It’s all over, you say? Finally I can rejoin the world again. By this, of course, what I really mean is that it’s once more safe to read a magazine, safe to venture onto Twitter and Facebook (in fact, the internet as a whole, really), and finally safe to turn the radio and television back on. Why this unilateral disengagement with all forms of broadcast media, I hear you inquire? Well you clearly went to Glastonbury festival this year, because anyone who didn’t simply wouldn’t have to ask.
Every year it’s the same; for Glastonbury weekend we’re inundated – nay, bombarded – with festival features and special reports and ‘front line’ coverage, the sum total of which can be summed up as “Look at me! I’m having such a good time! And I’m with all these famous people!”. But this kind of behaviour is limited to pundits and ‘personalities’ no more: the advancing blitzkrieg of social media means that the “see how much fun I’m having” impulse is virtually inescapable. Even a few short years ago it wasn’t too hard to ignore: all you had to do was steer clear of Radio One and turn off the telly, but now, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile apps, we can all get a running minute-by-minute commentary of the ‘exciting events’ as they unfold. I’m sure a good many of my friends can’t have actually seen any of the acts last weekend for staring at their tiny screens, such was the frequency of their posting.
And I’m not being this grouchy and cantankerous purely out of jealousy. Aside from the irritation of being constantly reminded that I’m ‘missing out’, I’m not actually missing out at all. Festivals are, in a word, rubbish, but sadly my opinion is not shared by everybody. Most people, my limited anecdotal evidence suggests, absolutely love festivals, and it appears that the festival circuit is one of the few areas of the music industry that’s still in rude health. There’s hundreds of the darned things, covering every genre imaginable, and they’re springing up all over the place – I’d be very surprised if there hasn’t been one this summer within a few miles of where you live. And yet for all the fuss, all the hype, all the enthusiasm, who are we really kidding? Music festivals have as much to do with music as McDonald’s does to food. Don’t get me wrong, live music is great, but in a field? Through a completely inadequate PA? With ridiculously overpriced food and drink? In the rain? Considerably less great, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Of course, these are things you already know. Every man jack of you could tell me that festivals are all about ‘the experience’, and there’s the rub; it’s not an experience I have any interest in. I’m not a complete misanthrope – I can boogie on down with the best of them at a proper gig – but my capacity for hanging around in big crowds listening to tinny, indistinct dance music died with my teens. And there’s something about festivals that completely fails to bring out the best in bands, too. The restrictions on the band’s set list being the main culprit for sub-par performances: it’s got to be short (usually 15-20 minutes), so there’s no time to warm up or find a groove. And of course it has to be appropriate to the atmosphere. More so than in any other situation, a band’s set has to fit the mood of the whole event, which invariably means that the songs have to be the ‘up beat’ ones; this is no time for subtle introspection. And naturally you’ve got to play the hits; the eclecticism of festival line-ups means that only a small proportion of the audience are there to see a specific band, so winning over new fans is the prime priority for any performer, alongside appeasing the indifferent. I hear Mumford & Sons gallantly slotted a few new numbers into their Friday night appearance on the Other stage; they probably had trouble hearing themselves over the cries of “play Little Lion Man again!”
So is there any good news on the horizon? Every year there are more and more reports of festivals having to cancel due to “funding gaps” but alas there are, at least for now, the exception that proves the rule. With the public’s seemingly vast current appetite for festivals, and with everyone cashing in left right and centre there’s bound to be a few that miss the mark. But from tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow, so I’ll keep praying for the end of festival fever, but for now complete disengagement is the only sane option, at least until winter. If anything can be relied upon to put a stop to outdoor revelry it’s the British weather.
Mumford & Sons – Below My Feet (live at Glastonbury ’11)
Mumford & Sons – Hopeless Wanderer (live at Glastonbury ’11)
You can buy the Mumford’s first album here.