In 2006, my first experience of Wadstock was cut tragically short by an errant frisbee hitting me in the face. Watching Dot’s Funk Odyssey’s headline set through my friend’s window, I was disappointed to be missing the night’s climax in order to ice my swollen eye. At the time a musically-unattached Wadham fresher, I was unaware of how many more Wadstock experiences I had left to go.
Now a third-year DPhil student and trumpeter for Dot’s Funk Odyssey (DFO), I hold the fairly dubious title of serial Wadstock attendee. On Saturday I played onstage in the DFO headlining set for the fifth year running, and surprisingly, it was still every bit as exciting and energising as each year before. This year we had a torrential downpour and a bar that ran prematurely dry to contend with, but it’s the little challenges that make performing at Wadstock really memorable.
Like in 2008 when a fellow trumpeter’s drunken moshing adventure ended in paramedic attention and a malfunctioning left leg. Or the following year when another trumpeter was so intoxicated by 10 pm that we resorted to pouring three successive espressos from the MCR coffee machine down his neck. This proved not to sober him up in the slightest, but did however seem to imbue him with transcendental musical powers, as he proceeded to improvise a mind-expanding jazz descant over our entire set, while sporting a glazed expression and struggling to stay upright .
This year’s Wadstock took place in the Wadham College gardens and was the first to be open to everyone, not just Wadhamites and their guests. The 19 band line-up included garage rock (Muse covers, anyone?), a ukulele ensemble, singer songwriters and a violinist armed with a digital looper. However, the annual 12-hour festival wasn’t always the large, all-inclusive variety-fest it is today and Dot’s Funk Odyssey (DFO) was formed in 2004 as an antidote to the endless line-up of grunge wannabes that the Wadstock bill used to comprise.
Originally a loose collective of 19 tambourinists and backing singers, by the time I joined DFO in Michaelmas 2006, the momentum of two Wadstocks and a handful of balls had transformed the band into a tight and disciplined group of soul-enthusiasts with intent to funk. In order to survive in Oxford’s slick jazz, swing and a cappella scene we’ve had to get more focussed – we recruit across the university at Freshers Fair and audition new members – but we still push the same aim: funk and soul music to dance and sing along to. It’s a mission that’s certainly worked for us so far. However, neither the cheeky delight in actually being paid to attend five balls a term nor the thrill of filling your favourite Oxford venue (The Cellar, not Wahoo) with dancing fans can compare to our annual highlight – heading the bill at Wadstock.
Six and a half years on, Wadstock still forms the musical pinnacle of DFO’s year. 0th week of Trinity sees us convening emergency rehearsals and engaging in heated setlist debates, whilst our resident arranger Alex Kaiserman throws together our Wadstock special number. Previously, these funked-up versions of recent chart hits have seen us take on Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, mash-up Estelle’s ‘American Boy’ with Dizzee’s ‘Dance Wiv Me’, and underpin a Beyoncé song with a Rage Against The Machine riff in a number christened ‘Killing In The Name Of All The Single Ladies’. This year it just had to be Cee Lo Green’s ‘F**k You!’ which we delivered to a rain-soaked crowd of dedicated ravers.
The Wadstock day, for performers, is an exciting mix of relaxed open-air picnicking and a slight underlying panic about everything that could go wrong. The list here is pretty extensive and during my five years in the band we’ve seen all sorts including singers being too hung-over by 11pm to sing, drunken saxophonists going missing, broken equipment, lost music and, last year, rioting. As we commenced our final number, Wadham anthem ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, a look of distinct alarm spread across the security guards’ faces as the entire female population of the audience climbed onto the shoulders of their male counterparts. Ignoring instructions to stop playing, we were soon unplugged and engulfed by an audience stage invasion. Add to this the thrill of hearing 800 people chant your name and the sight of your logo being worn on Wadstock T-shirts for the next year and you’ll see why, as Oxford students, we appreciate that this is the closest to rock and roll we’ll ever get. And for that, Wadstock, we thank you from the bottom of our funky souls.