Planning your festival ‘look’? Solar mobile charger at the ready? VW Camper-shaped tent and quirky printed wellies bought? Ear protectors for the kids?

Once upon a time, festivals were consigned to the bounds of a few music weeklies.  And they were basically Glastonbury and Reading, and some stuff that old hippies went to. No one cared what you were likely to wear to them, and still less who went to them.

They were not really for girls. Girls went with their boyfriends, but it wasn’t for them. It was throwing cups of piss at the stage, and a case of Tennent’s Super baking inside your green triangle tent. It was jeans, DMs and a rock band t-shirt.

Through my teens and the, ahem, ‘Britpop explosion’, it became more of a done thing for kids like my friends and me, although a wander through this fascinating, if incomplete Select Magazine archive suggests that even the echt indie press was still not that hot on reporting on the festivals until the late 90s. My personal  festival experiences were Reading ‘94 (losing my festy virginity), Reading 95 (really good time forming a massive tent circle with mates) and Reading ’96 (pretty crap aside from Underworld who were worth the whole ticket price). Not bad considering my violent dislike of staying in tents.

But during that period it seemed that more music mags started to see festivals as less of a novelty hangover from the 60s and more as the gathering of the real, dedicated proper music fans, and people began upholding this amusing charade that there might actually be nice weather in the UK between late June and the end of August.

Now you can’t actually go into the British countryside in aforementioned period without tripping over Dreadzone or nearly getting run over by a bicycle-powered soundsystem on their way to one ‘boutique gathering’ or another.

We’ve watched with fascination and a degree of horror as Glastonbury has gradually appeared to become part of The Season, where Rt Hon young ladies don their Hunters, denim cutoffs, t-shirts and dear little waistcoats to be seen in the right fields with the right people and are duly talked about doing so in the Society pages of Harpers. It’s actually got to the point where people are offering a bespoke festival service for those whose Mummy and Daddy will let them use a few acres  in the ‘back garden’ for just a few hundred of their closest chums. Heck, most public school kids probably know enough bands these days to assemble their own high voltage line up.

And all manner of unlikely ’slebs have clearly been commanded by their PR person to be snapped in the VIP area in the ‘glam boho’ look that their stylist has so carefully put together for them, even though they wouldn’t know Foster the People from Dumpty’s Rusty Nuts. In fact there was this amusing mix-up involving Kerry Katona and the Biker’s Ball on the Isle of Wight once, but I wouldn’t want to embarrass our Kerry too much.

A few years ago the first ‘how to dress for a festival’ pieces began to appear in women’s magazines, where they are now a regular summer fixture. And from their generic beginnings as ‘Denim cutoffs, wellies and something with tassels and, oh, whatever Kate Moss wore last year’, we now see specific guides for types of festival – floaty dresses and floppy hats for one with lots of arty stuff, hats that look like animals for boutique ones, big boots and leather for rock affairs. I’m waiting for the coming of ironic jester hats myself.

Speaking of which, I have started to wonder whether, for my kids’ generation, ‘going to festivals’ will actually become this slightly cringey thing you do with your parents until you get sick of hanging out with them having been dressed  as an ickle punky fairy while the oldies spend the weekend in the guise of burlesque steampunk nuns. At least that’s what I plan to do with my family when we can actually afford to go to festivals again. Certainly, with festivals pretty much getting their own supplement with the Sunday broadsheets every year now, it does seem like it’s getting all respectable on our collective arses.

But while the mainstream media is increasingly beholden to festivals, there’s no doubt the field has been opened up, no pun intended, by the internet. You no longer need massive press coverage to sell your festival, even a new one – everyone can find out all they need to know online. You could have obscure bands, but provide links so that people can find out if they’ll like them. You can show everyone how good it was last year. You can ratchet up the anticipation with social media and screw ‘The Man’ of Big Media. Perhaps we’re in a period of experimentation now where people are finding what works and what doesn’t, and in a few years all the niches will be neatly filled rather than overflowing.  Bestival seem to be ahead of the curve on this – having realised their flagship festival had maybe become a tad too family-friendly, risking cramping the style of more determined hedonists, they started Camp Bestival to funnel off the families a bit and leave the Isle of Wight event to get as off its face as it likes, without having too many small children asking ‘Mummy, what’s that man doing?’ when Mummy would really rather not answer that right now.

We’ve all been amazed, bedazzled and then bored by the explosion of festivals, and there are plentiful signs that perhaps things have peaked and people just can’t be bothered anymore. There’s so much choice that no single festival seems really essential.  In addition to the fact we have had a long run of astonishingly shit summers, even by British standards – not just wet but frequently downright cold and providing enough festive mudbaths to fill a hefty tome of mucky snaps.

Festivals were always about watching the crowds to some extent, but now it seems as though the crowds have become more the point than the music – people wanting to have the cutest kids there, the quirkiest fancy dress outfits, to get more photographed or just to look or feel more damn cool than everyone else there. Which some people may find inimical to the values of music festivals, but then they are festivals, and festivals should be about people, not just venerating those on stage (or throwing bottles of piss at them).

It’s all still calling out to me, despite the bloody tents and the toilets and the all-too-likely mud. Very small children and a lack of money – hmmm, could those two be connected? – have meant festivals have been on a hiatus for me for a few years, but I am looking forward to my opportunity to experience them as the dreaded festival parent, wetwipes in one hand, organic ricecakes in the other, and somehow a child balanced in between. It’s all going to be quite different with kids and with mobile phones – how we shall miss the fun of wandering about for hours looking for our mates, going to our tents and not finding anyone, then wondering about again for hours.

I’m a little worried that I might get my festival wardrobe wrong, so I’d better do my research to avoid any awkwardness – I wouldn’t want to be ‘dance weekend’ at a ‘rural foodie’ three-dayer.

Alternatively, I reckon the burlesque steampunk nun look should cover
all bases.

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