Why do we love music festivals so much?
It’s a growing industry across the world with research by Festicket.com predicting the revenue from music festivals to reach 4.1 billion Euros by 2020 – almost double to what it was in 2016.
You can look no further than a clothes shop to see how entwined festivals are in our lives. Sections of shops are dedicated to ‘festival wear’ which always features the staple items; denim shorts, fringed t-shirts and anything that screams boho. Oh and not forgetting the essential item for a British festival the trusty waterproof mac.
Some people who have never been to a festival ask me “why would you spend hundreds of pounds to sleep in a muddy field and not be able to shower for four days”.
So what is so alluring about music festivals?
For me, it’s so much more than a long weekend of hedonism, it is medicine for my soul, before you roll your eyes and retch from the overbearing, lingering smell of potent cheese, let me explain.
I’ll start with my first festival because like most first-time things it imprints on you and nestles into a special part of your memory reserved for ‘first time experiences’.
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It was Leeds Festival in 2006 and it was…crazy. Everything seemed to get thrown on a campfire and everyone seemed like they were so excited at the realisation they were excited. It was random. We met a group of people carrying a gazebo – like they were transporting a deity – and they called themselves the ‘Gazebo People’. Their sole intention that weekend seemed to involve a pilgrimage of all campfires on site and throw their offerings of empty cans onto it. They asked if they could christen our fire, we of course obliged, though awkwardness penetrated the air very quickly when they fell silent and seemed almost aroused by the flames – (is a fire orgy a thing?).
I remember seeing a man a-foot-off the ground taped to a pole surrounded by people chanting “you are stuck up a pole, you are stuck up a pole”, perhaps he had severe amnesia and needed to constantly be reminded where he was.
But the main thing I remember was the rubbish almost trying to embody snow…people would scoop it up from around them and just throw it like snowballs…at anyone…and the receptor was fine with it. When Fall Out Boy performed they divided the crowd in two and asked each side to “reach onto the ground pick up the empty cups around you and throw it at the other side….goooo!” A huge plume of rubbish seemed to linger in the air by the stage as the rubbish war erupted. If someone forgot their festival etiquette and sat on someone’s shoulders for too long (I’d say it’s a one song only rule) and was blocking the view of the stage, they too could expect to be pelted with empty cups, the ‘normal world’s’ equivalent of a tap on the shoulder and an “excuse me, do you mind?” – I’ve never had this unconventional rubbish recycling at other festivals.
The Sunday night was the craziest part though, the festival organisers tried handing out badges saying ‘Love not riots’, to try and dissuade what was – in my experience – inevitable carnage….as the sun set it seemed to reappear from the ground up as camp fires appeared everywhere. And so the burning would commence, the burning of stuff, literally anything; tents, industrial bins and poles holding the lights up across the campsite. Every campfire matured into a bonfire that night and the fire warden’s attempts at putting out the fires were as successful as a toddler attempting a game of Whac-A-Mole. It was a truly crazy festival which I loved at the time but then a few years later I discovered not just my favourite festival but my favourite place, Glastonbury.
If festivals could give hugs Glastonbury would give the sort that penetrates through to your soul and comforts like a warm towel when you’re fresh out of the shower. Experienced festival-goers flock to Glastonbury innately like pollen beetles to a yellow t-shirt because its effortless exuberance is palpable.
I interviewed Tom from Kasabian there one year who said it’s a place everyone can become hippies for the weekend and you only have to look around to see it is like a counterculture. Colours cling to everyone and everything you can see, even the old oil-drum barrel bins are painted by artists. People wear what they wish they could wear all year round, though most traditional workplaces would probably frown upon fringed tops or sequin-clad hats. It’s four days of living in a beautiful, happy world where judgement seems to fade like ink on an old receipt.
It’s not a usual place so usual chat won’t suffice. No one really cares to ask one another the standard ‘we’ve just met’ question, “so, what do you do”. One year as we fumbled with trying to put our tent up in the darkness a tall man wearing a top-hat and would have easily pulled-off a victorian cape, approached us and offered us some gin to accompany our tent troubles. I’ll never forget what he said when my friend asked the inevitable first encounter question “so what do you do”, he smiled and said “it doesn’t matter what I do or what you do for a living when we are here, we are just us”. That’s the first time I realised a job usually doesn’t tell you much about the person stood before you so it’s kind of futile in asking.
So why is Glastonbury in particular like medicine for my soul? In 2013 I had a particularly stressful week that left me feeling riddled with anxiety for days, to the point I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly, but within hours of being on Glastonbury soil I could feel the adrenaline dissolve and cortisol evaporate leaving me just feeling happy.
Ironically the draw of music festivals isn’t solely about the music, even if the line-up doesn’t tick much off of my wish-list I’m just as excited to be there. It’s being surrounded by people who see the world in a similar way to you. That being said if I had to live in a ten-second space on repeat for eternity – I think it would be in a crowd watching one of my favourite bands, singing and jumping to the chorus. It forces you to be in the moment – something that takes effort at any other time – the music holds you hostage in the now and you just feel happiness.
Of course there are moments that are less than ideal like when the only place to sit is on a bin bag in the middle of a muddy field after the clouds have hysterically cried, but there’s still nowhere I’d rather be at that moment.
Imagine a place that as soon as you walk through the gates the weight of life is lifted off of you and placed in a locker for the weekend. Time almost becomes irrelevant and laughter has an effortless job. It’s one of the hardest places to leave but it’s an involuntary break-up I hope to experience throughout my life, I’ll never grow tired of people in top hats sharing their gin or being forced to live in the now.