I'm a regular music festival goer. You either get festivals, or you don't really. The fact is they're a couple of days of rough living 48-hour party with music as the main focus. Yet within that limit there's a heck of a lot of room for each festival to carve out it's niche. In the last few years, the British music festival phenomena has become bigger than anyone would imagine given the typically unpredictable weather. V Festival is one of the newer festivals and was basically conceived as a commercial branding excersize in order to market to youth culture.
That's not necessarily bad. After all, if the music line up is good and it's often brilliant at V Festival, then you know what you're getting. This year I went with none of my regular festival going vets and instead a bunch of festival virgins. By and large they seemed to enjoy themselves although, predictably enough, the ladies were pretty non-plussed about the whole portaloo experience. Let's face it, if you had to use one just to take a leak then you'd be not too pleased either.
About the festival: It was basically alright. The lineup wasn't as good as previous years. Tickets were basically available up until the last minute which meant I got shafted on some tickets I bought for a friend of a friend, assuming they'd be in hot demand. In the end I got half face value. I thought the festival would be somehow less popular but in fact it was bigger than ever, it was just the result of putting tickets on sale late. At any rate, we had crap weather, we had good weather, we had crap bands, we had good bands. It was your pretty much par for the course festival experience and I think we all enjoyed ourselves.
I wouldn't say it at the time to the new folks though, but I think this V Fest was just a stretch too far on the commercialisation. It's always been a festival on my 'guest list' so's to speak, I go when the line up is good or to fill a gap. No Glasto this year swung it. However after this performance, I'm going to have to strike it off. It's just too big, too commercialised, too damn expensive and for all of that it's lacking that festival atmosphere which draws me to festivals in the first place.
It's amazing to read on efestivals about how many people in general are moaning about V. Much of it seems to be people complaining about stuff you'd find at any festival. Conversely though, there were a lot of things that were wrong. It never occured to the organisers to actually guide people to what they need to do when they arrive such as approaching unmarked desks to obtain wrist bands and neither did many of the event staff have much of a clue either. The thing most people, rightly, complained about was the absurd Â£10 lanyards required just to know who was playing when. That was firmly into taking-the-piss territory given that you've paid Â£120 to show up and you'll be paying outrageous prices all weekend for food and drink. It's not so much that the crowd can't afford it, it's just a blatant rip-off and I think as the BBC article shows, there's a bit of a backlash now.
A low point for me, though, was the security staff arbitrarily deciding on the second day that you couldn't bring fold up chairs referred to in Aussie slang as chair millionaires into the festival. Now bare in mind I've been coming to festivals for years using these things, they're a festival vet's best kept secret. We could take them in earlier in the day and the day before, they just decided at some point you couldn't. Which was stupid because folks were selling them inside the festival. When you've been walking/dancing for a day already and the ground is pure mud and there's nowhere to sit, believe me you want one of these chairs. In the end I managed to sneak them in, barely, but only because I went in early on Sunday. The fact they think it's alright to do this sort of thing means I'll simply take my festival custom elsewhere next time.
Also much was made of the huge amounts of straw that had been obtained for the inevitable mud given the weather reports. In the end they didn't use any of it and the steep slopes to camp sites became six inches deep in fast flowing mud. I'm baffled why.
Radiohead was clearly the act of the weekend for us although a personal festival highlight would have to be Hayseed Dixie who performed their bluegrass covers of metal songs with a gusto that makes their albums sound second class by comparison. Not a lot of amazing music and acts there really and even the appearance of my favorite artist, Imogen Heap, was hampered by a short set with cataclysmically inept sound (levels, feedback etc)and some twat stood up the back with an airhorn who was not, by all accounts, afraid to use it.
So, in the end I kept on a brave face for the festival new folks in the hopes I can entice them back to a real one at some point in the future. Broadly speaking though, I could sum up this year's V Festival as being a soul-less over commercialised, expensive, inconvienient jobsworth of a festival. My idea of a good festival is one with less general drunken loutishness, more weird stuff, lots more weird stuff, plenty of hippy types/vegetarians/spiritual claptrap, a choice of alcohol that I can choose to purchase rather than fecking Carling or Strongbow and above all else, one that keeps the action going past midnight so you can party into the night. V Festival was none of those things and I feel sorry that anyone would think that it is remotely indicative of the average British festival.
I still had a good time, in parts, and had a laugh with my mates. It's just there's better places to do it where the organisers are at least doing their bit for ensuring you have a good time rather than going to extrodinary lengths to fleece you for cash. In retrospect I cannot believe that I was ever slightly annoyed with Michael Eavis' lefty tendancies because if this is the alternative, sign me up to the communist party baby.
Of course not everyone thinks the same. On the coach back I had a conversation with some people about how I'll now be doing smaller festivals instead and mentioned my next one, Bestival, as an example. They weren't fussed because there wasn't some big music line up. Some people go for the music. Myself, sufficiently tanked up and grinning with my pals, will enjoy the music and atmosphere whatever it is. I know that's not a view shared by the folks that came for the first time either since our own [EED]Slim said to me "I've I'm going to leave the island I want to see big bands that I can't see at home." And fair enough. I've been able to go to big band gigs whenever I want, so I guess it's a supply and demand issue.
The bottom line is I like the huge crowd headlining gigs of the current uber band like the next man, but most of the time at a festival you're trying to find somewhere comfortable to be, something nice to watch, something good to eat and get slowly ever more drunk with your friends. That's the sort of thing which is, to my mind, infintely better at smaller festivals (with the exception of Glasto of course) than it is stuff like V Festival. V-Fest basically isn't a festival at all, it's just a big gig with camping.
Next year we'll have a car and we'll be driving and I intend to hit some of the smaller fringe festivals and maybe discover some more which will be put on my permanent list along with Bestival and Glastonbury. Maybe next year we can think about hitting one overseas ones like Roskilde in Norway or that big Spanish one. There's enough of these things around now that you really don't have to put up with second best. And so I shan't :-)