In memory of a few festivals...
Having vowed never to go to another festival, our reporter found herself unexpectedly nostalgic for wet, muddy fields and bad loos
The problem with growing older is that it doesn't seem to be a linear experience. Each time I presume a stage of my life is done and dusted, something to be folded neatly and put away forever in a drawer marked 'only to be opened in the event of a nostalgia emergency', I find myself unexpectedly doubling back and reaching for that very thing a few years later.
So it is with festivals. Up until this year, the idea of returning to the churned scene of many youthful follies was about as appealing as cold bacon. Voluntarily surround myself with thousands of other human beings, many drunk and boisterously affectionate? In a wet, muddy field with loud music, terrible food and very little possibility of sleep? Spend downtime in a tent or the recovery position? No, and a thousand times no.
Festivals were everything I decided I had come to hate - cold, teeming, unpredictable - with extra minus points for requiring travel, planning and expense.
Truth be told, I was never much of a festival-goer. There have been a few memorable outdoorsy experiences - some band called U2 by accident in Blackrock Park when I was eight; Wechter in Belgium in 1986 for Prince; Feile the year of The Prodigy and Bjork; Feile in Cork the next year, with The Stone Roses and Massive Attack; swimming off the Cork coast with Orbital the next day.
Then there was Flatlake; more intellectual, but still full of the kind of material discomfort I no longer cared for. In between, various 'boutique' festivals put together by friends that involved little more than a few hay bales and someone's car stereo turned up to max. In all, I'm guessing, I've been to fewer festivals than the national average. I was never one of those girls with a wardrobe full of tie-dye and Hunter wellies.
As the years wore on and my interest in a decent night's sleep waxed, along with a waning of my tolerance for awful food, unspeakable loos, sleeping on sharp stones and waking to the sound of vomiting, I figured the festival-going was a done thing. More even than the discomfort, what I dreaded was the chaos. There was quite enough of that in my normal life - small children, sleepless nights, sticky fingers, relentless noise, sudden and unexpected demands. The last thing I wanted was to pay for more of the same.
What I didn't realise is the repetitive nature of life's trajectory. If you ask me, this is life seeking comfort zones - instead of projecting us into brand-new things, life recycles phases, like a carpet salesman: "Look again, are you sure you do like? This very beautiful carpet..."
And so, I looked again recently, and to my complete astonishment, I discovered a gentle, passing interest in festival-going. The idea of Electric Picnic came up over dinner with friends. "Would you come?" they asked. I opened my mouth to say, "Thanks, but I'd rather stick pins..." etc, and instead found myself struck by a series of seductive, festival-related images: a field in late-afternoon sun, smelling of warm grass, friends, pitchers of cold beer, a gentle wind blowing the strains of some 80s pop giants across to us.
Like most nostalgia, the images were a lie, or largely a lie. But that was just the details. The heart of the vision was true. There is something about the vibe at a festival that you can't get anywhere else. Not matter how good a gig, how much fun a barbecue or a picnic in the park, in the end, the unbridled, collective optimism of a festival is a glorious thing.
It's this, basically, from Bowie's In Memory Of A Free Festival: "The children of the summer's end/Gathered in the dampened grass/We played our songs and felt the London sky/Resting on our hands/It was God's land..."
Now, I defy you not to want in.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine