Musings on a Decade of Reading Festival

As many of you may know, I am something of a music festival junkie. The extent of my addiction may come as a bit of a surprise though. Every year I fool myself into thinking that I am going to spend my hard earned cash on going to Paris, or buying a pneumatic pogo stick. I say that no matter who is announced as the headliners, I am not doing Download or Glastonbury or IOW again – it’s ‘too expensive’ or ‘full of teenagers’ or ‘too far away’. But year upon year, I dig deep into my bank account to pay for that ticket, and usually it’s the same one – Reading Festival.

reading_festival_2010-1-250-213-85-nocropThis addiction is a long lasting one – I have been to every Reading Festival in the last decade. I dread to think of the overall expenditure on tickets, let alone travel and tents and food and drink and merch. Thinking about my time as a die-hard attendee to the festival, it has certainly had its highs and lows, particularly when you look at the names who’ve occupied the headliner’s slot (for a extensive list of these, head over to MinTSouth). But headliners aside, I want to take a nostalgic trip back through my time as a die hard festival fanatic, and in particular, what Reading Festival has had in store for me year upon year.

Where to begin?! My experience of the festival has shifted immensely since the first time I set my wellie covered foot on the site at Richmond Avenue – as a 16 year old, I was fresh faced, naive and dressed completely inappropriately. Of course, the August bank holiday weekend is never a scorcher, but what I did not account for was the rain. Dressed in a rip-off Green Day hoodie (they were cool back then) and jeans wider than the grin plastered on my face, I was not ready when the heavens opened. Sopping wet and miserable, anyone would have thought that I had learned the hard way that festivals just weren’t for me. Luckily, the day’s music more than made amends for my sogginess, and what would be a bank balance shattering addiction had begun.

Now, many of you may be thinking, really? You’ve been going a decade? Isn’t it full of kids?  And yes, many of you would be right, but despite my misgivings (more about those later), I am still drawn like a moth to a flame once the headliners get announced. But it isn’t just the music that gets me returning year upon year.

It’s that intangible thing – the atmosphere, the feeling, the experience.

reading_1704639cIt’s a bit like a childhood sweetheart – it was my first, it was where I lost my festival virginity and anyone who tells you that that isn’t special is lying to you. There is something magical about music festivals – the rules of the real world are relinquished and some thoroughly ridiculous goings on seem normal. It’s like an temporal and dimensional shift: you know full well that you are in Reading, England, but it feels that somehow you are in the festival bubble that shall not burst until the Monday morning god-awful train ride home. Over my tenure are a Reading attendee, I have seen shopping trolley races along the corrugated iron walkways, mud wrestling in the most inclement weather, cider being drank from a pre-worn wellie boot, mud fights, human pyramids, long-drop diving and more. It doesn’t get more ridiculous than intoxicated music junkies on a weekend away from reality.

article-1282903762829-0aed7e12000005dc-501874_636x410Of course, it also has its lows. Particularly since I have become a teacher and had the omnipresent fear of seeing a student of a mine dressed in something horrendously revealing, taped to a wheelbarrow and pelted down a hill to the delight of her friends. That’s one of the problems with the festival for me. For too many teens (myself included, when I was one), Reading Festival served as the perfect opportunity to party hard without the looming threat of your parents finding out. What happens at Reading, stays at Reading. Another issue is that sometimes these japes get a little out of hand. I clearly remember one year during which we decided it would be safer to sleep at the train station than play Reading Russian roulette – will my tent be burnt to a cinder or wont it? That was one particularly bad year where everything seemed to get beyond ridiculous (and, touch wood, it’s not happened since), and although it is not the norm, it still made me seriously reconsider purchasing a ticket the following year. I hate to admit it, but I have moments where I fully believe I am simply too old for this shit.

As of yet though, I have not fully resigned myself to that category. And although there are somethings that are certainly more acceptable to do when you are a teenager and that would now be frowned upon (you won’t see me on the shoulders of some dude with my tits out), being of a certain age has its advantages. I no longer have to trawl through the mud collecting paper cups to get those important 10p refunds. If I want a beer, I will simply buy one. I no longer have to shove a hip flask down my trousers to sneak into the arena and consequently, I no longer have to face the inevitable shame when a well-trained frisker notices it looks like you have an appendage where you shouldn’t. ‘Honestly, I’ve just had a sex change!!’ Shame on me.

Overall, it is somehow hard to put into words exactly what charm Reading festival has. Now I am (nearly) a fully-fledged adult, the timing of the festival is perfect for me, but the addiction started way before convenience. Although the face of the festival has fluctuated and changed (Remember Meanfiddler anyone? Or Carling?), the essence remains a constant. It’s not pretentious or fussy. It’s just straight forward, unadulterated fun, and I shall be buying my ticket for 2014 any moment now.

2012_Reading_Andy_Sheppard_Best year: 2010. My god, there were some truly amazing performances that weekend: Weezer, Blink-182, Biffy Clyro, Queens of the Stone Age, All Time Low – every single act I saw did not disappoint, despite the Sunday weather being pretty abysmal. More of the same please Mr Reading!

Worst year: 2009. Props to Reading Festival and their organisers, this had a sterling line-up and it actually wasn’t their fault that this was my worst year yet. I arrived late, had no-where to camp, ended up as an awkward lemon sharing a tent with a guy and his girlfriend. I was soon abandonned by them (they needed some alone time apparently) so I spent most of the weekend wondering from stage to tent to stage solo. You have permission to feel sorry for me!

Best act: Green Day 2013. As a die a hundred times Green Day fan, nothing could top the simple fact that the Californian trio played Dookie in its entirety during this headline set. I will never get to see that again, and it will live with me forever.

Worst act: The Cure 2012. Now, I like The Cure, but I have never been so bored in my entire life. He didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be there, nobody wanted to be there, but we all felt like we should be there for some unknown reason. Atrocious.



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