In November last year I attended a Naval reunion. I had a great weekend with old shipmates from HMS London, a County Class Destroyer I served on in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. During that weekend I got to talking about music festivals with an old shipmate. He recommended attending Reading saying that it was the best festival around. Acting on his recommendation I duly bought tickets, quite a gamble considering that tickets for myself and my son and a camper van ticket came in at the princely sum of £520. So did the outlay prove a wise investment? Well, dear reader, you will soon know if you choose to continue reading.
Although the festival didn’t begin until Friday afternoon early access tickets allowed us to arrive on Wednesday evening. I thought this would help us to avoid the crowds on arrival. The route into the festival was well marked out and whilst the recommend route caused long delays through some small villages access to the festival site self was easy. I was surprised on arrival to find that there were only about a dozen vans in the field. After set up Ryan and I went for a walk to work out where everything was. That walk gave me the first inkling of what was to come. The white campsite was easily the size of the main camping field at Beautiful Days, the festival I had attended the week before. Even at that time the campsite appeared crowded, and this was just people who had bought ‘early bird’ tickets. I later found that 20K early bird tickets had been sold. This is more than the total number who attend the majority of the festivals I attend. I was also surprised to find out that it took over 20 minutes to walk to the arena entrance from the camper van field. This gives an indication as to the size of the site, but at least it meant I was unlikely to be disturbed by late night noise from the arena. On the walk back to the van we decided to grab a burger. Ouch, two burger, one portion of fries and one beer almost £20, it seemed an expensive weekend was in store. especially given that, unlike most festivals I attend, Reading Festival does not allow you to take drinks into the arena, sealed bottles of water up to 500ml are allowed, everything else is confiscated, even sealed soft drinks. This was especially galling as everyone in the arena was charging £2.50 for a 500ml bottle of water or soft drinks. Food stalls in the arena were charging up to £10 for a plate of food, some of the very same stalls had charged just £7 a plate at Beautiful Days the previous week. Whilst I am sure some of the difference can be explained by higher charges for pitches by the festival it does smack of profiteering.
The filth left on site after the festival
Thursday was spent relaxing and wandering around the site. It was amazing to see the numbers of people pouring onto the site, by the end of the day the campsites were simply a sea of canvas. Every tent seemed to be touching at least 3 others. If this had been a UN refugee site it would unquestionably have been closed down and yet it would seem that it is perfectly acceptable to charge people over £200 a head for the privilege of camping there. As the weekend wore on the site became a disgusting filthy slum with people just dropping their litter to the ground, even when bins were available just a few feet away. The filth had to be seen to be believed, it was horrific. To be fair this was entirely the fault of the revellers. The organisers did everything in their power to encourage people to keep the site clean, bins were plentiful, rubbish bags were freely available and there were even free soft drinks on offer if you took a bag of cans and bottles to one of the many recycling points. One thing that really concerned me was that the festival allowed open fires in the campsite, even selling wood etc. Given the overcrowding and the proximity of tents to one another this in my opinion is a recipe for disaster.
When Friday arrived we made our way over to the arena to find huge queues to get in. This was caused mainly by the security staff carrying out searches to ensure that no drink or other contraband entered the festival arena. This was a dismal failure as I saw numerous cans, bottles and even flares being used on the site. It took us some 30 minutes to get onto the site. When we got onto the site we made our way to the the NME tent to see Gerard Way (once of My Chemical Romance). This tent has to be seen to be believed, it has a capacity of 20,000 (no that is not a typo) and there were probably more than that squeezed into it. The sheer size of it was mind boggling. I was in a tent and yet I could barely see the stage! Even watching on the huge screens placed either side of the stage was a challenge. I stand 6’1″ in my bare feet yet I rarely caught a glimpse of the screens because teenagers seem to think that climbing on each others shoulders and “crowd surfing” is the way to enjoy a show. I lost count of the number of times I got kicked in the head, by a drunken teenager being passed over my head, over the course of the weekend.
