“They were just so determined to make this happen, no matter what,” said one member of staff as I bowled past security and saw the first festival stages I’d seen in almost two years.
There was a pretty lake near the main stage, and on some hay bales, cocktail makers in rubber boots shook drinks for the audience. Soundbites carried in the wind by bands and enthusiastic audiences.
This was the Bigfoot festival and, besides the download, one of the first music festivals that took place after just under two years of drought. It felt endangered at every stage of spring. The fear was so great that four days before it happened a friend insisted, “I won’t believe it until I see it. I just don’t understand how. “
I emailed me when the inevitable rejection would come – but it never came. This IRL event in the Warwickshire countryside actually took place as Level 3 allows events with fewer than four thousand people if they practice social distancing. They’re just a logistical nightmare as the smaller crowd makes it harder for festival runners to make money. On top of that, without government-backed insurance, organizers will lose millions if Boris Johnson performs a last-minute U-turn lockdown days earlier.
But it’s important that festivals find a safe, navigable way to continue. For someone like me, the spontaneity festivals and their rich cultural intensity are vital. Festivals are my elixir of life, and I feel the same way with so many – that’s why such events have been around for thousands of years. They are an essential means of bringing people together to properly relax, with the camping option removing the hassle of last-minute draws.
They say a holiday will make or break a new couple, and similarly, festivals help cultivate deeper connections. It’s easier to leave the small talk behind and have the right conversations when you spend three days with friends rather than a few hours over dinner. At festivals, suitors practice the zeitgeist of “presence”. Stimulated by the noise of the punk bands and the sophisticated harmonies of the gospel choirs, we are distracted from worrying about everyday life.
In the meantime I’ve built up my own small community of festival acquaintances – people I don’t see outside of events, but who meet every summer in rainy fields. I also made some of my best friends in the fields. They are my safe space and offer a temporary, utopian alternative to the local community that I have at home.
But don’t just trust me at my word: Festivals have a value that goes far beyond the individual experience. Ideas arise at festivals, and new music is discovered at music festivals and fed into the ecosystem to create the next big bands of tomorrow. They’re also breeding grounds for experimentation in all sorts of other unexpected ways – they promote new sustainable technologies (urine turned to water, anyone?) And theatrical tropes exploring new ways to do Shakespeare.
I want to thank Bigfoot for believing they can do this, providing a template for festival revival, and giving me one of the first weekends of getting closer to myself before the pandemic felt.
But there’s a broader topic that goes beyond me and my friends: Unfortunately, many festivals this year have been canceled because they don’t have the financial support to take Bigfoot’s risk. Regarding the financial crisis affecting festivals, the Association of Independent Festivals announced that 93 percent of the remaining UK festivals “could possibly still take place this summer – but not without insurance”.
Just like with fringe theaters and grassroots music events, it is important that the government step in and offer support. Festivals are not just about music – they are vital lifelines for some of us to feel connected and a place where new cultural ideas can emerge. It is fundamental that they are protected.