Or, how to REALLY do a festival – a first-timer’s guide.
Festivals are like sex – the first time is spent worrying that everyone is doing it more skilfully than you are; the bad times are vastly improved by large amounts of alcohol and drugs, and when the good times are over, you have to fight the urge to share every gory detail with anyone who wasn’t involved.
I am not a natural festival-goer, by any means. I have a zero-tolerance attitude to having greasy hair and leg-stubble, but I love live music like Robin Thicke loves being an unutterable creep, so for one weekend a year I’m prepared to go from being a massive princess who can’t leave the house without a blow-dry to a slattern held together with cider and dry shampoo. I’m also not much of a festival veteran – I’ve been to two, so far. The first being Oxfordshire’s lovely little Truck festival, which – as I’ve told you – is attended by about 5,000 people and is farmy and family-friendly, with barn-stormingly good bands (literally. One of the stages is in a barn. The acoustics are exactly as you’d expect – metallic). And the second was this year’s Bestival – attended by 60,000, it was a whole other huge, smelly, rainy ball-game. My companion this time was a total festival virgin, so it fell to me to be the voice of experience, which made me realise that to the uninitiated, the whole event can seem quite strange and stressful. So here’s a handful of things you absolutely need to know before you lose your festival virginity.
1) The smell. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget. Picture the scene: you wake up on day two or three, and in order to escape the less-than-fragrant scent of your still-sleeping tent-fellows, stick your head outside and gulp some fresh morning air. Except it’s not fresh – the whole site has started to hum with the aroma of thousands of unwashed bodies. This is why if you’re a non-smoker, you become extraordinarily tolerant of smokers over the course of the weekend – if you stand next to one, you can inhale their fumes, rather than the smell of the unshowered people surrounding you.
2) And on a related note, the toilets. Back in the civilised world, going to the loo is usually a painless experience – unless you’ve got food poisoning or are naturally prone to constipation. At a festival, it’s an ordeal that doesn’t seem to ease up, no matter how many times you do it, nor how drunk you get. That smell would sober up Pete Doherty after a long weekend in Moscow. Be warned. And take some antibacterial hand gel.
3) “Festival beauty” isn’t a thing. Magazines are chock-full of this stuff at the beginning of the festival season: how you can channel “Alexa at Coachella” with a handful of bits from Superdrug. Fuck off. You do not need to look your shiny, clean, photogenic best at a festival. It’s not even possible, given that you won’t have access to anything more cleansing than baby wipes. I mean, you can optimistically take your make-up bag, and just keep layering it on, but I personally wouldn’t want to risk the volcanic break-out of spots that will inevitably follow when you’re back in the land of hot running water. Leave the foundation at home and embrace the grime. And if you don’t feel anything but fucking beautiful when you’re hollering along to your favourite band as they storm through their set during a downpour, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.
4) Sex. Having said all that in point (3), on the Isle of Wight that weekend, I did see a truly remarkable amount of young ladies who had bothered to do a full face of slap. I can only imagine that these young things were on the pull, which is, again, a stupid idea at a festival. You’d imagine that there’s going to be a pretty sexy vibe, with the music, the liberated approach to drink and drugs, the general atmosphere of hedonism. You’d be wrong. If, due a combination of vodka and time passing, you cannot reliably tell me when you last showered, then I don’t want to have sex with you. And tents aren’t the sexiest of locations, unless what really turns you on is a soundtrack of students vomiting and sleeping bags rustling. But if that’s the case, go for it.
5) You won’t see about half of the acts you plan on seeing. You’ll pay a fair whack for a programme and gleefully rifle through it once your tent is up and you have a drink in hand. “Right, I definitely want to see them. And we can’t miss her. Ooh, they’re playing, I didn’t know that. Oh, and them.” You’ll memorise times and locations, but somehow only manage to actually be present for some of these, due to a sudden tent-collapse emergency, or getting too engrossed in one of those drunken, putting-the-world-to-rights conversations.
In short, music festivals can be hard work. But you’re missing out if you don’t spend at least one weekend of your life living out of a rucksack, laughing brazenly in the face of personal hygiene and going unselfconsciously nuts to your favourite song while it pisses it down.
One final hint: don’t keep your wristband on past the day of your return to the adult world. No one likes a pretentious festival wanker, so don’t be that guy.