September 02, 2010

On festival behaviour

A Saturday afternoon in July, the Obelisk Arena, Latitude Festival’s main stage. Frank Turner is belting out one hell of a set, and about halfway through two teenage girls come barging through the crowd. Now I’m a grouchy enough human being that I’m not beyond getting annoyed at that sort of behavior in some circumstances. But these weren’t two drunken louts trying to elbow their way to a better view when the band start playing a single that they know the words two. Rather, two girls, likely at their first festival, dancing around and yelling out the words to Back in the Day (a fairly obscure track by any measure) like it could very well be their last. They were having the time of their lives and you just can’t resent that.

Except apparently, you can. About five minutes later a middle-aged woman in front of us turns around and with a look of barely concealed disgust, tells them to stop bumping in to her.

It’s this odd phenomenon at festivals: get to the barrier early in the day to have the best spot for the headliner later on. Sure, it happens at all gigs – support acts are forever playing to often disinterested fans of the headlining band. But it’s kind of accepted. The vast majority of people at your regular gig haven’t paid to see the support. Festivals are different though. The numbers are inverted. The majority of people watching a band at any one time will be there to watch that band. They’ll range from dedicated fans to those who just turned up as they liked the name or the description in the programme. But they’re all interested in watching the band. The super-hardcore fans of the headline act, that get there six hours early to get a great spot, are in the minority.

I’ve been a part of that minority twice. At my very first festival, Guildford Festival 2001, I stood at the barrier for about four hours to see James headline. And at my first Glastonbury in 2003 I spent about seven hours at the Pyramid stage to get a good spot for REM. But in both those circumstances, I got in to the spirit of things. I jived along with some 50-somethings to The Saw Doctors at Guildford and at Glastonbury I rocked out to Suede and Mogwai, and tapped my feet and applauded politely for David Gray. Because it’s polite to the bands on stage, but frankly, it’s also more fun.

So back to Frank Turner, an ex-hardcore-punk frontman, singing a song about how punk rock changed his life, and how the ethos behind it is “in the words of every song I sing” and a woman is complaining about getting jostled by people having fun. This isn’t incidentally, an age thing. Also next to me and getting caught up in all this is another older woman with her young daughter, and they’re bouncing around shouting all the words at each other. They don’t care.

But that girl that got told off, she had wisdom and a sense of mischief beyond her years. As the set grew to a close, Frank got everyone singing along to Photosynthesis, and in a stroke of brilliance the girl simply leans forwards and yells the words in to the woman’s ear: “And I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up, and most of all, I will not grow up.”

Beautiful.

She made the point of this who piece far more clearly and succinctly than I have in all my ramblings, but my point is, that if you find yourself at a festival waiting through bands you don’t know to get a good spot for one you do, get in to the spirit of things. Enjoy it.

The girls left the crowd after Frank Turner, and I lost track of the woman when the whole crowd started heaving to and fro when James, the next band on, bought out the festival anthems. After that I left to go watch something in the Caberet tent, so I never got to see how that lady reacted to the mini-riot that Crystal Castles started in the crowd. I’m not sure she’d have lasted through to Belle and Sebastian.


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