The Reality of the Major Music Festival


The first few months of the year can be very exciting for music people around the world. It’s in these months that the Internet starts fidgeting about the upcoming lineups and dates of major music festivals. I have spent hours and hours scouring festival forums trying to decipher some truth or likely rumours amongst the bottomless pit of delusion and babbled excitement. The temptation is overwhelming to travel half way around the world for the chance of seeing Stevie Wonder and Jack White on the same weekend, but what are you really signing up for? I would like to explore the four-month adventure that is: Attending a music festival.

The first step is acquiring tickets. You have finally picked the festival(s), so you now have the pleasure of getting tickets. Try thinking about the wildebeest scene from The Lion King; herds of hipsters rushing to the internet, causing crashing servers and grey-hair-inducing waiting times. I’m not saying you won’t get a ticket, because you probably will, but have patience.

After three months of sleepless nights, you get to pack up and leave for the festival. For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that you plan on driving there, and camping on site. As a veteran festival-goer and a bit of a princess, I don’t do either of these things anymore. Getting there can either be half the fun, or half the battle. It will probably be a long drive. All of your festival-friends will be sardined into the same little car with all of your camping gear, food (the pasta sauce will probably spill on your lap) and stupid festival clothes (sombrero’s take up a lot of room). I hope you like your friends a lot.

Consider yourself lucky if you are less than a whole day’s drive away, and prepare yourself to spend several hours waiting on the road to get onto the camping grounds. This bit is actually quite fun, as you can get some inter-car jokes running with the other over-excited festival people. The buzz of anticipation will be at boiling point in almost all cars, so some mass hooting, or funny shouting could work well. When you arrive security will go through your car and they will confiscate any contraband that they find – illegal reptiles, communist manifestos, that kind of thing. Just hide it well.

The town that the festival will be held in likely has a population of about 2000 people with the exception of the festival weekend where it has a population of 102,000. If you think of something that you forgot to pack, there’s a good chance you won’t get it there, and if they do have it then they will rip you the hell off. Big time. Made to choose between a ten buck tooth-brush and losing my teeth, I think I would rather avoid the swindle.

Part of the appeal of attending a music festival is the weather (hopefully). When looking at photos, all you see are people smiling on a sunny day or mud-men grinning through caked faces. What you don’t see is that it’s hot. Really, really damn hot. Festival organisers have a weird ability to pick the hottest or the wettest weekend of the year. If its hot you will sweat, and then you will find a lot of dirt caked to your sweaty skin, then you will sweat more, which will come out brown, then you’ll be ever stickier for dirt, then you’ll be disgusting. I have a simple solution: water, and that crate of water that you packed probably isn’t enough. On average, I drink a gallon of water per day when on the festival grounds. It’s still not enough. You can go for a whole day, in which time you’ve consumed 10 bottles of water, and still not have a single pee. THAT’S how much you need water! The desire to have two beers and feel really drunk because of the dehydration is overwhelming, but please resist. If someone dies at a music festival, it’s usually because of dehydration – and that is crap. Water can also help you with your dirt problem. I beg you, please invest the time and money (yes, they will charge you) to take a shower at least once while you are at the festival. Speaking for the rest of us, you stink – and nobody will want to come near you because they’ll worry that they’ll stick. Take heed if you want to have a festival romance – but remember to drink water after any exercise. Note - If it isn’t hot and dry then it’ll be flooded and you’ll feel silly without boots. Take them, too!

You will wait in lines for everything. This includes using the bathroom, and when you get to the loo you’ll be confronted with one of the great festival spectacles. Festival loos are amazing, really amazing. In this environment humans really excel in unfathomable degradation and hygienic disregard. These are Satan’s own cubicles, pits of doom and utterly incredible. How do people manage to get shit on the ceiling? Anyway, that’s quite enough of that.

A mammoth queue once made me miss the Kooks. At the time I was pissed off. In my misery I couldn’t think how I would ever have another opportunity to see the band that so heavily influenced my early 2000’s. I now know that I will have other chances. They key is to not let these things spoil your mood. I still saw 20 other amazing bands that day. To say that I “saw” these acts may be a bit of a misnomer. There will inevitably be times where you can’t get anywhere near the stage. I heard Alt-J last year, and I have no idea what the band looks like; all I know is that it was one of my favorite sets of the festival. As long as you are willing to put in the effort, you can get close to your favorite band. I can’t begin to describe to you the sensation that is being at the front to see Radiohead and having 95,000 people standing and singing behind you. This is a feeling that is quite unlike any other. Other, perhaps, than being Maximus Aurelius from Gladiator.

My intent in this article is not to dissuade anyone from attending a music festival. I am only sharing my personal experience to help better prepare you for what to expect. While it is hot (or wet), crowded and at times difficult to navigate; music festivals offer a sense of freedom and magic that you will not find anyplace else. What I am describing is not something tangible. It is a collection of humans being happy together and enjoying some of the best music in the world. This uninhibited joy is what keeps me going back. Over the years I’ve made countless friends and memories that are irreplaceable.