This year no.1 son was finally deemed old enough at the grand age of 17 to do his own thing; and so the August Bank Holiday found him making his way for his first time at Reading Festival – really there was no other choice for a big pile of firsts; first ‘proper’ festival (except Camp Bestival & Larmer Tree, along with his aged parents and irritating siblings, so they don’t count). First trip away with no grown up in charge. First time in charge of setting up his own tent. First time in charge of three days of nutrition.
Yeah, he was going to be fi-i-ine…
It soon became apparent I had picked the wrong friends to go to my first festival with. Whilst I was intent on hustling my way to the front, they preferred the very back of the tent. I had to make a decision – curtail my weekend to stick with them, or head out on my own to make my own experience as great as I could, unexpectedly alone amongst thousands of people, with no friends to chill with.
So I left my friends to be sure I saw Nothing But Thieves up close, then wound my way to bag a good spot in the NME tent for The Neighbourhood, who rocked such hits as Sweater Weather and Daddy Issues. It was about this point that three rowdy Americans came crashing into me from behind…
READING FESTIVAL 2016
Reading And Leeds festival is a rite of passage for many teenagers across the country; post-exam results, teens of all ages make the annual pilgrimage to the worlds oldest popular music festival still in existence, having hosted such legends as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, Eminem and Nirvana. This year I finally got to take the plunge myself and see what all the fuss was about.
A misty Thursday morning, I grabbed my rucksack and camera bag to head to the nearest train station. My rather worried-looking parents urging me to stay safe and be careful as I lumped my gear onto the two hour train – but I was buzzing. I mentally mapped out all the acts I wanted to see and my camping arrangements… which I soon came to realise was utterly pointless. Nothing, ever, goes to plan.
And I mean that sincerely, these festivals are so crazy and hectic there is no other way to enjoy them than go with the flow, a lesson I will definitely remember for next year.
I finally burst onto Reading station amongst a mass of excited people
brandishing DofE-style rucksacks, tents & chairs. A short walk led me to the shuttle bus (an incredibly cheap £1) which took us all directly to the festival gates. I knew my friends had left room for me in Brown campsite, and once I finally found my spot, I quickly set up and headed out to explore.
The campsites stretched for what appeared to be endless miles – a colourful maze of fabric and personalities. Wherever you looked there were people; singing, dancing, building forts out of tape, waving flags for Harambe, shouting to find their mates Alan and Steve (everyone has a mate called Alan and Steve at a festival, and you’re always looking for them). The mood was electric, and yet I knew the party had barely even started.
My first instinct was to try and make friends with the people camping around me; a great idea in principle, but frankly they weren’t as friendly as I’d have liked.
The following morning the friends I was camping with wanted to stay at the tent or head back into Reading town itself – so I made my way to the arena alone, which hadn’t been open on the Thursday. A burly security guard ensured I had no unsealed liquids on me, and while in the queue I got chatting to the people I was in line with. We ended up exploring for about an hour together, wandering between stages and stalls. I had never met these people before in my life but the electric festival atmosphere makes everyone far more open and sociable.
My first impression of the mainstage was awestruck. You cannot truly understand the scale until you see it. It is gigantic.
Plunging through the mass of people the first act I saw was BANNERS, an English alternative-rock artist from Liverpool, who performed really well in the smaller festival republic tent. I was meant to meet up with my friends here and then go see Nothing But Thieves with them, but it soon became apparent I had probably picked the wrong friends to go to my first festival with. Whilst I wanted to make my way to the front, they preferred to hang right at the very back of the tent – and they wanted to do the same with Nothing But Thieves too.
My friends weren’t interested in enjoying the festival the same way I was, and I had to make a decision – curtail my weekend to stick with them, or head out on my own to make my own experience as great as I could. I know for many people this could have been a disaster, suddenly alone amongst thousands of people, with no friends to chill with, but the atmosphere was such that it simply didn’t seem an issue for me.
So I left my friends to see Nothing But Thieves up close (they were amazing, the lead singer teared up on stage and proclaimed that this was a dream come true for them), then went and got some food (Mexican incidentally, priced at around £6 for a plate of nachos with various sauces and cheese) and after wandering around taking in the sights I got a pretty good spot in the NME tent for The Neighbourhood, who rocked such hits as Sweater Weather and Daddy Issues.
