The spirit of the modern festival

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The height of the festival season is approaching fast. But you don’t need me to tell you that. I’m sure many of you have been planning for months in advance a variety of debaucherous weekends of music, art and whatever your poison may be. In the build up to the summer, a steady stream of festival articles will be released by media outlets all over the world; news, rumours and previews will occasionally be interspersed by a damnation of modern commercialisation and accusations that the festival spirit is being slowly destroyed. But it seems to me that nobody really feels this way. If they did, festival tourism wouldn’t be the booming industry that it is.

That said, the festival experience is as unique to each individual as their own personality. I do not believe that it is idealistic to say that the freedom festivals represent enable us to express an extension of our personality that is usually restricted by our day-to-day lives. I for one can only conjure vague recollections of my five years of festival-going experiences but would not have it any other way. To me, it’s a holiday; in our modern lives, we are fortunate enough that the wonders of travel are available to us all and so it is just as easy to scoot off to Benicàssim, Sziget or Coachella festival as it is to get to Glastonbury, Reading or Download.

The concept of the modern festival emerged in the late 1960s with iconic examples such as Woodstock ’69. Since then, participation in festivals has grown as a significant social experience for contemporary young adults shrouded in equal measures of history, mystery and hedonism. The older generations will tell you that festivals have lost their charm; regular attendees will tell you that the cost increases year-on-year, seemingly without any correlation to quality or general improvements – the age old ‘toilet situation’ springs to mind – and everyone will tell you how much they fucking hate teenagers smashed off their tits on ‘legal highs’ (which, thankfully, this year are subject to a greater awareness campaign than ever before). Are these simply the grumblings of an ageing fanbase, hungry for the nostalgic experiences of their youth? Perhaps. Nothing is ever as good as you remember it it be. Does it make any difference? No. Not at all.

The fact remains that no matter how hard wannabe-bohemians like myself want to deny it, a majority of festivals would be completely unable to continue without the support of advertising and increased ticket prices. Woodstock was a ticketed event until too many people showed up; kids were doing drugs and facilities were practically non-existent. Not all that much has changed in that respect. We, on the other hand, are blessed with a wealth and variety of choice. I for one had two major festivals planned but cancelled them both in favour of four smaller ones at which I will still be seeing the same bands for virtually the same price. If you’re so infuriated the favourite festival of your teenage years is overflowing with underage drinkers (edit: 2+2 anybody?) then there are plenty of other options – you just need to find them. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be critical. Constructive criticism and feedback are the cornerstone of customer-orientated business. We can argue that music promoters and big businesses milk the festival cash cow for all it’s worth with little regard for the attendee beyond the mandatory health and safety concerns.

So maybe our generation doesn’t wear flowers in their hair or express the great optimism of the 60s. In fact, quite the opposite: we’re largely apathetic. We’d rather #NekNominate or Keep Calm and Use Clichés. But, at the end of the day – the people make the party. Maybe it would hush the festival-bashers if we all showed a little love this summer.

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