Signature Brew and Kerrang!'s John Longbottom pens a letter to music festivals during their most difficult summer ever…
Festival season is cancelled and it hurts. For the last 17 years I've been fortunate to attend more music festivals than I can count, through both my work as a writer for Kerrang! and my role running all things music-related at Signature Brew.
2020 will be the first time I haven't been to a music festival since I was 15. For me and many others this strange, silent summer is leaving a void not just in our calendars, but in our hearts.
It goes without saying that there are those deeply affected by COVID-19 and it would be remiss to not acknowledge the loss and devastation that its brought to people across the world. But it's ok to mourn the small things and even more of a reason to treasure what we love.
As is tradition for GCSE-aged British kids, Leeds Festival was my rite of passage (the alternative of course being Reading, if you're from the South). I bought my ticket from Crash Records in Leeds the day they were released, got a tent and stockpiled Pot Noodles.
In my excitement, I obviously neglected to take a coat or even a sleeping bag, but the second I got to the festival I didn't care. I mean, for one thing the 'burn more shit' chants and accompanying pyromania nearby were more than enough to keep me warm. Anyway.
Setting foot at that first music festival changed my life forever. Even the day before the bands started, I couldn't believe the atmosphere, the energy, the love. Freaks and misfits in abundance. A whole city of tents, as far as the eye could see, filled with people like me, just there to watch their favourite bands, cement friendships and have the best weekend of their lives.
That's the thing about music festivals. They're a place of zero judgement and zero prejudice. They're a place for shared passions, love and anarchy – all in equal measure. They're a place that prove, if it really comes down to it and civilisation unravels before our eyes and we all end up living in tents (which now seems somehow more plausible than ever), that there'll still be kindness and music and solidarity. Proof that even if we only have mud and pouring rain, we'll still party and laugh and drink a tinny with our friends.
'If you meet someone who watched the same set at the same festival as you, you are spiritually (and probably legally) regarded as family.
That's the law.'
From that first festival I was hooked. I angled my life and career around attending them. I went to Reading, Download, Slam Dunk, Manchester Punk Festival, Beat Herder, Wickerman, Gilfest, Hevy, Warped Tour, Sonisphere, Merthyr Rocks, Arctangent, 2000 Trees, All Points East, Groezrock… the list goes on. I couldn't – and still can't – get enough.
And we haven't even talked about the bands. It's such a personal thing but some of the most treasured memories I have are singing every word to Linkin Park's Download set as they played Hybrid Theory in full. Watching the curtain drop on Refused's comeback show at Groezrock in Belgium. Seeing Gallows almost physically tear the tent apart at Reading.
Festival sets matter. They're greatest-hits, 'I was there' shows that define an era for a band and burn themselves deep on a person's soul. If you one day happen to meet someone who watched the same set at the same festival as you, you are spiritually (and probably legally) regarded as family. That's the law.
Next year, the festivals that are able to weather the storm will be back with a vengeance. The lineups will be weighed heavy with all our favourite bands. And we'll be there. Grass under foot. Beer in hand. Band on stage. Having the best weekend of our life. Again. And again. And again. All summer long. Never taking these celebrations of music, life and human spirit for granted ever again.
To those who make them happen, from the organisers, to the bookers, to the stewards, to the bands… keep the faith. Come rain or sunshine, festivals will return and we'll do everything we can to support them.
This is a love letter to music festivals. A thank you for the freedom and unparalleled happiness they've brought me, and everyone else, in those fields. And a promise that we'll all be back, drinking a beer with our mates and watching bands and having experiences that will shape the rest of all our lives. I can't wait to see you all there.
If you've enjoyed this blog, you'll more than likely enjoy Festival Saison, Signature Brew's tasty tribute to the festivals we all love.
If you enjoyed the writing, follow @johnlongbottom on Twitter for more.