For the Love of Festivals

Festivals are a kind of magic trick – a surreal joy full of glitter, hangovers and heartbreak

In our new series of first-hand accounts from life in tents, Laura Barton recalls the memories she’s made at festivals – DJing at End of The Road, interviewing 50 artists in one weekend, falling in love, and weeping in a field

Monday 24 May 2021 06:34
<p>Laura Barton at Green Man: It’s a beautiful thing to understand the enormity of putting together a huge event in the middle of nowhere</p>

Laura Barton at Green Man: It’s a beautiful thing to understand the enormity of putting together a huge event in the middle of nowhere

There is a particular feeling that descends upon me in the last few miles before a festival. It’s not excitement exactly, but a feeling of sensory overwhelm: memories mingling with the scent of trampled grass and tarpaulin, the ground-shudder of distant basslines, the vivid, rising sense that anything could happen.

There have been many festivals I have loved: Bowlie, Latitude, Lollapalooza, Pickathon, Sounds From a Safe Harbour, Eaux Claires. Festivals in fields, in holiday camps, across cities, each particular to its own place and aspect.

For many years I covered Glastonbury for a newspaper. We would head down early enough to have turned fully feral by the weekend, always armed with some daft conceit for a new way of covering the event. Often this meant thinking of new places to conduct interviews: one year a double-decker bus, another, a miniature farm, from which Kate Nash stole a fibreglass chicken, and where The Rascals broke a model sheep. Another year, I was stationed in a backstage campervan, interviewing 50 artists, from Florence Welch to Billy Bragg, via Amadou & Mariam and Kasabian. It was here that I developed my furious hatred of campervans.

A few years ago I took over programming for the Talking Shop stage at Green Man Festival, in the Brecon Beacons. I love the feeling that one space can accommodate so many different performances – speakers such as Jarvis Cocker, Annie Nightingale, John Grant, next to a poetry reading by Alabaster dePlume, or the duo Pink Suits dancing to “Wuthering Heights” between talks, or Ash Kenazi performing a drag tribute to Sharon Van Etten.

It’s a beautiful thing to feel part of a festival family, to come to understand the enormity and complexity of putting together an event of this scale in the middle of nowhere. A privilege, in a funny way, to sit in on meetings about buggies, portaloos, environmentally friendly glitter.

Working at a festival does bring a strange kind of pressure – you have to maintain an air of nonchalant fun, while your brain is screaming “OH MY GOD THE TENT IS OVER CAPACITY AND PEGGY SEEGER IS LOST SOMEWHERE ON THE BACKROADS OF WALES.” Perhaps not surprisingly, at the end of my first shift working for Green Man, I sat down in a field and wept.

There have been other dark moments – festivals spent drowned in rain, knee deep in mud, plagued by sunburn, hangovers, heartbreak. The last time I covered Glastonbury, I returned to my tent in the early hours of the morning to find the stranger in the adjacent tent emphatically pleasuring himself. Exhausted after writing 2,000 words in a portacabin, I found myself throwing empty cups, beer cans, and small pebbles at his tent while shouting: “STOP. WANKING.”

Still, there have been many moments of surreal joy across my festival years: standing at the side of the Pyramid Stage, dancing to Jay-Z with Jack White. Sitting at the stone circle with the Dessner brothers. DJing the Silent Disco at End of the Road (where I have been every year of its existence) and hearing a field full of dancers singing along to “Like A Rolling Stone”.

A few years ago, I spent a summer falling in love with someone across the course of the festival season. I remember that courtship entirely framed by those locations, that music – swimming in the river at Port Eliot, the heat of a shared tent, dancing to Weatherall, dancing to Hot Chip, dancing in the mud at the End of the Road closing party.

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Later, when I visited those places out of festival season, it seemed improbable that any of it had happened at all – the marquees, the music, the dancing, the love. And this is how I think of festivals now: as a kind of magic trick, a yearly show of shadows, visions, dreams; something conjured out of thin air, over sweet green fields.

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