So I have found myself in the midst of festival season again. This is the time of year that the youth of Australia can recognize instantly; it is akin to the change in the composition of the air on that first summer afternoon. It’s the time of year when the sun is warming, browning and blistering the skin, roasting like the barbeque meat that is already in short supply, a time of pool parties, beer gardens, late night sporting events, beach outings, beach parties, and beach holidays.
The days are longer, they seem to flow more easily and into each other so that months go by like weeks, weeks like days and days like hours, and the air is lightly scented with a combination of sunscreen, tomato plants and insect repellent.
Yet, before you know it you’re hunting for your long johns and wooly beanies amidst the storage and pulling on your overcoat around your shoulders and your heart that holds a sense of mourning for the kind of warmth and lightheartedness you will not see for another 9 months. Here in Melbourne, we all know how fleeting the three months of summer that we are allocated by Mother Nature can be, and so we try our hardest to squeeze into every last beam of sunshine memories to draw on when we are huddled up in our dark office cubicles as April rolls around, and that includes cramming as many festivals as we can into this opportune window of time.
Since the summer of 2008, I have been a regular festival attendee. And since the summer of 2008, I have repeatedly questioned why I put myself through the aching feet, the sunburn, the wash outs, the technical difficulties, the enormous snaking line to get to the feral toilets, the feral toilets, the loud, obnoxious boys and girls who are already down five cans of Smirnoff Double Black at 12:30 in the afternoon and insist on talking all the way through my favourite acts, being stepped on, pushed over, or blocked out, and only being able to see the top of Karen O’s headdress because of my unfortunate size. Why would anyone want to put themselves through that, you ask? Simple. For the love of music.
It would seem that I have some strange deep seeded penchant for inflicting self torture, but hear me out. Although all that I described is usually what comes with going to a music festival, especially if you are a 5 foot 2 redhead with extremely pale skin and a low tolerance for girls who like to climb on their boyfriends shoulders during her favourite songs, there is nothing quite like being surrounded by people with whom you may have nothing in common, except that they share the same love of music as you do.
As soon as that band walks out onto the stage, and you see that they have the same dopey, lovesick, I-am-so-happy-I-am-going-to-cry look on their faces as you do, they become your friends, your comrades, and your closest confidants. As I look out over the sea of plastic coloured Ray-Ban sunglasses, floral print shirts and denim short shorts, bodysuits, wife-beaters and feathered headdresses, I know instantly that these are my people.
Two days ago I attended the Good Vibrations Festival in Flemington, Melbourne, and as I stood there pushed up against my boyfriend and another man wearing a wife beater and a backwards baseball cap and smelling of B.O, watching the lead singer of Friendly Fires gyrating against his microphone like a slightly deranged yet not nearly as effortlessly cool Mick Jagger, I thought of all the things that I loved about the music festival scene.
The dancing, the fashion, the bad fashion, the sunshine, being drunk at 12:30 in the afternoon and not being judged (too much) for it, making best friends in the mosh pit with the other drunk boys and girls, sing-alongs, the band banter, getting messy with my friends and of course, the music. In fact, you can scrap all the rest of the good and the bad because the music is everything. Even if you have had the most supremely awful festival day, there will always be one act, one song, or one moment that will make you think “Damn, it is good to be alive.”
It’s that moment when the band plays the starting riff of your favourite song, and the lead singer comes out with those all important first lines that you have clung to for comfort and hope in darker times, that moment that sends shivers down your spine and brings tears to your eyes, that fills up your chest with emotion so effortlessly your heart seems buoyant and everything else is obliterated in the light of that one moment of musical clarity. That is what I go to festivals for.
So if you are new to the country and want to embrace some of the local youth culture, or just new to the festival scene and considering of joining the ranks of the festival goer, or if you have dreamed of being alive in the time of Woodstock but have to settle for Groovin’ the Moo, here are some tips and some of my favourite music festivals to get you started.
Have a Plan
Although Music Festivals are great value in terms of the amount of acts you get to see, if the line up is particularly awesome, you’re going to have clashes. This is unavoidable, and as crushing as it can be trying to choose between seeing Faithless and Phoenix (something we had to painstakingly grapple with at Good Vibes) there are ways to optimize the music component in your festival experience.
Festival websites release their timetables a couple of weeks before the actual event, so its best to download a copy and work out with your friends which acts you want to see and when you have to be at what stages. And don’t be afraid to break off from your group if there’s a band you really want to see; they know it isn’t personal, and you will always make new friends ready to share their beer and their love of Metallica with you in the mosh pit.
Take it! You may look like a pasty dweeb, but too many times have I suffered with blistering skin and a terrible t shirt tan. Sometimes the first aid tents will supply you with some, but I would recommend taking your own, or at least putting some on before you leave. You can use zinc to make it fun, but you run the risk of having “I Love Penis” being burnt into your back for all eternity.
Now this sounds lame and un-hardcore, but in this instance I am strictly referring to multiple day festivals, such as Falls Festival in Lorne and the Pyramid Rock Festival down at Phillip Island, which both run over New Year’s. These festivals all require you to camp on site (unless you have accommodation nearby, but you don’t get the gritty, dirty, truly wonderful festival experience if you’re “off campus”), and although you may think that you will be able rock and roll all night and party every day, you will burn out without sleep.
Unfortunately you can’t choose your neighbors, and more often than not there will always be one group who stay up drinking till sunrise, pumping their own music out of the car stereo ; if this happens you will either want to join them, or go all Texas Chainsaw on them. My advice is to put down the chainsaw, and put in some earplugs; they will also block out any of the late night DJ acts, and stop you from getting arrested. But if you take them because the music is too loud, well then, unless you have a medically prescribed hearing condition, that is pretty lame.
Don’t Get Caught Out
With drink prices astronomically inflated at the festival bars, people tend to try and sneak in their own stashes of alcohol, which is sadly always against festival policy. I wouldn’t recommend it – from my experience it’s not worth the stress and the penalties are pretty harsh; in the old days the cops would just take it off you, but now days if you get caught with drugs or alcohol on you, you will be denied entry, especially at Falls Festival and Pyramid Rock.
But if you do decide to give it a try, be a bit more creative than the vodka in the water bottle trick; after decades of overuse by countless groups of 18 year girls, they’re wise to that.
Music Festivals in general are gritty, dirty, messy, smelly, yet I always look back on them as some of the best times of my life. So, what are you waiting for? Do it for the love of music!