Saturday 21 September 2019

Damp squib festivals no longer music to the ears

Pressure to have the best weekend ever is almost guaranteed to make you come away disappointed, writes Sophie Donaldson

FESTIVAL TIME: There’s the dream and the sad reality of summer festivals — mud
FESTIVAL TIME: There’s the dream and the sad reality of summer festivals — mud
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Before the season properly descends upon us, I'm going to say it so you don't have to: festivals suck. I've been waiting to say this out loud since last summer, when I made the disastrous decision to give the music festival one last chance.

It's difficult to pinpoint one particular incident that made me return home safe in knowledge I'd never do it again. We even had a swish canvas bell tent, the kind you see dotted across rolling fields in brochures for glamping sites, lent to us by a friend.

With a pitched roof, even the tallest among us could stand upright inside and it was large enough to contain several double blow-up mattresses. But what nobody tells you is that they are freezing. While bog-standard acrylic tents mightn't look particularly pretty, the confined space of these tents is actually much warmer.

The wipe-clean material also keeps moisture at bay, causing any water in the air to bead-up on the exterior, unlike canvas, which is a particularly porous fabric. You come to realise this on an August morning when you wake up at around 6am, your frigid body covered in a film of dew.

I am not blaming the weather. Anyone who attends an Irish festival does so with the implicit understanding they will be sodden at some point over the weekend. No, it is nothing to do with the weather. It is to do with the eye-wateringly priced drinks, the stodgy food, the leering men in short shorts, the leering women in feathered headdresses, the lack of basic sanitation and the general air of febrile mania after three days of co-habitation with 50,000 drunks in a showground.

Even if you can get past all that, the modern festival is still a perilous undertaking because it is essentially organised fun. Like hen parties, milestone birthdays and group holidays, festivals are destined to be bromidic affairs because of the weight of expectation heaped upon them. The pressure to have 'the best weekend ever' is almost guaranteed to make you come away disappointed. Add to that the financial investment required - tickets in excess of €100, a tent, booze, food, travel - it's only natural that we want to feel that was money well spent.

Before anyone buckles under the pressure and panic-buys a ticket to the festival all their mates are going to this summer, let's be honest and admit nobody over the age of 21 actually enjoys them. For those insisting they go for the music, it's time to face facts and realise festivals stopped being about the music half a decade ago.

A music lover attending a festival for the bands is like a foodie taking a long-haul flight for the meals. Festivals are one of the worst ways to enjoy live music - they are devoid of the atmosphere you get at a gig and lack anything akin to basic acoustics. If the Fomo is still gnawing at you, let's take a moment to remember what it's actually like to attend a music festival.

Festivals are only getting bigger and bigger. In fact, most of them are so overcrowded that to get close enough to the stage, in order to see the musicians and hear the music, is near impossible.

Diehards are forced to jostle their way to the front of the stage at least an hour before the set time to stake out a position, which they must guard with the same manic possessiveness Trump has for his Twitter password. They are rewarded with music that is pumped so loud so that those at the very back can hear it, while those at the front who have endured an hour of passive-aggressive shoves to the small of their back are developing hairline fractures on their eardrums.

Don't forget, in order to have secured that coveted front-of-stage position, they'll have had to visit the bar about 90 minutes before the band kicks off, then manoeuvre their way through the crowd clutching a flimsy plastic cup of expensive, insipid beer, most of which will be sloshed over their shirt en route to the stage. Because they won't be making the journey twice, they've bought two pints and then, because of that 90-minute wait, find themselves without a drink by the second song. Midway through the set, they are not only thirsty but trying to ignore the mild throbbing of their bladder. By song eight, the throb has become a thrash.

The two pints are pressing so heavily on their lower abdomen they are forced to admit defeat and elbow their way towards the Portaloos where they spend 20 minutes with their knees desperately pressed together before lurching into a beautifully scented, spotlessly clean toilet with reams of quilted toilet paper at the ready. Sorry, ignore that last part.

Because of that 20-minute delay, upon exiting the Portaloo they realise they've lost their friends. A quick glance at their rapidly diminishing phone battery, that can't be charged for the next two days due to an absence of plug sockets, forces them to linger at the entrance of the tent they just left. The upside is that now, being some 100 yards from the band they paid to see, they can now hear the music quite well.

Sunday Independent

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