After The Neighbourhood finished, I had made the decision not to move so that I could get a good spot for Twenty One Pilots who were coming on in about an hour and a half on the same stage. It was about this point that three rowdy Americans came crashing into me from behind. I laughed and asked if they were okay… and that’s how I met Marvin, Maia and Ash – from California and Kentucky, and studying in Germany. We got talking, and we clicked. I ended up fighting my way to the front arm in arm with my new-found friends, danced and hustled till we were at the front barrier for Crystal Castles (The act before Twenty One Pilots) who I really didn’t like, but I had fun thanks to my new friends.
When Twenty One Pilots finally came on the crowd went crazy and surged forwards. The crush was immense. I’m a 6’2” tall bloke and I found it incredibly difficult to remain standing. The heat was astonishing, my shirt looked like I had been swimming it was that soaked in sweat. But we were all in the same boat and it was one of the most memorable nights of my entire life.
Twenty One Pilots rocked an intense set featuring tracks from BlurryFace and their older tracks. They truly had a sense of showmanship, with an amazing lightshow and costume changes between songs. Props need to be given to the security, as well, for handing out water to the crushed and cooked crowd – and props to the actual crowd itself. All of us played a role (myself included) in lifting smaller girls out over our heads to the security, girls who had passed out, were close to passing out, or were simply panicking. We all tried our best to help.
When Tyler Joseph decided to stand on the crowd during “holding on to you” (and me! AND ME!) the crowd almost collapsed with the amount of screaming fans trying to touch him. The band were amongst the crowd several times, once more when Josh Dun put a portable drum kit on top of us at the front and drummed out to Ride (I was underneath the drums!), Joseph rolled out in a giant inflatable hamster ball and at the end crowd surfed to the centre of the crowd. At this point the crowd collapsed and he fell with them, his shirt was ripped and his hat lost, and I think someone even took his shoe. But when you squeeze one of the worlds most current and popular rockstars into a tent stage full of thousands of screaming fans, and you choose to surf on top of them, things are going to happen.
Still buzzing from the adrenaline we forged a path to see FOALS at the mainstage. Marvin and Ash desperately wanted to get up close, but I opted to hang back with Maia to enjoy this one from a more moderate distance. FOALS were excellent – I only really knew their well-known hits – I was converted into a fan, and cheered as loudly as anyone when Mountain At My Gates started playing.
Walking back after FOALS turned out to be an easier task than expected. The mass of 90,000 people flooding through the site, all buzzing and chattering. We talked our throats raw about anything and everything until we exited the arena, and not wanting my night to end there I followed my new friends back to their campsite in Red (much closer to the arena then Brown!) for a while. We sat and chatted about the day when two new figures arrived – two strapping Swiss lads, Seb and Alex. They’d been to see Asking Alexandria in the PIT stage (aimed at more emo/metalhead audiences), and needless to say we hit it off instantly. We talked until about 3am when I finally said my goodbyes and wondered if I’d ever see my new friends again.
I made the trek across the campsites in the dark, watching the night wanderers undergo their rituals, whether it be drinking, smoking, dancing or finding a more quiet spot with a girl/guy they like.
I made it back to my tent at 3:30 to find it covered in Chinese food and vomit. I cleaned off the worst and crawled into my tent muttering with new resolve. I woke just a few hours later (happy that it had rained overnight, cleaning off the rest of my tent!) and made my way back to Red camp and my new friends. It took some searching, but finally I found them, with Alex and Seb already awake; cheers of surprise and happiness greeted me.
It was at this point I asked a favour, and I am thankful that these two lovely guys decided to help me. They marched back to Brown with me, helped me pack everything up, roll up my tent, and carried everything back to Red, where I was greeted with more cheers by the now awake Americans. Everyone moved some ropes to make room for me, and slotted my small tent between theirs. This small act of kindness honestly changed the entire festival for me. What could have turned out to be a terrible lonely weekend, turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life so far.
We all sat around, enjoying the Weetabix On The Go, as provided outside every single tent across the site (genius marketing move by the way), and decided what acts we wanted to see. Sadly I missed the great Sunset Sons who were on early in the day at the NME stage, however I got to see Highly Suspect who were the followup act. I watched these guys on recommendation of Ash, and I’m so glad I listened. I’d only heard a few songs from them before, but I fell in love with their energy and edgier style of rock (I bought their album on return home). The mosh pits to the song Lydia were intense for a smaller show earlier in the day, leaving plenty of fresh war wounds in the shape of bruises.
