Festival season is upon us, wearing muddy wellies, flower garlands and an indefatigable smile on its face while eating vegan wraps and swilling a pale ale.
It’s been a while since my last big music festival, but each springtime I pore over the posters, check out the billing, frown at some of the headliners and balk at the total costs. I love the process, but whichever festival I choose to attend next, I’ll always have a major case of FOMO and think the other one I was considering might be even better. And for a few moments, I re-live some of my festival highlights (and the occasional lowlights).
So, in keeping with the free-spirited, go-with-the-flow attitude of festival life, I’ve rambled randomly through my festival back catalogue and cherry-picked a few memories, images and thoughts to share with you. Peace out, maaan!
Mud, glorious mud
Ahh, that calf-aching slog across slippery, pitted fields. Each stride a laboured, multi-step process of dragging your foot up through the 5-inch layer of mud, hoisting it in front of you with as much forward momentum as you can muster and sloshing it back down into the mud before repeating the process with your other foot until you reach your destination…or collapse on the spot.
But when a long-loved performer hits the first few bars of a favourite track and the murmur of the crowd swells to a roar, the buzz overtakes any discomfort and you’re just happy you made it through.
A prime suspect
There I was, chilling on the grass at Cornbury Festival (now called Wilderness Festival), gentle sunshine stroking my skin. Then some bloke chooses to eclipse the sun, standing about 5ft away. I look up, scowling, and recognise David Cameron, the one-day-to-be British prime minister. Darn it, that’s one photo I wish I’d taken (but I didn’t, so you’ll just have to take my word for it). If I knew then what I know now, I would have had a serious word with him – not that it would have altered the future history of the UK but at least I’d have tried…. ? Here’s a montage of other happenings at Cornbury instead.
Getting heavy indoors
Here’s one for the indoor types. The annual Desertfest in Camden takes place at the end of April, so it’s slightly outside of the main festival season. But it’s a music festival alright. A low-groove, bearded, tattooed, pierced celebration of all things desert rock. Originating from the arid Palm Springs area of California, the desert rock sound is a distinctive mix of grinding, tuned-down guitars, languid psychedelic tones and ribcage-busting bass. It’s a friendly and amusing bunch here, plus I get to spend time in Camden, one of London’s most colourful quarters.
Above: Underworld cloakroom, Brew Dog in Camden & oooh…hello! Below: Camden’s waterways
A European perspective
I’d always imagined that the festival ambience would be more reserved outside of the UK, but if anything, the audience at Sziget Festival in Budapest was even more appreciative, because it’s rarer for them to secure the really big acts, I suppose. On this occasion I remember my disappointment when a musical favourite of mine, Chris Cornell, cancelled his headline show due to illness. Thankfully, I eventually got to see him play elsewhere with his band Soundgarden before his sadly premature death in May 2017.
If the noise annoys…..
The wettest, most dismal weather of any festival I’ve been to was during the Hydro-Connect Festival in Scotland. But, oh, the location! Inveraray Castle sits by the shores of Loch Fyne (of oysters’ fame) and the region is cloaked by misty mountains to the north. But it’s the silent disco that I remember with a chuckle. Do I need to elaborate? Funny, funny, funny.
Above: damp and dismal weather at Inverary. Below: loitering within tent (sorry), silent disco fun and wellie mismatch
A stargazing festival with bad weather? No problem!
Solarsphere Festival is one of the best in a burgeoning trend for specialist fusion festivals. In this case, music (mainly folk and rock) and astronomy. A couple of years back, an astronomer friend of mine was a guest speaker, so I went along for a catch up and a nose-around. What I found was a fun, low-key and welcoming event lovingly put together by a small group of dedicated enthusiasts. I’ve never felt more at home at a festival and although the weather didn’t quite play ball for any actual stargazing, the music, talks and activities kept everyone busy and happy.
Rocking out with the veterans
Hyde Park BST has the same feel as a regular out-of-town festival, but with the advantage of a central London location. If I hadn’t already been living within 90 minutes of the UK’s capital, I’d have considered making a proper holiday out of it and exploring the city itself at the same time. After saving up for several years, that is.
This was 2014, Black Sabbath were headlining and I still can’t get Ozzy’s 3 awesome dance moves out of my head. 1. Shuffle from side to side 2. Walk along the stage and back again 3. Clap fervently for 10 seconds before gripping the microphone tightly for a rest. Gawd love him, it was actually a brilliant show.
The benefits of going local
Let’s not forget those smaller, provincial events! I recently discovered two very different festivals right on my doorstep…sort of. Christchurch (in Dorset, not New Zealand!) sits in a fabulous coastal location on the edge of the New Forest, close to bustling Bournemouth and just a short stroll from my sister’s home.
Christchurch’s annual Music Festival, in contrast to the vast mainstream music festivals around the world, is a much more manageable size, but still with a great vibe. This was probably the most relaxed I’d been at a festival, because I didn’t have to negotiate lengthy treks to see a band, or long queues just to get a beer. And I loved that we were supporting the local music scene for a change, such as folk-with-an-edge ensemble Mary Jane.
Above and below: The young and the young-at-heart, there’s room for all at Christchurch Music Festival.
And in another twist on the festival theme, Christchurch’s renowned Food Festival in May proves that gastronomy alone can provide the buzzing atmosphere and dedicated crowds usually associated with music festivals. This year, the sun was ablaze all weekend, gloriously casting its rays on Christchurch’s pretty riverside, bridges, quaint streets and notable landmarks such as the Priory and the Norman castle. But it was the fudges, gourmet burgers and flavoursome infusions that were the real stars of the show.
Sharing responsibilities amidst the fun
Is there a festival for everyone? Yep, I think so, but even if there’s a gap in the market, somebody will soon pick up on it and organise something. Whether you end up dealing with a soggy tent or loo queues, festivals offer an experience that’s hard to find anywhere else. I only hope that we all learn to observe that well-known phrase ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’. Not only do we need to get drastic with the plastic (take a refillable water bottle with you), but it’s a point of shame for me to see fellow attendees leaving scenes like this…
The weird IS the wonderful
But to return to the fun part, the best thing is that anything goes at festivals. From the unadorned blank canvasses of ‘jeans-and-T-shirt’ attire to the avant-garde combinations of kitsch clothing, body accessories and fluorescent hair, however you choose to present yourself, you’re going to be somewhere in the mix of this rainbow of human incarnations.
To quote a classic oxymoron, ‘everyone’s unique’, and festivals are some of the best places for us to revel in that human rainbow. Go on, just dive in this summer!
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