Can someone tell me what is happening to the good old British Festival? An institution of our culture, it seems to me that these vast showcases of creative talent are swiftly becoming an utterly middle class affair. Long gone are the days of paying for a ticket if you have the money, or paying an enterprising scally a tenner to get in over his ladder if you haven't, we all know that. But until last weekend I still harboured a hope that a small festival on the independant, non-commercial circuit would retain some vestige of bygone free-spiritedness.
Embarking upon a weekend at Sunrise Celebration in Somerset I was sadly proved wrong. It begins with the extortionate ticket prices - for me and 2 kids, £170 just to be there for three days. I totally understand it costs money to set up a couple of bars and a bouncy castle in a field, but really, £170? When there are no headlining acts you've ever heard of apart from Zion Train and only two medium-sized fields to hang about in, full of activities which in the main cost extra money to do? That doesn't include our food & drink budget (£50 in a supermarket before we left), petrol money (£80) and then the £130 which went on living comparitively frugally once there. It doesn't take a genius to work out for the same expenditure we could have had a weekend abroad.
Of course this kind of budget immediately excludes any of the free-spirited nomadics who used to make up the essence of such an event. They have been replaced by teams of reluctant security officials scouting for fence-jumpers. Gone are the gypsies with their colourful horse-drawn homes! Only to be replaced by hordes of spoilt youths with access to their parents' credit cards.
On the upside the kids did have a great time running free in a highly safe environment. The weather was tanningly hot. And we did see a couple of brilliant dub reggae bands. I have walked away with a headful of fabulous music and a list of new bands to Spotifty. But I have also returned with a sad nostalgia for a golden, pre-credit crunch, pre-health & safety obsessed era of the free-spirited festival which it seems I will be destined to only reminisce about to younger party-seekers, agape with awe as they listen to how it was in the good old days.
Is such a moan an indication that I am entering early middle-age? How long will it be before I confine myself to the comforts of the firepit in my back-garden, complaining about the dirge of commercialisation like anyone who was lucky enough to go to Glastonbury when that first started? It's only forty years on, but thanks to the onslaught of capitalism, the growth of a sue-happy society and Festival Guides in Sunday supplements, already that idyll seems unlikely to be anything but ancient lore.
The whole experience has inspired me to write a festival poem which I promise to read to myself if I am ever in danger of staying at home instead of going to one:
a festival wouldn't be a festival
without its journey
without thinking you're getting lost along the way
without traffic jams and a hint of confusion
without decadent raves and their mashed-up illusions
a festival wouldn't be a festival
without its packing stress
without trying to decide how to dress
then lugging it all across tent-filled fields
with a comforting sense of the slightly surreal
knee-deep in mud without an umbrella
re-assessing the value of your warm cans of Stella
striving to pitch tents in the pouring rain
waking up the next day in search of your brain
and it's all worth it when you're near the main stage
dancing around completely engaged
squished up close next to a total stranger
you've lost all your mates and feel no danger
getting sweaty in the dance marquee
to the deep bass anthems of a new bourgeoisie
then lounging around in rare sunshine
sharing coveted bottles of wine
staggering back to the tent at the end of the night
hanging out, talking deep shit by dawn's firelight
who cares if you don't get any sleep?
who cares if your phone stops its bleeps?
who cares when the reason we all bother to come
is to shake off reality, celebrate and succumb