and see people eating lunch under three pavilions at the back of this long and somewhat narrow city garden. I feel that moment of potential trespassing is over as this must be Heidi and her party. As I passed by the tents, minding my steps not to trap in the guy ropes, the garden party notices me and I wave and say ‘hi’.
Heidi and her husband, Jesper, get up and greet me, and I say that I’m sorry for interrupting their lunch. They tell me not to worry and find me a seat at Jesper’s table. As we get seated, Jesper points to a spot under a tree right next to us and tells how they had to move the music inside again due to the rain. I think to myself that this was probably the same rain shower I sheltered from in Kvickly. A small portable Bluetooth speaker is playing in the background and I get seated next to Jesper, sharing a cushion with a colorful flowery print with him. We’re sitting 6 people at this picnic table set. Next to Jesper is Henning, a man in his 50s. On the other side sits a couple about the same age as Heidi and Jesper, in their 40s. Right across from me sits a guy in his 20s, a son of someone here I feel. Generally looking around, we’re 20 people or so in the garden, roughly making up two generations; parents and their children. Jesper tell how they’re all part of the same volunteer group at the festival. He and Heidi however no longer volunteer, as they want to be able to experience the festival in full, not having to work. Wanting to sustain the volunteer group, they’ve passed their volunteer responsibilities onto their children, who’s now in charge.
Heidi comes over, asking if I want a drink? ‘Yes, thanks’ and she brings me a Guinness beer and a bottle of dill snaps to choose from. It’s quite something to choose from I think to myself, just as I sense from Heidi’s laughter. I tell her I prefer the snaps, thinking to myself I’m glad I recently learned how to enjoy snaps. As she pours me the snaps in a disposable shots glass, I explain how I tasted the Guinness yesterday at Hagge’s, finding it ‘a sort of special beer’. I laugh and Jesper understands my limited enthusiasm, saying how some just love the Guinness and find it to be part of the festival, pointing to Henning’s beer, while others as himself likes more of a regular beer.
The pandemic’s safety demands of social distancing distributed the festival into its parts. Festivalgoers here and there to be found, music acts likewise, tap beer, festival food – the local delicacy ‘solæg’ not least as seen in the below picture, “unemployed” volunteers, tents, merchandise, and I could go on. Scattered across town, Denmark in fact, making fieldwork a scavenger hunt of sorts, starting from behind the desk weeks before ‘the festival’, making contacts with people such as Heidi, as well as in the streets, walking with pricked up ears, peeking across hedges.
Doctoral Researcher, The University of Southern Denmark, Odense