It was at this point after Highly Suspect that we split up – the Three Americans went to join some other brits (Tyler and Dan) who were camping near us to see more at the Dance stage, and then would return for Sigma and Jack Garret. Me and the Swiss lads went to the main stage to see Skindred, Parkway Drive and Slaves. This was a phenomenal move on our part. Skindred utterly rocked it, with songs like Sound The Siren, and covering a special reggae-metal version of the House Of Pain’s – Jump Around. Parkway Drive, who sadly cancelled their show in Leeds the following day, had some of the heaviest songs on the main stage all weekend. And the enormous Circle Pit during the song Karma was one of the most insane places to be in the world.
Slaves also rocked it, and who could help but scream along “Cheer up London, you’re already dead and it’s not that bad”.
It was incredible how both Twenty One Pilots and Slaves are only two-man acts, yet fill the stage with such enormous presence, more so than some 4 piece bands.
After we’d had our fill of mosh pits we made our way to see Jack Garret in the NME tent, and surprisingly we ran straight into Marvin, whose long dark hair and man-tights was unmissable. The fluid flexibility of our little group was what made it work so well – Alex & Seb left to get good spots for TDEP and Mastodon, I stayed with Ash and Marvin for Jack Garrett, whilst Maia was somewhere else with Tyler and Dan. Jack Garret was fantastic live, one man with enough stage presence for 10, a fluid mix of bass drops and dad jokes. As someone who’s not usually a fan of EDM music, I instantly became a fan. And after Jack Garret we made our way to the front to be as close as possible for Imagine Dragons.
I am a huge Imagine Dragons fan – and what a show they unleashed on us. My favourite song in the world right now is definitely Shots from their Smoke and Mirrors album. I sang along to every word, danced my heart out and enjoyed myself in what felt like the most surreal experience. I loved every second of it. My exuberant dancing was joined in by those around me, my friends and random strangers who I became friends with by the end of the set. When Imagine Dragons took their final bow and said farewell to tumultuous applause, the crush began.
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were coming.
One of the world’s largest and most famous rock bands, still filling out stadiums for over three decades; the crush was immense. Marvin and I exchanged uncomfortable looks, and I believe the exact words we said to each other were “I love RHCP, but they are not worth dying for” so we began to move towards a free space. I grabbed two young girls who’d been dancing to Dragons with me – both about 5ft each, both in tears, both had lost their friends, and both needed help. I linked arms with them and used my considerable force and bulk and apologetic British nature (“excuse me, sorry sir, thank you, excuse me, thanks, sorry”) to carve a path out with the girls.
Marvin eventually turned up and we filled up on water at the water station, helped the girls find their friends, exchanged details and went our separate ways. We stayed for some of the RHCP set, which was a mixture of their classics like Snow, By The Way and Can’t Stop, and playing their new songs almost alternately. Marvin wanted to go see Two Door Cinema Club, and I agreed that I would accompany him. Yet on arrival my blisters finally gave in. So much walking. So much dancing. So many blisters.
I gave in gracefully, and made my way across the arena to my tent. I got lost (twice) but several kind people pointed me in the right direction. And I rolled right into the camp, where I met Seb and Alex who’d just finished watching Mastodon. We chatted and it seems a good time for glowsticks while we waited for everyone to return. At about 1am, everyone was back, even the tired looking Ash, who had got to the front for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. We sat and talked, snacked, had a glowstick fight with an adjacent encampment and generally chilled until tired. This was the best night’s sleep I’d had so far – it surprised me how different the atmosphere between campsites was. Brown was far rowdier, surrounded by people on all sides, my tent could be kicked at 3am by some drunk by passer finding the toilets. But Red was noticeably quieter and I easily drifted off.
Sunday – the sad last day. We headed into Reading for breakfast, treating the Americans to their very first ‘full english’, to their joyous horror.
Back at camp I plugged my ipod into my Lava speaker (I was the envy of the camp when I pulled this out in the evenings!) and we danced an hour away in our small little canvas kingdom. Soon we covered ourselves in the body paint that I’d brought, opting for the handprint design all over our bodies and faces, and agreed to meet at the dance stage for Fred V & Grafix; once again we amicably split with Marvin, Maia and Ash wanted to see the EDM acts with Tyler and Dan, whereas Seb, Alex and I wanted to see Five Finger Death Punch on the main stage. Then we realised however that they started in 15 minutes… we tore through the campsite, sprinting at pace, screaming lyrics to Wash It All Away, to much laughter and applause from onlookers. Even the security guard smiled in a bemused fashion and waved us through without too much fuss, and we powered through to the front.
