Music festivals for grown ups
Music festivals aren’t meant just for teenagers or your memory bank
There are few things in this world as wonderful as hearing one of your favourite songs live. You belt out the words as the well-worn yet electrifying sound swallows you whole, and you know, in that instant, that you’re surrounded by thousands of others who are feeling the exact same way.
Music festivals are tiny microcosms where, for a few hours — or even a day or two — you get to relive this moment over and over again, with the occasional flower crown thrown into the mix for extra joie de vivre.
They were a regular staple back in the halcyon days of my youth. But then came the whole "growing up" thing. I began to prefer good red wine above plastic cups of nonspecific booze, and started to feel that being the oldest person in the room or field was undesirable. So I just stopped going.
But things have changed. Festival organisers are realising that humans over the age of 35 are not dead yet, and what’s more, that these adults have the money and the means to spend more to enjoy the comforts of both good music and upmarket festivities, all the while remaining fabulous amid the fray.
Yes, we’ve entered a golden age where, regardless of how old you are, there is a music festival for you. And whether you’re into country or psytrance (psychedelic trance music), here are some points to consider before you book those tickets and haul out the tent.
It’s all about the music
There’s a lot more to music festivals than music these days — food, markets, photo booths, face paint, denim rompers and drink tents dedicated to small wine purveyors. They are, however, called music festivals for a reason. If you’re going to leave the comfort zone of your couch, make sure it’s for music you actually like.
First and foremost, find a line-up that has a meaty chunk of music you love, and not just two or three headliners on a list of unknown bands, 300-deep. Bands cancel — I will never forgive Frank Ocean who, on a whim, didn’t perform at a festival I’d travelled to Europe to attend — and disasters strike. A main stage can get flooded and you may find yourself stuck in a Dubstep circus tent soaking wet and despondent at 4am, for example.
If the festival is dedicated to a music style you really enjoy there is a chance you may serendipitously find a new favourite band you never knew existed.
To camp or not to camp
That is the question. Actress Emma Thompson recently told talk show host Graham Norton how she camped at the mud-soaked Reading Festival with her "54-year-old best mate and 90,000 teenagers". She said she had a reasonably good time, but thought she was going to die in a mosh pit, and would not do it again. Personally, I believe that if you want to roll around in the mud, there are perfectly good spas for that sort of thing.
As far as international festivals go, remember that you can’t take your Toyota Hilux, designer Bedouin tent and mini bar fridge with you in your hand luggage. You will have to fend for yourself in the mire, with the dirty hordes and a pop-up igloo you borrowed from a friend. No thanks.
These days, most of the big festivals have accommodation just outside the grounds. Colorado’s Coachella "super festival" has luxury Safari tents off-site that come complete with their own security and concierge.
Locally, if you plan ahead for Oppikoppi — which takes place in Limpopo in August — there are bed-and-breakfast establishments just 10 minutes outside the gate.
If you opt for a day festival like Pitchfork Music Festival Paris you can stay in a ridiculously nice Airbnb or hotel room of your choice. You will be able to arrive at the grounds in the middle of the City of Lights fresh-faced each day and know that a shower awaits you when you get back.
Size does matter
Music festivals range from the type where you watch an ant-sized performer on a stage in a sea of 100,000 people to those that are so intimate you know every reveller’s name by the end of the party. Each of these has its advantages.
Big festivals normally have huge line-ups that allow you to see many bands you may like, or, at least, bits of them as you run kilometres back and forth between stages. This is definitely the case at Lollapalooza in Chicago, which over 100,000 people attend each day. Take in the energy of the crowd or quietly sit on the grass far at the back and relax.
A word of warning: if you’re short, or have anxiety, it can be traumatising to be stuck in a seemingly never-ending wave of humans, unable to see the stage or breathe comfortably.
Smaller festivals don’t always pull the biggest names, but they do offer lovely experiences in beautiful locations. At Up the Creek in Swellendam, you can while away your day on a lilo in a lake, with close access to local bands you care about.
Swedish festival Way Out West is a fully green operation that pulls a crowd of 10,000 and heavy-hitter performers like Arctic Monkeys and Patti Smith. It takes place in a forest park during the day and the shindig continues in old churches and abandoned theatres at Stay Out West later that night.
Eat well, be merry
Gone are the days where festival food was sad pizza and chips on a stick. Now even the scragglier festivals have a group of food trucks to tempt you. But there are entire events where the food is as important as the music.
Locally we have the likes of Littlegig, a mini, high-end food-and-music festival in the Cape where some of the hottest acts and chefs come together to serve you in style. (It’s not taking place in 2019, in case you were thinking of booking.) The UK version, called Wilderness, allows you to traverse the Oxfordshire countryside to watch Björk while feasting on Michelin-starred meals.
If you do opt for a city festival, choose one with a food culture you enjoy. Primavera Sound in Barcelona is a great example. Deplete the city of all its tapas and cava wine before you catch the metro back to see your next show.
Plan to go all out
The wisdom that comes with age and all that disposable income can be used for good.
You can get those VIP tickets, book that lush accommodation, have transport sorted, buy bottles instead of glasses, fly to see your favourite bands or stay home and throw your money at some local ones.
Even as you dress up and always look good, remember you’re never too old to take your mom’s advice: drink water, always take a jersey and wear comfortable shoes (white leather Stan Smiths clean up nicely and go the distance).
And dance — for a minute, or all night. Just don’t let the fun be wasted on the young.