Thursday 21 September 2017

"Not Quite Glastonbury, is it?” A beginner’s guide to playing a local music festival.

(A little context - I wrote this for a magazine called "Music Geeks" which never actually got published - so here it is)

Festivals. They’re everywhere. Every village in the outskirts of nowhere, with a park slightly bigger than a tablecloth is bound to have a summer event. In amongst the “best dressed piglet” shows and the “guess the weight of the aubergine” stalls, you’ll occasionally find a rickety stage to which certain musicians are inexplicably drawn…

Ask a band to travel halfway across the country to play for no money and the answer will probably involve sex and travel. If however, you say it’s to appear at a festival, they’ll be scrabbling around in their attics for groundsheets faster than you can say “Altamont”. This is because “festival” to a musician means “Glastonbury” – even when the dismal little event is to be held in a pub car park in Stow-on-the-Wold.  In my lengthy “career” as a jobbing bassist in a variety of beat combos, I’ve played loads of these things. To any musicians contemplating playing a festival this year, consider these factors -

Camping: Watching a musician trying to erect a one-man tent is like watching the first unsteady steps of a baby giraffe. After about 90 minutes, he’ll give up and sleep in the van on top of the bass combo. If it’s hot, he’ll attempt the job stripped to the waist, taking frequent slugs from lukewarm cans of no-brand lager. Of course, he’ll end up sleeping in the van and the “Eezee-Up Instant ErectoTent” will be set on fire in the middle of a field.

The equipment: “Backline provided” said the promoter. This means that someone was given £50 and told to buy a drumkit, two guitar amps and something that looks like a bass amp from a car boot sale. Still, it’s better than nothing isn’t it? No. It isn’t. The PA turns out to be the locals Pub’s Karaoke system. Halfway through the set, someone will stride up to the lead vocalist and demand that he hands over the mic as “the farmer needs it to announce the winner of the Cowpat of the Year competition”.

The audience: There is a certain type of person you only see at festivals. They’re dressed entirely in hand knitted, rainbow coloured garments and jester hats. They will be barefoot. They will dance to everything, including the humming of the tragically underpowered generator. I dread to think where they go in Winter…

The other acts: Eclectic is not the word. You’ll be scheduled between the local school’s recorder ensemble and a thrash metal band from Luxembourg who should have been on three days ago, but they missed their ferry. Both acts will go down way better than you.

The catering. The thrash metal band from Luxembourg have stuffed it all in their van and driven off in the middle of the night. Avoid innocent looking cakes and brownies sold by nice old ladies, as they are invariably stuffed to bursting with narcotics. A band mate of mine accidentally ate two of these lethal sweet treats to stave off his hunger, just moments before our set. He’s still in that field to this day, playing a never-ending viola solo. Still, the noise keeps the crows off the rhubarb.

Festivals. Why do musicians play them? Mainly so they can tell people that they’ve played at a festival. At my age, it’s not good for me to spend a weekend lying in a sleeping bag in a field between a drummer making noises in his sleep that would terrify a Wookie and a guitarist playing endless variations on the “Sweet Child O’Mine” riff all night. Next summer, I’ll be in the Algarve. Anybody wanna buy some tentpegs?