A growing problem with music is that it is much easier to lose yourself in it. Today, there is more digital downloading than trips to the shop, more people with their headphones in on the tube than giving change to the buskers, and more people who would rather keep a new band to themselves rather than share it. This is why, after a year of watching people mime along to their iPods on the train, it is a great relief to go to a festival.
I like to think I am a fairly social guy; I’m not too hesitant about chatting to the barman as he pulls my pint or running after someone if they’ve dropped their purse, but I can’t think of any time I would maniacally dance in the woods to The Killers, in the pouring rain, with a stranger, other than at a festival. There is a feeling of liberation that you don’t feel anywhere else. Now I’m not exactly a veteran, but the few I have been to have offered me some unique experiences, which have made it impossible to resist going each year.
…I was lucky enough to find myself next to the self-proclaimed “biggest fan of them ever”…
A common thing I’ve found is that dancing with anyone is acceptable, and encouraged, and can be one of the best feelings if, like I often do, you find yourself forced to watch certain bands alone. Last year at Reading, during Mariachi El Bronx, I was lucky enough to find myself next to the self-proclaimed “biggest fan of them ever”, who went on to use my body like a marionette for the next half hour. Memories like this can work to make a band more special; after these kinds of occasions they become more than just a list of songs, but real people who make music especially for us.
Another band that gives me this feeling is The Vaccines, who, while I was watching them last year at Reading, roused the crowd so much that, even at the back, it was difficult to stay standing. While focusing all my efforts on not being grounded, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder and turned around to find a short lady at once trying to see and trying to clamber onto my back, and with the lack of communication and my own sense of chivalry getting the best of me, I gave in and with great pain spent the rest of their long, wild set balancing a stranger on my shoulders. And I do hope she enjoyed herself as much as I was pretending to.
…having bonded with elderly men over mutual fez wearing…
Often, however, the strangest things that happen at a festival are when you’re not watching any music. Once these people are left to their own devices, and left without the context of music to excuse them, you really start to see how being at a festival can bring out an entirely different side of people. Throughout my time at festivals, having bonded with elderly men over mutual fez wearing, being tied up with string by drunken strangers, watching people-fishing with string and bread in late night crowds, and desperately taping ponchos to a non-waterproof tent, I have come to realise festivals are like their own little bubbles of freedom in an otherwise restricting year of work and responsibility. You don’t have to wash or brush your teeth or eat healthily or wonder whether it’s appropriate to drink in the daytime, because it is the closest we will get in these modern times to living like our pre-evolutionary brothers.
I want to share an image I experienced on the last night of the recent Latitude festival. Paul Weller was on stage and the crowd was buzzing with the joy of the last night of freedom. Beside me, a baby barely old enough to walk a few steps, broke away from a group of merry adults with his arms outstretched towards the massive face of the former Jam frontman on the big-screen, with a grin on his face that only bottled milk could have previously caused he began stamping his feet with joy, clenching his fists with the passion which overcomes us all at these moments. I doubt he will remember that moment in years to come, but, along with all my other festival moments, I will remember that as one of the many reasons I love festival season.