Where did it go wrong?
But then the complaints started to pour in, along with some questionable decisions by festival organisers. Festivals had to become safer, especially in recent years where terrorism had become an issue. Organisers were forced to hire security teams and suddenly everyone entering a festival area was a possible terrorist. Not only that, festivals also had to become eco-friendly too, resulting in some more questionable decisions.
Not only that. Nowadays people start petitions to ban this or than band from the stages, just because of their views on certain issues. They even threaten festivals, violently. You'd think it cannot get worse? Well, ask the women who were sexually assaulted on that Swedish festival. They bought a ticket, walked through security, got searched like everyone else and still were not safe there.
When I was twenty-two or so, I was at a big festival in Belgium. I was there with my then-girlfriend and some regular festival buddies. We were sitting on the ground, enjoying a beer and each other's company when we suddenly heard a girl scream. She yelled "leave me alone, freak". Some drunken asshole had touched her in inappropriate ways. Before any of us could react, a bloke from the audience punched the asshole in the face, right on the nose. Two minutes later, security was there. Everyone involved explained the situation and the asshole's festival bracelet was cut. At the entrance, two policemen were waiting for him.
That was a part of the festi-feel. Hanging out with like minded people, or at least with people who came here for the music and nothing else. Ok, maybe festival-sex but only if agreed on by both parties, something we boys worked very hard for back in the days. Annoying, obtrusive and obnoxious people were simply being punched in the face and escorted to the exit, mostly by other festival goers, rarely by security. We didn't care about politics. We didn't mind differently colored people, we had no issues with gays. We came to dance...
1. Glass? Plastic?
Glass has been banned from festival areas for ages. Every beverage goes into a plastic cup and pretty much every festival goer is used to that by now. Nobody cares anymore, even though beer tastes way better in glasses than in cups. It's just safer to throw cups instead of glasses. We understand. But not Gent Jazz. No, Gent Jazz pours your beer into a glass. "Hurray", you might say, but wait until you want to see a band. Inside the tent, glass is still banned. Once you go inside, a volunteer is waiting for you. He or she makes you pour your tasty beverage into a plastic cup. Weird, right? But there's more. While you were pouring over your beer, seven other people walked by with glasses in their hands. The volunteer never noticed them.
2. What is it with the food on festivals?
Once upon a time, you had three choices. Fries, hamburgers or hunger. I was happy to see that list expand and I was thrilled to finally eat pizza and pasta on festivals, especially the three-day ones. Yesterday, my wife ate fries with chervis and a mild salty vinaigrette with mustard seeds. I ate a six euros hotdog, in a sandwich with sauerkraut and mustard. I mean, for that price I would have expected mustard seeds and shrimp but it was a good hotdog nonetheless. Thank God for food trucks.
Those fries were 1.75 food coins. One food coin was three euros. You do the math. Besides, there weren't any food coins to begin with. You received a plastic card which you could load at a "non-cash" point (where you could actually pay in cash). Somehow it reminds me of another monetary system that makes no sense, the one the bankers invented, the one that is way too complicated for average Joe. I currently have 0.25 coins on that card and I'm not planning to go to that festival next year (unless the line-up is good). But it has a nice picture of Einsturzende Neubauten, so I guess it's a souvenir now.
I can add a few paragraphs about exuberant prices at festivals but I don't want to. If you want to pay three euros for a plastic cup filled with water, that's fine by me. In a way, I understand why, especially at a big festival. Just look at all the people who want to profit from a festival and you'll understand why they are so incredibly expensive. Here's a short list: the organiser, the bands, the caterers, the security teams, the brewer, the band managers, the city, the government, the copyrights organisation, the sport & youth clubs who volunteer, the company that rents tents, the company that rents the fences, the company that rents the stages, the sound and light companies, their employees, the owner of the festival area, the company that delivers the plastic cups, the people who work in the sponsor's stands, the police, public transport companies, the insurance company... and there are probably some more. So no, I'm not going to whine about prices.
This might be a Belgian thing, but if you use public transport, I really hope you enjoy the first ten minutes of the headliner. Those will be all you see because our public transport company wants you in bed by midnight. Then again, if you form a group of four to six people, you can just crawl into a taxi anytime AND save money.
5. Festivals have become selfie-spots
"Heyyyy everybody on facebook, look where I am??? xxXXXxxXXXxoooXxx"
"Cool, what bands have you seen?"
"Haha, you silly, I am too busy making selfies. In fact, I wish those bands would be quiet so I can talk to my homies."
6. "Fucking kids."
I actually heard someone say that yesterday. It was a man who almost tumbled over a toddler. The kid was just running around like kids do and the man was talking to his mate like men do. Apparently, on a festival that is not a very good combination. I can understand and I also wonder why parents drag their toddlers along on festivals. Isn't it a nuisance for both you and your kid, something you can easily avoid? I don't know. Perhaps those parents say "get them into music when they're young" but I'm more like "get them into music when they want to".
Because of that list of people who want to profit from festivals, most festivals pack their area to capacity. There are lots and lots of people on festivals, half of them drunk. It's just not a safe place for children. Me and my friends are not going to start a moshpit on a playground, so why bring a playground to the moshpit? Not that there is many moshing going on anyway. On most festivals those fun things are forbidden because otherwise the hospitals too profit from festivals.
Have you seen the photos of the piles of garbage on festivals? "Eco-friendly", lol. People are even leaving their tents and everything behind. Luckily, some organisers allow people to pick up those tents and donate them to refugees. Whose fault is that? I don't know. All I know is that a reusable cup is not reusable when you throw it in the woods. At that moment, it becomes litter. How to solve the garbage problem? I don't know either. There have been plenty of ideas, including edible trays, personalised drinking cups and wallets made out of old vinyl promo banners but in the end, it all ends up in a whale's stomach.
8. Screening people
Tomorrowland has been digitally screening each and every audience member, weeks before the festival. Several of them received a message that they were not welcome and that their tickets would be refunded. Is Donald Trump running Tomorrowland?
Is the festi-feel dying?
Besides, these days we are spoiled. There is no festival-free weekend anymore. New events appear every year, some fade, some remain, some become household names for music lovers. Dunk! festival and RodeoFest, just to name a few, can easily instigate that festi-feel in exactly the way that the big ones can. There is something for everyone, you can pick out whatever fits you best. I just think festivals can be even more fun when everyone involved would decide not to be an asshole for a few days. Leave your egos and hormones at the entrance, that's all it takes.
I have no idea where I'm going with this article. I'm just a writer, an observer and a festival addict, the latter in increasingly smaller doses. I've seen things change over the years, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Today, I prefer small over big, quality over quantity. But one thing has not changed and that is the festival spirit. I still see it in the hard core of the festival goers. They don't care about terrorists. They are perfectly fine with drinking out of plastic cups and they can still break your nose if you decide to be a cunt. So no, the festi-feel is not dying. It still rages on in many of us and if anyone fucks with us to the point where we can no longer take it, we just start allover again somewhere else.