Monday, November 17, 2008

Festivals - Part II

Once upon a time the outdoor rock festival was attended by one type of music fan. Usually male, unusually scruffy (one set of clothes for the entire weekend), long-haired and generally into rock.

Things have changed. Thankfully. Festivals are now a major social gathering, as much about the experience as the music - possibly much more about the experience in all honesty. But, what kind of experience is it?

Thanks to being a V Festival regular and present at Hylands Park last weekend for the third year running, I'm able to give you a guided tour - of sorts. At a festival normal human behaviour is abandoned in favour of the communal survival instinct.

Patrons/fans/billies (rhyming slang): It's a mixed-crowd these days. The fashions are incredibly varied, although the welly plus denim mini-skirt is still a perennial, particularly amongst the men. There were so many pairs of wellingtons out that the oil industry should consider sponsoring British festivals. You may consider this an odd link but wellies are made from PVC, a by-product of petroleum. Until I began to write this I thought they were all made of rubber, how wrong I was!

Anyway back to the festival-fashion show. Hats are still very popular; they tend to fall into certain sectors. Quite why so many people want to wander around with wide-brimmed straw creations on their heads is beyond me - it's like a thousand Crocodile Dundees have invaded the country. Thankfully the 'trilby' as popularised by Pete Doherty seems to have faded from view but the gay cowboy (multi-coloured & sequined) is still around. As for the crusty-mountaineers, woolly and generally striped with ear-flaps and pom-poms, the less said the better.

Fancy-dress: You're away for the weekend, with limited clothing in unpredictable weather. Naturally you want to spend that time dressed as spider-man. Or as a ballerina-fairy; again I'm referring entirely to the men.

Food: In times gone by you might have been lucky to see a chip van at a festival, these days it's much more varied, a selection of fast food to shame the centre of most towns. It's still a fair bet though that a concession named 'Hamburger Heaven' may be only 50% accurate at best.

Over the weekend period a large amount of this food will find its way onto the floor, which finally gives those wellies something to repel if it deigned not to rain in that time.

People taking photos on mobile phones: Blame Facebook. These days you can't go to any gig without seeing vast numbers of people taking pics on their mobiles. It's clearly not enough to have the experience; you also have to prove you've had it. I wouldn't mind but most pictures taken on mobile phones are crap. I have a 2mb camera on mine and this is the kind of result I get.

There are no prizes but if you can work out who it is I'll praise you highly.

Musical variety: At some festivals the music is an irrelevance, and rightly so. I tend to use the opportunity to see as many acts in a short-space of time as possible. By doing this I've worked out what makes a good set. Sing-a-long hits. There's a simple reason for this, in a wide open space with a limited speaker volume and those pesky weather conditions, your music will only project so far. If the crowd are also singing the songs then you have a better chance. On Sunday morning I saw The Stranglers (possibly for the first time in 20 years), 30 minutes and I knew every song - perfect. I strolled across to see The Rifles who I'd heard good things about and they were also pretty good, but not quite the same. Returning from their stage I went to look at Squeeze - perfect festival set.

Lenny Kravitz got this tragically wrong on Sunday (in my opinion), too much musicianship - great for your own gigs but not at festivals. In contrast Amy Winehouse almost got it right - your performance may not be up to much but if the crowd know all the words and want to support you then you can't lose.

Scheduling tragedies: You can see a lot of acts at festivals, including some you wouldn't cross the road to see for free in normal circumstances. The major tragedy of V for me was Muse being on at the same time as The Prodigy. I have a great belief that Muse are all show and few songs, so it had to be The Prodigy on home-turf and I made the right choice. The crowd went mental.

Walking in straight lines: Impossible at festivals. If you're not avoiding the mud or discarded food, you're dodging the fact that people will lie and sit anywhere - sometimes nowhere near a stage and in the middle of what is a clear walkway for thousands of people. Someone will sit there. There's also the problem of avoiding people walking in the same or opposite directions, none of whom are walking in a straight line.

Tired and emotional people: Until recently I was aware of this euphemism for drunks but had rarely seen it so vividly demonstrated. Clearly a lack of sleep on the camp-site plus a large quantity of alcohol contributes to people getting in this way. The number of people I saw crying was only equalled by the vast number of folk arguing on their mobile-phones with their other halves. Often this may have been due to them being separated in the crowds. They probably needed a fishing rod with wombles stuck to the top.

Fishing poles & wombles: Flag-poles have become a mainstay. OK, you get seen on the tv pictures and it helps others to find you. People have taken this to new extremes at both ends of the spectrum - from a helium balloon tied to a twig to a pair of cuddly toys on the end of very long fishing-poles, it's all the rage.

Male urinals: These have become an unusual but regular site of late. They are basically a line of giant moulded plastic buckets where men stand in the open-air and do the necessary. Frankly they become superfluous after a while as it's well known that men will urinate against any upright surface - natural or man-made. I even witnessed one woman doing this on Saturday night.

Now you probably have more than you need to know about the festival experience, no doubt some of you could add more points. I look forward to them.

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