Tune in, drop out - for the weekend only

Music festivals now cater for part-time thirtysomething crusties with on-line services, banking and clean loos.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
This weekend Tribal Gathering kicked off the season of summer festivals. It will have catered for 35,000 people and featured 10 "themed areas", a multi-media village, a cinema, shops, banking facilities and live Internet links.

Festival organisers have moved with the times to provide facilities that are commensurate with their crowd. The image of the festival groupie as an unwashed traveller, equipped with a stray mongrel dangling from a piece of string, is outmoded. Instead you're as likely to find young professionals who grew up in the Eighties era of warehouse parties and illegal raves.

Lawyers, doctors and City analysts all willingly forsake the comfort of their bijou city pads, CD players and en-suite bathrooms, to rough it amongst festering Portaloos. For them, festivals are as much a part of the summer as office air conditioning.

Universe, who organise Tribal Gathering, typify the festivals' new breed. Starting off by running raves, they moved on to organise legal festivals.

Many of today's festival goers have followed the scene from its anarchic beginnings into the mainstream. Gordon Young, a 33-year-old careers advisor, is no exception. "The first big outdoor event I went to was an illegal rave off the M25 somewhere in Surrey with a bloke I hardly even knew," he recalls. "I didn't want to go, to be honest. We got there and the party wasn't on so I was saying 'let's go back', and then the generators got going. It was completely new because it was on such a large scale."

This was in the early days of Acid House. "I just wasn't aware of that sort of thing," says Gordon, "and one of the things that struck me was there wasn't any alcohol on sale, so I spent the whole night trying to find beer."

Since then Gordon takes precautions against potential beer famines. "The first proper festival I went to was in my first year of university after finishing exams," he says. "We took our own food and 40 cans of beer with us. That's one of the important things about being a wage-earner. You've got money in your pocket and you can afford to buy cold beer and the comforts are all there. Also, festivals are changing. Glastonbury's expensive, but these days you can use credit cards, make phone calls and the toilet facilities are a lot better."

But even improved facilities can't safeguard against the occasional festival mishap - which is, after all, part of the fun. Gordon remembers a time after one of the headline bands had just finished: "A lot of people were moving away from the main stage and there was a stream blocking the route out. There was a climb on the other side of the stream and a lot of people on both sides started thinking about jumping over it. Then one bloke tried. He slipped and slid down the ditch head first. As you can imagine, the so-called streams weren't just full of water."

Gordon advises avoiding the popular events: "Go for the atmosphere - if you find yourself chasing bands all day you'll be disappointed. Last time we went to Glastonbury we spent the whole time in the beer tent. It was just like being in a pub at home - but there's such a succession of characters passing through."

For professional festival goers, seeing bands is a minor attraction, as Julian Blake, a 34-year-old trade magazine editor, confirms. He says festivals are expensive, but they're good value and more comfortable than they used to be. "It's a myth that Glastonbury's a cesspool with no facilities, but it isn't cheap. There's the ticket price and you spend a couple of hundred on food and drink. It costs as much as going to somewhere in Europe for a week, but for three days of entertainment and accommodation, it's worth it. Where else can you see 40 bands in a weekend?"

So does he get his money's worth? "The last time I went I saw one band," says Julian. "Someone said, 'Oasis are on in the next field', and I said: 'Oh well, I'm off for a pint'."

Julian uses festivals as a pleasant way to unwind. "It's a good opportunity to get together with lots of friends in the countryside and sunshine." And he says his attitude isn't unusual: "As a person on PAYE with a nine- to-five job, it's designed for people like me. Festivals are a way of opting out of the city and mainstream life for a few days.

"I think about five years ago employers would have frowned on the idea of their employees going off to a festival for a weekend, but these days people generally recognise it's worthwhile."

The events may be more mainstream now, but even Julian confesses his festival antics can be a little surreal - "riding around with five people on the back of a motorbike at seven in the morning selling fresh halibut" being one example.

Dean Miles, the 29-year-old corporate development director of RBS satellite radio company, believes the popularity of festivals is part of a wider social trend: "UK culture over the last five years has moved into festivals and outside concerts. I believe we're moving back into the Sixties - our attitudes are becoming more liberal."

As an employer in the communications industry he has an enlightened view. "I think employees should go to festivals, and if I can I'll even give them tickets. It opens their minds and makes them wiser. Plenty of my friends go to festivals, including managing directors and financial directors."

Helena Ward, a 29-year-old Environmental Lawyer, is finding it harder to reconcile her love of festivals with her professional life. "I used to go a lot, but I haven't been that much over the last couple of years," she sighs. "Partly because it takes a while to recover. What I miss is the dramatic tension between what you do during the week and what you do at weekends. There are certain norms you have to comply with in order to be a professional and one of the good things about the festival scene is that it's so completely different.

"There's now a more flexible attitude towards being a professional. Employees are expected to be rounded individuals who don't just come to work and get on the roundabout and never get off.."

Lisa Smith, a 30-year-old teacher, treats festivals as a playground: "I go to dance and sit around drinking and people-watching. The time pressure isn't there. You can do what you want and you don't need a watch. Although the bars shut, you can always buy a can and sit around drinking all night. At home, you wouldn't wake up in the morning and get a beer out the fridge, but all those rules go at festivals."

With so many young professionals continuing to indulge in what is essentially a "youth" activity, you can't help wondering how teenagers feel about their space being invaded. Lisa is in a prime position to answer: "Because I'm a teacher I hear kids saying: 'Oh no! I'm going to Glastonbury again'. A lot of kids hate it because they've been dragged along by their parents.

"One teenager I was talking to recently thought it was great because his mum was going off to Glastonbury and so he was going to have the house all to himself."