NME columnist Mark Beaumont is finally approaching the end of a summer stuffed with festivals. Not all it's cracked up to be, apparently.
Tucker Gumber likes to be known as The Festival Guy. After losing his psychedelic cider and long drop virginity at Colorado’s Snowfall festival in 2011, the 34-year-old Coloradan sold his house, quit his job, put on a sparkly top hat and dedicated his life to travelling the world to fest around the clock. In seven years he’s been to 135 festivals around the world, carrying everything he owns – largely consisting, judging by the photographs of him, of wet-wipes, phone chargers, giant bluebottle wings and a variety of waistcoats that could double as Rorschach tests designed to root out the deviant genetic disposition to juggling – in one very airport-unfriendly suitcase. He’s racked up over 400 days of festival antics, even flying in and out of friends’ weddings mid-Coachella.
I write from the shuttle bus from Bangor train station to Festival No 6, or ‘the office’ as I’ve dubbed all festival shuttle buses, since they’re the only place I’ve had the chance to do any work since May. As one of Britain’s most sought-after festival reviewers (i.e. the only national music journalist prepared to camp at Download) I’ve lost count of the number of festivals I’ve been to in 2018. Every summer becomes a three-month blur of dusty paella, sleepless nights listening to industrially drunk A -level students shouting “shalom Jackie!”, 12-pound ‘Beaumonts’ (a specialist festival cocktail I’ve invented, consisting of two glasses of red wine in a paper pint cup) and Circa Waves. My dreams are haunted by the distant, fuzzy sound of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, everything I own smells faintly of woodchip and I am at least 60 per cent falafel. You might think that Tucker’s lucked into the perfect lifestyle; I’m here to tell you he’s jiving his way deep into a living nightmare, and his sparkly fucking top hat wouldn’t survive five minutes in a good old-fashioned Bestival tsunami.
“My dreams are haunted by the distant, fuzzy sound of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, everything I own smells faintly of woodchip and I am at least 60 per cent falafel.”
Now I can’t exactly complain about my summer lot. I’ve been served cocktails on a VIP balcony overlooking The Killers’ set at Rock In Rio. I’ve watched Ezra Furman rock a barnyard on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. I’ve mingled with legions of Aladdins at the Bali Spirit yoga festival and supped tequila-infused lager atop a shimmering guest bar made of CDs watching Arctic Monkeys in Poland. It didn’t sell Beaumonts.
It has, by and large, been brilliant. But there comes a point in every season when the fun runs out. It’s usually when the first splash of ‘mystery rain’ hits, or when you find yourself, very much against your wishes, watching Bruno Mars for the third time in as many weeks. No matter how exotic the locale, you come to realise, you’re still in a field somewhere watching Circa Waves. Every weekend blends into the next, your internal workings begin to change from trying not to excrete for three days a week and you begin to envy the simple enthusiasm and abandonment of the everyday punter who’s paid £300 or so for their one festival of the year, has doused themselves head to toe in glitter for no discernible additional entertainment factor and is trying to squeeze out every penny of enjoyment that a Jessie Ware set has to offer (12 pence, it turns out). For them a silent disco in the woods is a once-a-year novelty full of wild times. For you, it’s hours of sleeplessness listening to the toneless gabbling of five hundred pissheads who, between them, only know four words of ‘Sex On Fire’.
By mid-August you begin to pine for those normal summer activities denied to the festival faithful like you. Barbecues. Impromptu trips to Edinburgh. Topless fights in Morrisons car parks. Eventually you even begin to lose touch with real life. I still think Bodyguard is a Kevin Costner film. Brexit could be going just fine, as far as I know. I’m reliably informed I have a six-month-old daughter.
Once you’ve reached that point – peak festival – every additional fest is a sweet torment. You’ve seen all the bands five times that summer already, festival hair has become a permanent medical condition and the vendors at Gourmet Botulism Burger are starting to serve you with a look of pity, as though they’re all gathering together to plan an intervention on behalf of Cholesterol Anonymous.
As any self-respecting compulsive masturbator will tell you, you can do anything too much. Trust me, your plan of hitting one or two festivals a year and going at them like Boris Johnson at an aide is the right way to do the summer. So I approach my final shuttle bus home of 2018 with the sense of release I suspect Brendan from Coach Trip feels as he wearily straps on a helmet and pretends to enjoy the last of his 2,178th zipwires of the series with a bunch of squealing morons for whom the idea of a one-day piss-up in Ibiza is their idea of Valhalla, an Arcadian holy grail of unmatchable fulfilment and self-worth. Is Coach Trip still a thing? I honestly wouldn’t know.
But as I clamber on the bus, dreaming of plumbed-in toilets that seem but a hazy mirage of ancient memory right now, I’ll no doubt think back over the best bits of the 2018 season – hanging out in a massive nest in the woods of Latitude, downing complimentary cider by the swimming pool overlooking Rock In Rio’s second stage, getting on the bus out of Download – and start looking forward to June 2019, eternally hooked. Tucker, brother, I feel your pain.