Are Festivals For You?

As the Music Festival season approaches I thought I’d return to an article I wrote a couple of years ago. This first appeared on The Barefoot Bohemian’s Blog.

I’ve just spent the UK Bank Holiday weekend at Reading Music Festival. Admittedly it’s not on my bucket list — Glastonbury is — but a camping trip is on there so I guess four nights in a tent counts and gives me something else to tick off.

There were lots of great bands — some well known, others less so — but there are other places to get a music review of the event so I’m going to stick to my observations, and the advisability of you diving into the murky, mystery world of festival going.

Firstly if you’re over 25 you are definitely in the upper age echelon. I spent the first 12 hours trying to spot an over 30 year old, who was at least old enough to only be my child rather than my grandchild.

The point was proved loudly and clearly on the opening day when one band’s lead singer asked who had got their GCSE exam results the previous day (exams for 16 years olds in England and Wales). The roar of approval was deafening. He didn’t even bother asking if anyone had got their A Level (exams for 18 year olds) results the previous week — he’d already identified his audience.

After putting up my tent I did what instinct and years of practice has trained me to do when I’m feeling old — I retired to the nearest pub. At least there I could rely on someone else making sure that my fellow drinkers were over 18.

So I sat outside and watched an endless procession of teenagers streaming past like a thousand school trips all descending on the same zoo at the same time, and even worse, they were all excited! There are billions of nerves in the human body but some people manage to find every single one of them, seemingly without trying.

After a couple of pints of calming fluid I re-entered the fray and adopted the attitude of a seasoned festival pro, slightly detached from the hustle and bustle, in almost guru state as I spent the evening outside a festival bar.

But things did take a turn for the better on the age front when I got away from the camp sites and into the music arena. A few oldies — some even older than me — mingled with the face-painted youngsters. And I felt much more comfortable when I saw a guy in his 50s walk past wearing a tee-shirt which read: ‘Old Guys are Cool. Shed Happens!’

So what did I learn from my taste of festival fever? Well in no particular order here are 20 things I learned:

1. You don’t need wellies for every UK music festival because they are not all in a mud bath.

2. Teenager festival goers do not feel the cold. Dressed in little more than a bra and hot pants there isn’t a goose-bump to be seen. So why does it only take the sun to go behind a cloud for ten minutes for the central heating, gas fire and every other heat generating appliance to be turned on at home? I suspect that one is to do with paying bills.

3. At any given time more people are NOT watching the main stage than are — apart from when the headline acts are performing.

4. No matter how big the ‘big name band’ is on the main stage — this year they were The Cure, Kasabian and The Foo Fighters — the smaller stages are still packed with music lovers who’d rather see much lesser known bands.

5. It’s amazing how many teenagers walk around with tee-shirts immortalising bands like The Ramones and Nirvana, when most of them couldn’t have shared more than a few years on this earth with Kurt Cobain.

6. So many teenagers — particularly girls — have tattoos, especially on their thighs which seems a new trend to me.

7. Holes caused by ear piercing will heal up but there’s no way on earth you’re ever going to recover from the effects of an ear stretcher. What are these people going to do with those dangling pieces of ear lobe when they get bored of wearing stretchers — hang their glasses from there?

8. Teenagers do not have a problem waking up. They can happily stay awake talking inconsequential nonsense until 4am and still be up at 8am continuing the conversation — without anyone noticing the four hour gap.

9. It’s amazing how many festival goers smoke roll-ups — many containing only tobacco! Ordinary filter tipped cigarettes were a rare sight!

10. Teenagers can get to the fifth level of the latest video game quicker than they can erect a tent. It’s like watching outtakes from The Crystal Maze for five year olds. How many permutations are there for two pieces of nylon and a couple of rods? Believe me a lot more than I’d previously have thought before I watched two teenage girls struggle through the ordeal of building their home for the next four nights.

11. Boiling water on a naked flame is something which only happens in science lessons thus ruling out a home-made brew. Festival goers prefer to pay £2 for tea at a burger van.

12. Teenagers have different priorities than they used to when it comes to money. As I queued for the £1 shuttle bus from the train station to the festival venue and felt vaguely guilty at not lugging my rucksack and tent the 20 minute walk, I watched as groups of teenagers piled into the backs of taxis.

13. Girls no longer go braless. This appears to be for two main reasons as far as I could make out. Firstly the arm holes in their tee-shirts are so huge that a wardrobe malfunction is inevitable, and secondly, it’s where they keep their phones.

14. The charging of mobile phones is big business. At £5 an hour for a charge, which doesn’t last a full day of tweeting, emailing, texting, phoning or face booking (I’m not sure of the correct verb for this) that’s a nice little earner. Say 50 people an hour use the service for 12 hours (and those are conservative estimates) then you can see a three day festival will gross more than £9000.

15. It makes no difference how little room you leave between you and your nearest fellow audience members, someone will attempt to squeeze through when there has to be a better route.

16. Seeing how the area around a tent can become a refuse tip in only 24 hours makes me realise teenagers really are trying to keep their rooms tidy. They are just using a different scale of tidiness and we have no concept of how bad it could become if they really let things slide for a day or two.

17. Even though washing mainly consists of a splash of cold water once a day, some girls still spend time meticulously applying make up and hair spray.

18. And watching so many of them wash their hair in cold water makes me wonder why there’s such a drama on the odd occasion when it’s luke warm at home.

19. Somehow after watching more than 36 hours of live music one song will emerge as what seems to be the unofficial festival song. You hear people singing it as they walk around the campsite, humming it as they queue for chips with ‘real’ curry sauce and it’s in your head for days afterwards. This year it was ‘Lonely Boy’ by The Black Keys.

20. It’s hard to stifle a smug smile when you hear ‘The Bird is the Word’ (Look it up Grandad!) and appreciate your children initiating you into Family Guy so you feel part of the people in the know — at least for a short while.

So all in all I survived Reading. Took it in my stride in my humble opinion — apart from my age wobble on night one. Would I go again? Absolutely! Would I recommend it? Absolutely, although if you need hair dryers, straighteners or toilets that don’t strip the hairs off the inside of your nose as you walk past them, then perhaps you might want to give the camping a miss and get an hotel, but you would certainly miss out on a large part of the experience.

Now I’m in Amsterdam to detox for a couple of days. Somehow it just seemed the most appropriate location after four days in Reading.

The Barefoot Bohemian

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