As soon as they entered the stage we opened up a mosh pit. Full of adrenaline, the spine chilling entrance speech over the speakers followed by Lift Me Up. Their set included such great songs as Bad Company, Jekyll & Hyde and The Bleeding, and they were fantastic live. Even in person, I am thoroughly jealous of Chris Kael’s beard. Five Finger Death punch were definitely a highlight of my entire weekend, with plenty of mosh pit bruises to remember it by. We made our way from this amazing experience to the dance tent where we managed to find our American comrades surprisingly easily, and made our way to dance and rave to some more EDM. There was a surprising amount of mosh pits and even a wall of death during these acts. The mosh pits for metal bands are serious business at places like this, its scary and exhilarating, but in the dance tent it’s a little different.
A guy ran into the centre of an open pit, set out a camp chair and sat in it before the mosh exploded on top of him. During a wall of death for Fred V & Grafix, I put Tyler on my shoulders and we ran down the middle of the two walls to many cheers and applause. We ran from the back of the tent right down the middle to the where the dj’s looked astounded and laughed at us. Tyler jumped spectacularly from my shoulders and the wall crashed around us.
Once again we all split for the evening; I chose to hang with Alex and Seb, as they wanted to see Fall Out Boy and The Wombats like me, whereas the others wanted to stay at the dance tent. I’ve already seen Fall Out Boy live in Bournemouth, and whilst I was slightly sad, I didn’t feel too remorseful that I had to leave them early in order to catch the amazing Wombats (although I did stay long enough to sing along heartily to The Kids Aren’t Alright – I had pretty much completely lost my voice by this point!). The wombats were inside the NME tent and oh boy did they sound fantastic live.
That was what surprised me the most at this festival – pretty much every band I saw sounded great live (with perhaps the exception of The Neighbourhood, who I thought relied a little too heavily on audio effects applied with his microphone). The wombats were great. Seb was as huge a fan as I, dancing along and singing every word. ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, ‘Greek Tragedy’ and ‘Backfire At The Disco’… all amazing songs. And during “Give Me A Try” I kissed the cute short girl dancing with me during the set, who I wholeheartedly wish I had gotten her number. Dammit.
Laughing and singing we left the tent and made our way to Biffy Clyro who were fantastic, but as my Swiss compadres didn’t know them very well, I compromised and we left half way through to see The 1975 who were also really good, despite me not typically liking them.
And so we made our way back to camp for the final time. Singing, dancing and cheering. Cheerfully returning the calls for ALAN or STEVE, fighting back the urge to comply with the chants of DICKS OUT FOR HARAMBE and feeling the pure streak of happy in the moment. We made it back and collapsed in the most satisfying way a human can. Complete exhaustion, but utterly satisfied. We stayed up talking and chatting until it was well beyond 2am, putting off saying my goodnights to everyone, happy and sad that it had all come to an end.
A weekend that had felt like forever and yet felt like it had disappeared like sand between fingertips.
7am the following morning I woke with a start – I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say goodbye as I knew that some of my new friends were leaving early. And as I stuck my head out of my tent, there was Marvin’s ridiculous hair bobbing as he fought to pack up their tent. I quickly joined the morning fuss, figuring I may as well pack my own belongings as well. Within half an hour I was hugging and saying farewell to my new American friends, without our accidental crash my weekend could have been a disaster.
I soon had everything on my back and decided to leave with the Swiss guys to Reading Train station, choosing to walk rather than taking the bus just because it felt like it elongated the time we could have together. But all good things come to an end and so we finally parted ways at the train station.
I slumped against a wall and waited for the next train into Basingstoke, mounds of bags, tents, chairs, and haggard-looking people all around me. A smile on my lips, and scrolling back on pictures I had taken on my camera. It truly had been a magical weekend. And writing this will never do it justice.
I can’t capture the sheer energy of the mosh pits, the atmosphere of the camping, the camaraderie of the people no matter where I went. Collecting cups to earn money for lunch, meeting random girls and having a whole new set of confidence despite being covered in pink paint and glowsticks. The chants for Alan and Steve that you HAD to return, even if it was shouted 4 campsites away at 3am, everyone returned the call. The “Whoop There it Is” at every band’s performance. The laughs, the jokes, the smiles, the tears, the blisters. It was an overload on the senses, and I loved every second of it.