Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

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Festival Time

Weather or not [and more often inclement]-it’s festival season. They’ve become bigger and more elaborate over the last fifty years. As a teenager I escaped the parental gaze and attended plenty of concerts, some of which were outside, notably Pink Floyd in Hyde Park on a blazing hot day, July 1970. I was seventeen. The concert, like other Hyde Park gigs, was free.

The mother of all music festivals, Woodstock had been in 1969. It held an alluring, magical quality for us then; we who would never have the option to attend packing instead into the cinema to worship our heroes-Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Ten Years After and the rest.

Festivals began to be a feature of the summer. The Isle of Wight, Glastonbury and Reading became fixtures and were supplemented by a rash of music events as time progressed.

Now it seems there is a festival on somewhere every week during the summer months but the free and easy ethos of the sixties is long past. Most of the larger, well known events carry an eye-watering ticket price, often with facilities to match, for those prepared to pay. Glastonbury offers luxury yurts with en-suites, although those with a thirty pound, pop-up tent are still welcome. There are multiple stages offering a range of entertainments, food from every culture, handy stalls flogging much needed wellies and waterproof capes.

Last weekend we were once again running our own, local, modest music festival on a green stretch by the River Stour. The festival has run for twenty five years, charging a small sum for entry and donating any profits to charity. The performers play free, the staff are unpaid volunteers; but the festival is under threat from council regulations and spiralling costs. Sadly, security has had to be put into place to keep real music lovers, festival goers and families just wanting a happy day out safe from gate-crashers, those wanting to bring their own alcohol rather than using the festival beer tent and other party poopers. They are few but still not welcome.

In addition to all of this, we volunteers are almost all getting on in years. Putting up fencing, constructing a stage, fetching and carrying, bin emptying and litter picking late into the night takes a toll-especially on Husband, who has the added anxiety of responsibility for administrative matters. As a lowly ticket seller and general helper my duties are less imperative, but the role can be varied. This year I undertook tasks ranging from repairing plastic swords [purchased from a toy stall] to retrieving a pair of stray dogs that threatened to run wild inside the compound. Then there are arrogant young men who strut past the ticket booth with a nonchalant swagger and have to be called back, large families who flock in, people for whom complaint is a lifetime goal-especially when it comes to forking out £5 for a day’s music!

But in a quiet moment, when the sun shines and we pause to survey the arena where groups of festival goers are lounging on picnic blankets, children playing, a swarm around the beer tent and a full marquee it feels like a great thing to do.