I went to my first festival in 1989, at the age of twenty three. My friend Michael had seen an advert for it in the New Musical Express and he and I fancied seeing a couple of bands that were on the bill, most notably the Pixies. We decided to pay our twenty eight pounds for a ticket and made the long journey to Somerset, in deepest England.
I had absolutely no idea what a festival might be like, having only seen fleeting footage of the mythical Woodstock on television. You could camp, there was beer for sale, I expect, and you could see bands. Seemed like a good idea to me.
What I didn’t expect was the atmosphere there. Having come, both of us, from a small town in the North East of Scotland, we’d spent a lot of time in pubs, watching small bands playing. This was my favourite pastime, it was fun. In Peterhead though, the threat of violence and nastiness were never very far away. The slightest mistake (spilling someone’s drink, bumping into an ex-girlfriend’s jealous new boyfriend) and all hell could break loose, no doubt ending up in broken glass and blood. People in this parochial paradise were very guarded and cliquey. It took outsiders years to get accepted by the local community, then only grudgingly and there were always the reminders that they “…aren’t actually from here, so how would you know..?”.
Glastonbury was a revelation. Everyone was friendly down here! People talked to you! Strangers!
Michael and I were in a state of constant suspicion for the whole of the first day, until we realised that this was actually the whole festival “vibe”. You made friends. You shared beers. You shared joints. You talked music and bands. You got on with people.
I was bitten with the bug.
Every year after that, if financially possible, I made my pilgrimage to Worthy Farm. I also went to various other festivals, mostly Reading and later on, T in the park (possibly the worst “festival” in the world), but none ever held as special a place for me as “Glasto”.
One year always springs to (my addled) mind, when talking to people about my experiences over the years, and it took place in 1999.
At this point I had convinced a few more of my friends to come down to the South of England with me, this year there were around eight to ten of us. Our weekend there had been magical and on the last day my pal Colin was insisting we go and see a band in the Avalon Tent called “Alabama 3”. Never heard of them. Late that Sunday night, full of beer, cheer and other “recreational enhancements”, we made the trek to the stage in question. It was packed. There seemed a special atmosphere there, electric, charged. The band were thirty minutes late and when they took to the stage (to the almost, by now, baying crowd) there seemed around ten or twelve of them, like half the crowd had invaded the performance. But the atmosphere. Real “hackles on the back of your neck” stuff. The band were more like a religion than a “Techno-country-acid house” conglomeration. The band sang about going “back to church”. Our own special church, for the misfits, the lost and the found. We danced, my Peterhead friends and I, we drank our beers, we smoked our joints and I can safely say it was the best festival moment I’ve ever had.
The band themselves went on to create some good, if not actually “truly great” albums and performances over the years, but nothing can compare to that first gig. That moment. Every festival, there’s always one, but this was the best.
Now, in this, 2013, at age forty six, I’m lucky enough to be able to go to Glastonbury once more. I have no expectations of having a festival moment anything like that one in distant ‘99 again, but there will be a moment. I know it.