I am Sick of Green-Field, Refugee Camp Festivals

I am sick of them, and I am not going anymore. You know the ones, hundreds of tents as far as the eye can see, grass which gets ground to dust or churned into mud within a day, fields strewn with polystyrene boxes, paper plates and plastic pint pots, toilets as fearsome as the fucking Sarlaac pit.  I could (yes, yes, and do) go on, but you know what I mean when I refer to a green-field refugee camp festival.

I am not just being prissy about hygiene and personal comfort or anything like that – well, the toilets are pretty horrific – I just don’t like large groups of people.  In fact, off the top of my head, the only time I actively enjoy crowds is at a football match.

As well as attending quite a few for the sheer enjoyment, I ended up going to an awful lot of festivals last year as Meursault’s driver, and most of them really, really were fucking awful.  The funny thing is, though, from the band’s perspective the best shows didn’t always come at what were, from a punter’s point of view, the best festivals.  They had a riot playing T in the Park, for example, whereas from a fan’s perspective that’s a festival I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

Still, driving them around did give me a pretty thorough overview of the UK festival circuit, and whilst it was fun to try lots of the big ones, including my first trip to Glastonbury, I think I have come up with some general guidelines for myself when it comes to festivals.

For example, five thousand people is already way too big.  The lineup at End of the Road saves it, but in every other sense it is just the same as all the other festivals – the same food stalls, the same venues, albeit in a different field – all these are just businesses which tour the festival circuit all year, meaning one festival looks pretty much exactly like the next.

I did think Truck stood out though.  For all the lineup wasn’t as strong as the likes of Green Man or EotR, all the stalls at the festival itself were provided by local businesses.  This meant not one single one of those depressing places which tour each and every UK festival was there, and this gave the place a real character of its own.  We were lucky with weather too, which helped, but this was one of my favourites.

Of the smaller festivals, well you all know how much I love Pickathon and Homegame, and the Fence Away Game last year was just mind-blowing.  At these smaller festivals the landscape tends to more in evidence, as it isn’t overwhelmed by the miniature city which lands on top of it for a week.  And I may be a city boy at heart, but a weekend in a tentopolis in a field doesn’t seem like a holiday, but a weekend in the Scottish mountains really does.

Equally, when the people are fewer it just feels more like an expedition and less like a stampede.  It feels like we’re visiting the countryside rather than barging across it, and I do think that breeds a slightly different mentality in the fans as well, and that they are more likely to be respectful of their surroundings under these circumstances.

I have also learned that I don’t actually care as much about lineups as I would have thought.  I could go to the End of the Road Festival twice and still not see everything I wanted to see, but on a couple of occasions that has led to me worrying about what I might be missing, rather than simply relaxing and having fun .

What I find is that, for all I obviously want at least some bands I really like to be there, when the lineup is a little patchier there is more time to just relax and enjoy being away from it all.  It’s nice to have little pockets of time where you aren’t thinking about what is happening on whatever stage.  I like there to be a few things I am really keen to see, a few things I am interested in taking a chance on and quite a lot of time I am not fussed about anything.  At those times I tend to just sit back and relax or go and see a band I have never heard of, which is really nice way to spend a weekend.

Without the experience, the infrastructure or the financial backing, these festivals can be a little hit and miss I guess.  Close to Edinburgh there are a couple – Kelburn Garden Party and Doune the Rabbit Hole – which look really interesting and which have been described to me as both brilliant and awful depending on who I’ve spoken to.  I’d still rather go there than Rockness though.

There are also a couple of interesting ones a little further afield.  One, The Insider, I know nothing about but is located up near Inshriach House in the Highlands near Aviemore and should be spectacular.  The Imploding Inevitable Festival seems to be quite similar in spirit, is taking place in Fellfoot Woods in Cumbria.  Both the lineups have that excellent combination of complete obscurity and a handful of bands I really want to hear, and both locations look really interesting.

The thing with these really small festivals, though, is that their PR reach can be a little limited, so there are no doubt dozens of others going on around the UK I’ve never heard of, but whatever they are they look a damn site more like fun than any of the big boys which, honestly, just bore me to tears these days.

More: , , , , , , , , , , , ,