After spending most of my twenties living on cruise ships and tropical islands (I can hear you playing the miniature violin) it’s fair to say I have plenty of experience with late nights, binge drinking and multi-day benders. But this challenging lifestyle meant I was a relative latecomer to the wonderful world of music festivals.
I was 31 when I worked out how to pitch a two-man tent so I could attend my first ever music and camping festival, Playground Weekender, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. When I won a free double pass, the only partner in crime I could rustle up was my mate Christian and he couldn’t make it until the second day. So I made my way to my first ever festival, alone. I’m a fan of flying solo – I met my buddy Dave at a Goyte gig when he turned around during a lull in the set and shouted, “Are you here by yourself?” But heading to a festival without a single accomplice was a major endeavour, even for me. I needn’t have worried, though. Before I even boarded the ferry to the festival grounds, I made my first festival friend – such is the nature of these events. By the time my actual festival buddy arrived on day two, I had gathered a posse half a dozen strong.
That was my first experience of the festival family. For the uninitiated, it’s not dissimilar to the friendships you make when travelling abroad or the bonds you form as a kid at school camp. Perhaps it’s the shared discomfort of sleeping rough, being covered in inches of dust and mud and backing it up for a third or even fourth day of drinking. Or maybe it’s simply because people are more friendly when you get them out of the city. Either way, I’m a massive fan of the festival family and forget the bands – the people you hangout with are the real festival highlight.
So in honour of my most recent festival adventure, Splendour in the Grass, I want to share with you the ingredients that go in to making the perfect festival family.
The human icebreaker
One of the best parts of a festival like Splendour is the spectacle of the event. From outrageous festival “fashion” to people dressed as telly tubbies, there is always something to look at. But take a moment to consider what your festival would be like if you were rocking out with the guy dressed as Gumby.
Some may call them the festival nut job, the crazy of the group or suspect they are the loser of some sick dare. I prefer to consider this member of the team the human icebreaker. Wherever you go, folks will stop, stare and take pictures and there is no better way to meet people. Plus you get the added bonus of playing the “I’m not crazy – that’s crazy,” card when you point to your mate.
I spent a solid day at Splendour with my festival buddy decked out in a nude coloured bodysuit with only her underpants over the top of the revealing getup. When she asked whether she should put her normal clothes back on to visit the bar, I was suitably diplomatic in my response. “That’s really up to you,” I ventured. “Pretty much everything you’ve done this festival, from flashing your day of the week underpants to the inflatable guitar you’re carrying, I would never have done. But horses for courses.” Everyone must have their own festival experience. She decided to ditch the bodysuit but it reappeared after dark and she managed to take festival crazy to new heights by creating a human pyramid under a giant UFO sculpture – much to the chagrin of security guards who tried to pull her from atop five strapping young men.
Hook a brother up
When it comes to music festivals, there are more hook ups than you can poke a stick at and I’m not talking festival romances – I’ll get to those in a minute. Consider the merits of VIP access, free drinks and sweet, sweet camping setups. Obviously, you want VIP access – that goes without saying. But realistically, that’s not going to happen for everyone, so you have to find your own piece of paradise. Maybe it’s two hours of free cider each day courtesy of a chum who works in public relations, perhaps you know someone in a band, a festival organiser or worker who can get you in to the bar with full strength liquor. My Splendour 2011 was made all the more comfortable by “working” in one of the stalls – that is if you consider getting tanked and chatting to random passersby working, which I do. The upshot of a few hours pretending to sell t-shirts and vintage clothing was a camping area right near a real shower block and within spitting distance of the festival entrance.
Think of a music festival like being in a prison – every little comfort helps, whether that’s sneaking in contraband or lining up the best spot in the exercise yard, choosing your cell mates wisely can have a generous pay off.
The love interest
I can honestly never say that I’ve had a festival love interest in my festival family so this one’s just wishful thinking. I’m imagining the thrill of lusting after someone for three days and then finally sealing the deal with a pash during the final headlining act. Being borderline OCD, my festival love interest fantasy doesn’t extend beyond that since I can’t get my head around muddy tent sex. Just thinking about it makes me reach for the hand sanitiser, but far be it from me to deny anyone else the pleasure of a little festival loving. That said, I’ll take an unrequited festival crush with the lead singer of some little known band over that any day.
The voice of reason
Festival shenanigans are well and good but we’ve all gone too far at some point. Whether it’s downing a full bottle of vodka before trying to simultaneously strangle and make-out with your mates in the mosh-pit during Temper Trap or hooking up with not one but two blokes dressed as Chilean miners, sometimes, it’s good to have a voice of reason in your ear. For us, we boasted a tee-totalling vegan who was only too willing to point out when the party was over. At previous festivals, I’ve shockingly found myself being the voice of reason calling game over a day early. Someone has to be the festival killjoy and sometimes that someone is you. Make up for it next year by packing a mankini. On second thoughts, don’t.
The tour guide
At least one person in your festival line-up needs to be on the ball. Entrust them to read all of the fine print on the tickets, print out the timetable, download the app and know the layout of the event back to front. This is the person that will save you from getting your glass bottles confiscated at the gate or prevent you from being told off by the smoking police who oddly patrolled several of the bars at this year’s Splendour. Sure, smoking inside is a no-no but being told off for doing it outdoors is a little rich. Luckily the festival tour guide was there to save you from embarrassment.
Never in a million years would I have thought I’d say this, but I’ve discovered the ultimate festival accessory – kids. So long as they are not your own and you can hand them back after one token visit to see a band or trip to the slushie stand. I was more shocked than anyone to find myself surrounded by a posse of pre teens and toddlers during the Foster the People set but the crowd got into it in a big way. As one little fella charmed the ladies, another was busy pushing me onto a nearby stranger – if only he’d been hot, I would have scored that prized festival pash. The little tackers rocked out on the shoulders of our adult festival leaders and break-danced in the dirt. One even took his shirt off and swung it around his head. Sadly, the terrors weren’t willing to spend the five dollars their mums gave them on drink tickets for me but give them a few years and I’m sure they’ll come around.
This piece was written purely for personal enjoyment as an ode to my festival family.