I’ll start by saying that UK festivals are UNDENIABLY better than US versions. Am I a little bit biased? Possibly. Have I been to a US festival? Nope. But I don’t necessarily NEED to have gone to a US festival to know that they are definitely worse than UK ones.
Festivals are all about the vibe. The music and artists playing are definitely important, but to me it’s the atmosphere that defines it. Your favourite bands might be playing all weekend but that doesn’t mean a thing if the vibe of the festival isn’t that great; you’ll just end up having a bad time despite your best intentions. I’ve had the pleasure of going to Reading and Leeds twice now, and the vibes? Immaculate. Sure, you’re covered in mud, probably have sunstroke and are dehydrated, but everyone there is just there to have an abs0lutely great time and nobody cares what they look like. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been more filthy than when I was covered in mud at Reading, but the beauty of it was that I just did not care. It’s massively freeing to just focus on the music and the good times you’re having with those around you.
The first thing I think of when I think of US festivals is Coachella. It’s big on the production front and (usually) the line-up – hello ‘Beychella’. The shows are 9 times out of 10 absolutely spectacular. But the vibe just doesn’t really sound appealing. When summer rolls around, suddenly everything festival related is about Coachella fashion; what you’re going to wear, what this celebrity is wearing, spending excessive amounts of money on outfits to look good and people making questionable cultural appropriating choices (wearing bindis and Native American headdresses). It’s expensive and highly controlled. You go there for a glamourous time by the sounds of things, glamping and taking loads of insta photos; it feels like it’s more about showing that you had a good time rather than actually doing so. Also, the owner of the festival is a right-wing billionaire who funded anti-LGBT causes, so there’s that too. I guess, without trying to sound too superior, it just feels a bit too superficial to me, and loses what a festival should really be about; the music.
On a personal note, I’m also much more inclined to the alternative side of music, of which I feel the UK captures a bit more in their festival line-ups. Sure, Reading in the past few years has definitely dipped more into the mainstream side of things (see The Smashing Pumpkins headlining in 2007 vs. Post Malone headlining in 2019), but other festivals like Truck, Boardmasters and even Boomtown (if you’re more into your DnB then this is the place for you) still showcase a lot of alt and up-and-coming indie artists. From what I’ve seen of big US festivals, it’s a lot more mainstream focused, but I like the idea of festivals being used as a platform for smaller artists to bounce off of and grow.
UK festivals also have a deep history; I’d be remiss to write an article on UK festivals without mentioning Glastonbury, which turned 50 this year. Festival culture is heavily ingrained in British culture; we like our live music here, and hold it very close to our hearts – big festivals are no exception. Michael Eavis’ farm has become sacred ground for British music, and that high regard of festivals is part of the appeal to me for UK festivals.
This whole piece is obviously massively biased, but I’m certain that UK festivals are superior to US festivals because, well, they just are.