I won’t be going to any festivals this summer. No, this isn’t a boycott, just the result of some drastic ankle surgery.
Of all the compromises having only one functioning leg for three months will visit on me, not being able to gather with my nearest and dearest (and thousands of other potential n’s and d’s) in a field somewhere for some daft dancing, is possibly the saddest.
It’s been sometime since the seasonal realities of being a veg grower and the ticket price have allowed me Glastonbury as anything other than a televisual experience. But since those early eruptions of cultural and artistic expression at places like Worthy Farm and The Isle of Wight, beginning in the sixties, I’ve witnessed festival going grow from a teenage (and largely hippy) hedonistic right of passage to what tens of millions of us do with our summer weekends. The festival armband has become a badge of honour along with the Tuesday comedown and festival toilet horror story.
So why do the likes of me love our festies so much? I’m in my sixties, camping days largely behind me, and with the means to indulge my creative appetites more formerly. But the call of the dance tent and some nostalgic or long admired headline on the Main Stage, with or without mud, pulls me out of my theatre-seat lethargy every year.
Of course the music’s a big part of the attraction. Despite what Simon Cowell would have us believe, you don’t have to succeed in front of a celebrity panel of judges or survive a phone vote to get on in music. My musical tastes are catholic and I can say that those tastes have had their expectations massively exceeded in front of countless festival speaker systems. More to the point the unheard of support act has brought me to my feet every bit as often as the headline.
But it’s not just the music. Granted there’d be no festival without it but even on those occasions when the band has disappointed, that mixture of universal goodwill and frenzied fun seeking seems to stifle even a suggestion of customer dissatisfaction. And I can’t think of a situation when I’ve entered into conversations with more total strangers. The commonality of intent, along with (it has to be said) various degrees of psycho active self medication, makes engaging with ones fellow daft dancers hard to avoid.
But take all that; the music; the familiar and not so familiar street foods; the ale guzzled from a plastic pint glass; the four a.m. trudge back to the ill remembered tent (in my case van) location; the bog queue; the water queue; the hideously inappropriate fancy dressers; the face paint; the highs, legal or otherwise. Take all that and your still left with what keeps us coming back. The joy of the gathering.
In our largely secular reality the need to come together seems to have found its expression, in Britain at least, in the three day music festival. It’s hardly surprising then that many of those slightly inebriated ice breaking conversations and much of the music’s lyrical thrust is about sharing the vision of a better world. So there you’ll find me, wrapped in a friendly festival crowd, artisan fast food in one hand glow stick in the other, eyes closed, lost in daft dance rapture, convinced that if all the world could feel as good as this from time to time our problems would soon be over.