Festival season is well and truly underway and there are soooooo many to choose from these days. When I started my festival-going career it was either Reading or Glastonbury, and it seemed to me that you made your choice depending on whether you were a rocker or a hippie. I’m lucky enough to be based not a million miles away from either site so over the years have visited both as I consider myself to be a bit of a hippie with a penchant for a wanky guitar solo. As the popularity and variety of festivals has increased I’ve taken in a few of the others too.
My first though, and I think will forever be the best, was Reading 1992.
There were 3 girls, 2 boys, 2 cars, one worn out tape copy of Nevermind and a brand new copy of Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and enough fags to keep us going for weeks, let alone a couple of days. These were the days when you could park up near the festival and wander in and out without a full body search or needing to show 5 different wristbands, ID and a ticket. What little sleep we had was in the cars and we all moved around as a pack, no mobile phones in those days. (I feel so old)
It was a proper bog, there were music lovers playing naked in the dirty puddles, and the band Mudhoney even stropped off stage as mud was hurled at them, really what did they expect?? …. We saw The Beastie Boys, L7, Nick Cave, and finally Nirvana do a set that some call the best to have ever been played at Reading, and we were right there at the front… sleep deprived, caked in mud, soaking wet and happy as pigs in shit!!!…. Oh how things have changed.
My first Glastonbury was a turn up late and climb the fence affair… so you can probably work out that it was some time ago, to sneak in now you’d need to be airlifted in during the early hours with a full set of wrist bands and a back story worthy of a Russian secret agent, but although tickets are hard to come by and incredibly expensive, it’s the most amazing festival and everyone should try do it at least once in their lifetime, although I retired my Glasto wellies the year this happened!!!
Next was V festival, after Glastonbury’s wood whittling workshops and watching the sun rise over the mystical stone circle, V was a corporate slap in the face. From the Virgin logoed bog roll to the JJB sponsored dance tent it was an altogether cleaner and tidier experience. I queued politely at the bar for a Budweiser (the sponsor) clutching tickets I’d had to purchase from a separate kiosk, and then had to approach yet another kiosk to get a soft drink, Virgin Cola obviously, all the time watching some of my fellow female festival goers tottering around the field in their sky-scraper heels and mini skirts with full faces of slap and deadly looking manicures. Bewildered I was!!… Chilling out watching a great band with some of your favourite people in the sunshine or dancing like crazy person under the stars with thousands of like-minded folks is good whatever the location… I just felt personally that V didn’t have that festival vibe.
After a few too many cold, wet and muddy festival weekends we decided to travel to the sunshine of Benicassim in Spain, camping on dry land, beach close-by, showers and no trench foot, luxury we thought. The Spanish have it down to a fine art, short beer queues, better than average street food, massive outdoor shower blocks and a great line-up, one bit of advice for those of us not used to the heat, do not camp!! The festival runs from 7pm until 7am limiting sleeping time to during the full heat of the day. With temperatures hitting 30c+ our pop up tent served only as a green house, the small amount of sleep we did get was either in the recovery position on the beach coated in factor 50, or on a wooden bench in the shower block. So summing up, we gave the festie in the sun a big thumbs up, just treat yourself to a nearby apartment with air conditioning, it’d be worth every penny.
I thought after frequenting some of the festival giants that I’d try a smaller event. Friends of friends were putting on the Re-Cydrate the West festival, and said friends were playing there too. We drove down a tiny track along the edge of a field on the Welsh border, as we looked down we saw it, what looked like Windlesham village fete with a few tents next to some parked cars… Hmmmmm, this was not what we’d had in mind.
Turns out we all had the best weekend, not only was it in the most beautiful location surrounded by an un-spoilt forest and fresh water lakes but you never lost your friends. You didn’t have to go to the loo in pairs or wait until everyone else got cold to go back to the tent for a jumper, you could store stuff in the car instead of filling your tent with crap you didn’t need anyway, and one of our crew even became the talk of the festival due to some monumental snoring, you know who you are!… I am now a small festie convert, right people, right location, a huge variety of ciders and some top tunes, can’t beat it… especially as you get a bit older, and don’t want to walk 20 miles a day up hill and the need to be close to a porta-loo at all times becomes a priority.
This same little festival also welcomed me the following year, while I was going through chemotherapy. I’d had 1 session and was still reeling from the news that I had Breast Cancer. My Oncologist begrudgingly gave me permission on the basis that I had access to proper washing facilities, phone service and there were medical facilities on site, I thought it was hopeless. The hubby called the organizers and they were amazing, I was given special permission to rent a room in the little hotel on the grounds that some of the festival staff were staying in, I had a 4 poster bed, en-suite bathroom and a special wrist band, perfect. I got to enjoy the weekend with my friends after all, and not feel like fucking cancer had taken fun from me along with my energy levels and apparent tolerance to cider… We even got fake married 🙂 . This little festival deserves the success it’s had and this year welcomes 50,000 visitors to it’s newly named Boomtown Fair.
At 37 the mind was optimistically willing but the body was becoming a bit less happy to play ball. Tamoxifen wasn’t always kind to my joints and the thought of a 3-day hike, late nights, hangovers and a slowly deflating airbed in a damp tent was starting to lose its appeal. I still love live music, fresh air, my friends, dancing and beer so Dan and I scoured the long list of festivals now available to us and stumble across Wilderness.
This is what I call a posh festival, it’s in the grounds of a mansion house near Oxford, you can swim in a fresh water lake, take a boat ride, join the crazy people out for a group morning run, do a yoga class, learn to crochet, visit a spa, and dine at a Michelin star pop up restaurant. We set up under an ancient oak tree and had our own private little camp, there was a short walk to the eco-loo’s and main festival site, eggs benedict for breakfast, stone baked pizza for lunch and Goan fish curry for dinner. The campsite was quiet, well it would have been if it wasn’t for my lot, and I actually went home having seen the bands I wanted too and not feeling like I needed a holiday to recover… I think as I get older and should feel the need for a night or two under canvas (Nylon) listening to some music then these posh festivals will be my first choice, they get nick named “middle-class” festivals… I think “middle-aged” is more appropriate.
So that’s my take on festivals as a teenager and then as a nearly 40 something. An evolution from considering it a badge of honor to have barely slept and drunk my body weight in beer, to making sure I have packed a first aid kit, earplugs and my book. I reckon with today’s variety and choice that there’s a festival out there for us all… if it ever stops sodding raining!!!!!!