Music Festivals, We Love You
After a year where everything changed, festivals have never felt so significant – and thank God, they're finally back
With postponement after postponement, I've been thinking a lot about going back to festivals this summer. I keep picturing the scene: I arrive at the site full of excitement; I wait in a queue carrying what feels like all of my belongings, which are swiftly searched; I'm given the nod, a colourful band of fabric is clipped around my wrist, and I have arrived.
Stepping through to a sunny verdant field, the distant crackling of soundchecks float in and out on a gentle breeze. Ahead, I see thousands of beaming faces begin to gather at the main stage to listen to a grand concoction of noises. Their plastic cups filled to the brim and overflowing with pricey warm lager and sickly cider, and of course, having caught a glimpse of them, I now crave one too.
Like me, a sea of summer-ready outfits look skyward, praying that the ever-misleading British weather doesn’t inadvertently decide to punish our lack of waterproofs. My day ahead of juggling stage clashes between X, Y and Z, pegging it to Portaloos, lining in big queues, weighing up food trucks and sharing friendly drunk hugs awaits. After the longest and most challenging year and a half of most of our lives, festivals have never seemed so vital – and thank God, they’re finally back.
In the absence of those special, collective moments, I, like many others, have been thinking deeply about what it actually is that I've been longing so much for when the world is reset. That feeling of pure, rushing excitement, of celebration, joy, anticipation, all of it. For me, that unreplicable, spectacular ‘something’ I’ve been waiting for is festivals.
In my head, they’ve been the ultimate grand finale, often the highlight of my whole year in a pre-pandemic world, and something that feels able to catapult me back into that form of normality in our current state. It might sound like a bit of an exaggeration to say something so extreme about what is, essentially, simply watching Wolf Alice or Queens of the Stone Age play some chords in a large public park, but festivals are so much more than what they appear on the surface.
While live streams, virtual concerts, and Zoom events half-plugged a gaping hole in my life, nothing could properly scratch the itch of being there and in the moment. In their absence, I even had a go at recreating festivals at home, with each room a new *ahem* 'stage', sharing a video call with some mates, blaring some loud punk songs through the Sonos, and leaving a few cans of Carlsberg on a sunny windowsill for good measure. 'Crowd surfing’ across my bed to Jimmy Eat World was a particularly, er, unique highlight. Sure, the novelty of it was fun, but it was a long way from the experience I was seeking to replicate.
That longing feeling has had me asking myself, "just what is it about festivals that feels so irreplicable, so important?" For the last 18 months, festivals have felt unimaginable to me, like something so far in the distance, it could be a mirage. Festivals, and live music in general, almost take on a different meaning to me now. They’ve always been a date to countdown to on my calendar, but I can’t imagine they’ve ever been more unitedly cherished and desired as they are now.
Personally, I feel like I’ve acquired a newfound level of gratitude around the sheer existence of these events, and I struggle to imagine that feeling isn't shared with festival lovers the world over. It’s now symbolic of so much more within the context of what has occurred in its absence.
For us festivalgoers, it’s about enjoying art in person and celebrating it with friends, again; for bands and artists we love, it’s being able to perform and connect with fans, again; for promoters and organisers, it’s building line-ups and making memorable moments, again. All of those whopping great singalongs I’ve missed promise to be all the louder, the embrace of my glitter-coated friends all the warmer, and those long-awaited, to-be-treasured moments I've dreamt of all the more special. God, I won't even give a shit when the inevitable sporadic downpour of rain happens – that’s how much I've missed festivals.
With so much excitement for that first-festival-back feeling, somewhat understandably, returning to a festival experience leaves me feeling much anticipation, dare I even say, nervousness. Thoughts of going back to those fabled ‘before times’ may strike up such worries, but hey, when I’m standing in the middle of a sweltering field attempting to do some disastrous form of ‘dancing’ alongside my best pals, all of those doomy thoughts will be lost in a sea of relief – and hopefully it'll mean crowd surfing across my bed will remain firmly a thing of the past.