Thursday 14 December 2017

21st Century Man: The changing face of festivals

Festivals have come a long way from Woodstock... but I think i’ll stay at home

Emma Byrne from Wexford and Mark Dixon from Dublin hugging a tree at Body & Soul Festival - it's all a long way from Feile
Emma Byrne from Wexford and Mark Dixon from Dublin hugging a tree at Body & Soul Festival - it's all a long way from Feile

Tom Dunne

Jimi Hendrix didn’t die for this: “You’re doing what at the festival?” I asked my friend. “I’m judging the Natural Fruits of the Summer Cocktail Competition,” he answered. I might have arched an eyebrow: “Look!” he said defensively, “the modern music festival is just 20% music!” “And 80% the natural fruits,” I thought. “Oh Jimi, oh Jimi.”

Depending on the festival, my friend, after his cocktail, could then enjoy some pulled pork and a double decaf latte before dropping the kids to crèche and taking part in a spirited debate about economics. Without wishing to point out the elephant in the corner doing Pilates and drinking herbal tea, Toto, we aren’t at Woodstock any more.

Woodstock was, of course, a mess. Poorly organised, badly catered, yet still talked about 40 years later. Today, festivals have become family events, in the same way a village fete or mystery train journey was in the 1970s. They’re like a school sports day with music and good food. Except sports day knew when to call it quits. No one expected you to stay over or learn a skill.

It wasn’t always like this. When my band Something Happens played the Feile in 1990 (The Trip to Tipp) it was two days of anarchy in Thurles. It was as refined as a lock-in after an all Ireland final. We were told we were playing whilst on a UK tour so only actually arrived home that morning.

We hadn’t seen our girlfriends in weeks so we all went home from the airport and simply said we’d meet down there. Stage time was 7pm, so we said, “right, see you there at five!” But see you where exactly? We had no mobile phones. If anyone had gotten lost or delayed we’d have had no way to find them. We had no Sat Nav or decent roads. The plan was just to drive to Thurles and look for a big stadium. And this we did. I jumped in my trusty Renault 5, drove until I saw a sign saying Thurles and headed there.

I was greeted by the fall of Rome. It was very hot so most of the lads were topless and sunburnt. Cans of warm beer were being consumed at competitive speed. There was no food to be had and shops hadn’t planned for the festival. But some shops were selling large sliced pans, slices of ham and half pounds of butter.

Young men who had never seen butter in its wrapper before were kneeling, sunburnt and drunk, trying to spread the hard stuff on the soft bread with plastic knives. The butter they had seen previously was soft and was on a plate handed to them by their mothers. I asked one of these for directions to the stadium.

“Are you yer man?’ he asked.

‘Yes.” I answered.

“It’s straight up there, you can’t miss it.” I drove up, slowly and carefully through the thronged street, happy campers occasionally trying to sit on the bonnet before they realised it was a moving vehicle, until I reached a rusty looking gate. When I knocked, it was opened and I was greeted with a happy ‘Ah Tom, you made it!” If there was an organised system of parking backstage it was not immediately evident to me. “Throw it up there,” the man said, pointing at a grassy verge. I did as he said and made my way to the dressing room. And I did all of this without passes, laminates or tickets.

The gig was great. Afterwards there was proper artist catering (one rule for the bands, another for the audience!) and then the real gig happened. Back stage, away from prying eyes, the bands all played impromptu sets in the catering tent. I remember Paul Brady’s set as being particularly remarkable.

And there were proper artist tantrums. At one point earlier in the evening we received a demand to vacate our dressing room. A headline act was about to go onstage and had stipulated that they didn’t want to see anyone as he made his way there. Back stage was emptied and the ‘star’ made it unmolested to the performance area.

Now that is old school! That is a world where not only do the stars and the audience not mingle, but the stars and the lesser stars don’t mingle. And that is how it should be. ‘True Stars are Rare,’ as Paul Weller’s new line of clothes says.

So if you want to enjoy a barbecue, a craft beer and a heated exchange about property prices, while your children recover from craft making and toddler yoga, perhaps you should just stay home. And let’s face it, although festival food might be better now than in most small villages in Ireland, you never really feel the same after a chemical toilet do you?

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