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Festivals were once places where crusty types went to work on their melanoma and liver cirrhosis. Now, though, they're as established a feature of the summer as picnics in the park, cider on ice, and sitting on your sunglasses. Every weekend from right now, tens of thousands of people will schlep across the country – sometimes the continent – with rucksacks on backs and tents in tow.
But although these festivals are designed with the express purpose of maximising your fun, they are also minefields, where a small misstep can ruin your entire weekend. Especially if that misstep is into the mud next to the toilets. To ensure you soak up vibes, and not lavatory run-off, we tapped two festival veterans to give you the inside line on everything from what to pack to the people to avoid.
It’s not about the line-up on the mainstage. It’s about the line-up in your camping area. “Choose friends to go to the festival with wisely,” says Michael Shuman, bassist for Queens of the Stone Age and frontman of Mini Mansions. “[Go with] someone that’s up for anything. Someone that is willing to take risks in life. You’ve got to be off the cuff.
“I made the mistake when I was in high school: this girl that I wasn’t really friends with was like, ‘I have these artist passes, and I can give you one’, and I was like, ‘fuck yeah, let’s do this’. But even though I got a free artist pass, it was the wrong person to go with, because she didn’t want to do the things that I wanted to do. She didn’t want the same experience that I wanted to have.”
Even if you don’t insist on recording shaky videos of that Stefflon Don set, or resist adding envy-inducing selfies to your Instagram account on an hourly basis, your smartphone is still guaranteed to run out of juice before the headliners have walked on stage on day one. Packing a fully-charged portable power pack or two is a no-brainer, but there’s another even simpler (and cheaper) option.
“Things to have on you at all times: a bum bag with one of those crap Nokia phones,” says Andy Smith, festival director of Kendal Calling. “The battery lasts a lot longer. You can lose it and you don’t care. And you can use it to hammer your tent pegs in – they’ve got a multitude of uses. Also, carry leads for phones other than your own, so that if you meet a nice person, you might be able to charge theirs. I made very good friends with somebody who didn’t have an iPhone but did have an iPhone charger – that’s when you know you’ve found a decent person.”
Nowhere will you feel the debilitating effects of FOMO more powerfully than at a festival. The chances of your two favourite artists playing on different stages at the exact same time is all but guaranteed, as is the existence of some secret gig taking place while you’re queuing for the loo. But it’s OK. Let it go. Just soak up as many different sounds as the weekend allows.
“Some fans are going to be at the front of the barricade waiting for that one band. I wouldn’t do that if I were you. That seems like a waste. Just go to their arena show, or whatever,” says Shuman. “At festivals, you’re supposed to get a taste of all kinds of stuff. Especially at a festival like Glastonbury where there’s so much music and so much diversity. The point is that you’re spending all this dough to see all the shows that you could’ve seen in one year, in one go. And sorry to the bands, but you should probably leave like 10 minutes before [the end] to go catch another band. I don’t think it’s about seeing the headliner, seeing that whole act, and that’s about it.”
Even if you haven’t been to a sodden Glastonbury, you’ve seen the footage: hundreds of thousands of innocent people up to their necks in muck, like Ypres, without all the killing. As such, wellies have become de rigueur at any festival not held in a desert. But their problems are manifold. For starters, they look rubbish. Then, they give you blisters. And when you do want to take them off, you can’t without getting your hands in stuff you’d rather not analyse the provenance of.
Smith suggests an alternative. “A good pair of hiking boots will see you a lot further than wellies, without all the rubbing,” he says. “I’ve been up to my knees in mud before, and they haven’t let a peep of water in. They’re basically wellies, but better, and you don’t slip everywhere. I don’t know why the wellington got so popular.” And if you’re going to over-pack one item of clothing, think about what’s underneath your boots. “You can never pack too many socks.”
There are two things you need to do on a daily basis to ensure that you enjoy your festival experience: eat and wash. The problem is, everyone else wants to do these things too, and thanks to established societal norms, they want to do them at the exact same times as you. Your options are either to waste precious hours standing in queues, or to break the habit of a lifetime.
“I love my showers, but I hate queues,” says Smith. “So adapt around the predictable schedule: nip in at night when you get back.” The same goes for grub. “I eat so much at festivals it’s disgusting, but personally I just graze – that way you get to avoid all the queues, because you’re not having lunch at lunchtime, or dinner at dinnertime, like everyone else.”
Mini Mansions are touring the UK this month; new album Guy Walks Into A Bar… is out July 26th on Fiction Records
Kendal Calling returns on 25-28 July; tickets on sale now
Words: Dan Masoliver
Illustration: Darren Shaddick