Music: Survival of the fittest - Velvet's guide to surviving summer festivals
As someone who has been going to music festivals in the UK for more than 30 years now - from Cropredy in Oxfordshire when I was just 17 through to celebrating turning 50 last summer at the brilliant End of the Road in Dorset - I like to think it’s not all just been fun and mud and noise for the last three decades.
Well, OK, it pretty much has. But along the way I’ve also built up a pretty useful list of tips on how to maximise the fun, minimise the mud and enjoy the noise as efficiently and with as few encumbrances as possible. Here’s a few of the pearls of wisdom that I’ve gleaned over all those years.
Pre-festival preparation is not only a sensible way to make sure you wring every bit of joy out of the event itself when you get there, it’s also a great way to get pre-emptively excited about everything that you're going to get to see and hear... before you go. Once the acts and stages are announced, spend a couple of hours going through them. Identify the worst likely clashes. Have a quick Google or Spotify of any acts you don’t know: they could be your potential New Favourite Band. Work out how early you might need to head to the main stage for that headliner that everyone will want to get front row for. Identify the best time to schedule in food, booze, tent and loo breaks (of which, more later).
I actually have a ritual colour-coded spreadsheet - a different colour for each stage or tent, a different page for each day - that I draw up beforehand and actually print out on actual paper. Don't judge me: I'm a Virgo. Must-sees are marked in bold, possibles get an asterisk, “down time” (where there is either nothing on, or nothing worth watching) is blocked out in grey. Okay, you might not want to go quite that far, but having some kind of loose schedule (even if it ends up getting screwed up and thrown away two hours into the first day) does help make sure you get to see as much music as possible. It's also handy if your phone dies and/or you don't want to fork out for the official festival programme.
A pre-festie playlist is also always good: both to tide you over until you actually get to be there, listening to all those brilliant bands IRL, and also as essential travelling-to-the-festival soundtrack. You can usually find these on Spotify, or if not, just make your own. All the above research and preparation is paying off already, see?
One of the very WORST aspects of festival-going are the boring, practical mechanics of hauling a three- or four-day supply of all your kit (tent, clothes, food, booze, emergency supplies etc etc) from your home to the festival site. Whether you’re driving, car-sharing or taking the greener public transport route, my tip here is to work out how much stuff you’ll need. . . and then HALF it.
Seriously. You really don’t actually need to change clothes THREE times a day, do you? Two T-shirts, one vest, shorts, jeans, one skirt, a hat (not a comedy hat, ideally), one pair of leggings, a jumper or hoodie for evening, a (light!) raincoat, boots and trainers: that should do you. Wear the heaviest items to travel, to cut down on your carrying load even more. Sleeping bags are essential but don’t bother with pillows: bring pillowcases and stuff them with whatever clothes you aren’t wearing that night. This cuts down significantly on bulk.
DON’T skimp on making sure you’ve got all the bits and pieces you need for your tent, though. There’s nothing more miserable than a leaking, shonkily-pitched tent, in a field, in the rain, late at night.
Over the years, I've seen festival food stalls evolve from greasy gristleburger vans of doom to a hearteningly decent, varied and appetising selection of goods: most of which are unlikely to give you botulism. If you can possibly afford to do so, then I would highly recommend you ditch the pretence that you’ll cook yourself delicious fried breakfasts and hearty dinners over that tiny gas stove you’ve carted along with you. Just buy food! When you fancy it! Where you fancy it!
This has the double advantage of a) once more cutting down on the sheer volume of STUFF you need to carry with you and b) making sure you miss as few highlights of the festival as possible, since you can buy and consume your grub in the main arena, while you watch/listen/dance/enjoy. They even have CUPCAKE stalls at festivals nowadays for god’s sake, kids!
If you're on a budget, then one huge pot of veggie chilli and a loaf of bread for those all-important carbs has been known to keep me going through an entire weekend. Eaten cold. Washed down with a beer. The food of the gods.
A word about loos. Although toilets at most festivals have improved immeasurably in the last 30 years, there are still some tips that can help minimise the unpleasantness of the festival bog situation.
Firstly baby wipes are your Best Friend. Always carry a packet. Secondly, if you are lucky enough to have a choice, always opt for drop toilets over enclosed chemical loos. Trust me, they are invariably a far fresher and more pleasant experience.
It’s also good – if possible – to time your festival loo breaks strategically. Just after chemical loos have been emptied and cleaned is prime time. At the end of a long evening, not so much. And it goes without saying that if you’re ever off-site during festival weekend, make full use of those supermarket/pub/service station toilets. Luxury.
With the weather in this country never to be relied upon, my strategy is always to start each day layered up, to save having to duck back and forwards to your tent as the sun comes in, goes out, gets obscured by rain clouds etc etc.
A mac/raincoat/cagoule can always be tied around your waist, along with a jumper or cardie that can come on or off as needed. Walking boots, Doc Martens or wellies (but make sure they won’t rub – nothing worse than the festival blister) will do for all weathers – better than risking a sandal and getting trench foot in the rain or mud. A hat’s also good for keeping your hair dry and the sun out of your eyes.
As a social media junkie, the thought of going three to four days without my phone (and therefore my selfie-camera, social media accounts and messaging services) gives me the fear. So I've invested a few quid in a few portable chargers for my mobile (OK... so I have six, what of it?!) which I religiously load up before I go. Of course, once on site, as often as not I find there's no, or limited, signal anyway, which cuts down my battery-draining opportunities.But still, better safe than sorry, right?
Mainly, though, the main thing that I have gleaned from my long years of commitment to the festival-going cause is that music festivals are among the most brilliant ways to spend a few days yet to be invented. Three days, the great outdoors, a constant array of brilliant music, friends, booze, hopefully a bit of sunshine too: what could be a better mini-holiday for a music lover?
So whether you’re a Folk Festival first-timer, a Reading regular, an End of the Road entrant or a veteran Glasto-goer, do prepare, do plan and then simply ENJOY this summer’s feast of fun.
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More by this authorJude Clarke