I did find a ‘haven’ in the shape of the ‘Pit/Lock up’ & the ‘festival republic’ stages. These were much smaller stages, again in tents and with much smaller capacities, perhaps 2K & 5K respectively. These played host to less well known acts though some of the artists were clearly better known than the organisers anticipated. Over the course of Friday afternoon I saw excellent performances from Hudson Taylor, Dave Hause, Misty Miller and others in these two tents. By early evening I was exhausted and decided to make my way back to the Van for a rest whilst Ryan checked out some of the main stage bands. I intended meeting up with him later but I just didn’t feel the urge to go out again, a new experience for me at a festival.
Saturday saw the ‘Pit’ stage play host to a succession of hardcore ‘Metal’ bands. Neither Ryan or I enjoyed these but we didenjoy ‘Imagine Dragons’ and the ‘Hives’ on the main stage before wandering around some of the smaller stages. We managed to find a decent spot close to the second of three sets of barriers that break up the crowd at the main stage. The barriers are designed to prevent crowd surges and were moderately successful in doing so. Unfortunately they did little to prevent either crowd surfing or ‘mosh pits’, both of these dangerous activities were constant and I found it all very wearing. I must also confess that the vast majority of the music I heard on saturday was not to my taste so after Ryan and I had some food I surrendered to boredom and returned to the Van. Ryan had met some people his own age and stayed to listen to the Days headliners “Arctic Monkeys’. He informed me that they were excellent.
Sunday morning saw a lot of people packing up their cars either to leave early or to leave later in the day in an effort to escape the rush to get off the site on Monday morning. It did seem that the arena was a little less busy. I again spent most of the day at the ‘Lock-up’ and festival republic stages. The lock-up played host to a succession of punk bands. Over the course of the day I saw, A Wilhelm Scream, Baby Godzilla, Every time I die, Masked intruder, Letlive, Mongol Horde, Neck Deep, Gorgol Bordello & the flat-liners. I enjoyed all of them but Gorgol Bordello were, for me, the best band of the weekend by some distance. My trips away from the two small stages were infrequent on Sunday. I saw some of Papa Roach and A Day to Remember on the main stage during the afternoon but both Ryan and I hated both of them so quickly returned to the lock -Up. During the evening I went to watch the Kooks, someone I had been looking forward to all weekend, in the NME stage. This was to prove the biggest disappointment of the weekend. The huge tent was overcrowded, crowd surfing, pushing, crowd surges, kids on each others shoulders and a group of young people (boys) who screamed their way through every song meant that I spent an hour fearing for the people around me. I picked up several girls who were knocked over in crowd surges. At the end of the set I honestly couldn’t tell you a single song the band played. I had intended to stay on to watch ‘the horrors’ but could not face a repeat performance. In the end I returned to the lock up to watch the punk bands. Things were a little ‘hairy’ at times here too as the crowd built up towards the end of the festival. I did take a little time out to check out ‘Macklemore’ on the main stage. I watched about 30 minutes of his set and I can’t even begin to describe how hideous I found it. In my opinion the worst crap of the weekend though judging by the huge crowd at the stage many man people disagreed with me. I also watched around half of Blink 182’s set. They were very good indeed though the sound wasn’t great towards the back of the field. Ryan enjoyed their set from close to the front and said they were amazing.
I awoke early on Monday morning and dragged poor Ryan from his bed at around 0730. We were packed and on our way by 0800 by which time the tailbacks from the car parks were already beginning to form. It was raining heavily as we left and I dread to think what it must have been like to get off the site as the day wore on. Thankfully our exit was pretty painless, and that my friends was the highlight of my weekend!
I have NEVER been so glad to leave a festival. I hated virtually every minute of this truly awful festival. It is overcrowded, dirty, expensive and dangerous. The vast majority of the music was not to my taste, I had absolutely nothing in common with 99.5% of those attending. The vast majority of those attending are under 25, and to be fair most are well behaved but the behaviour of some left a lot to be desired.
I would not attend this festival again if they paid me to go. This was without doubt the worst festival experience I have ever had. I truly hope that my son will avoid it when he starts to attend festivals on his own in less than 2 years. I would be awake and worried sick for the entire time he was away.
For me it was a one off never to be repeated experience.
The photographs in this post are not mine, they are from Reading Festivals website. If you are the image owner and would like them removed then please let me know.