A love letter to Reading & Leeds Festival – and why it will forever hold a special place in this writer’s heart

The shindig, off until next year, is a rite of passage for British teens. Veteran Rhian Daly recalls vodka hangovers and kicking it with Arctic Monkeys

Over the last few months, Reading & Leeds has stood as our last true hope of maintaining at least a fragment of a normal summer. We’ve all been dreaming of necking warm, smuggled-in booze in fields while watching our favourite bands, making the last of freedom and sun before we’re back to being stuck inside a classroom or office day-in, day-out. As long as the twin festivals remained un-cancelled, we could kid ourselves that the coronavirus wouldn’t take everything we had to look forward to from under our noses.

Today, though, we have to admit the truth – Reading & Leeds will not happen this year. It’s been officially confirmed. Of course, this was inevitable and is the right move if we want to be able to return to some semblance of a “normal” festival season as soon as possible. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be sad about it, and right now we’re heartbroken.

Even when it doesn’t stand as a last bastion of fun in an otherwise terrifying year, Reading & Leeds is a beacon of possibility, of celebration. It’s a rite of passage for any British teen, falling hours after GCSE results are released. Regardless of how well you’ve done, that weekend marks the end of an era – one where adulthood is looming on the horizon and you need to start getting serious to follow the expected path of going to uni and/or getting a job.

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If Glastonbury is billed as a hippie utopia, then Reading & Leeds is a paradise for the feral. At times, it can feel like a lawless other-world. You imagine you’ll live like a Skins character for the weekend, partying ’til dawn. Instead you find yourself puking before sunset.

You spend two days in the campsite, before the music begins, drinking and… well, not doing a lot else. Then the arena gates open and music becomes the medicine for that colossal hangover you earned when you made the decision to finish the last of the White Lightning rather than let it go flat and boil under the sun.

Reading wasn’t my first festival, but it was the first one that I felt truly at home at. A day at the sleepy, tranquil Latitude did nothing for teenage me and my big chaotic energy. I was desperate to run wild, get fucked up and throw myself headfirst into the pit for The Maccabees, Jamie T and Kings Of Leon.

Richfield Avenue was a place of many firsts for me. It was the first time I met boys who could tell you the exact dates and for what Pete Doherty had been arrested (absolutely the biggest turn-on at the time). It was the first time I passed out from drinking too much; even when I woke up outside my tent in a pool of my own sick after drinking lime-flavoured vodka from a water bottle, feeling like someone was repeatedly booting me in both the skull and stomach, it didn’t come close to diluting my enthusiasm for the weekend.

I’ve crammed myself onto that packed-out train from Paddington every summer for the past 13 years. I’ve seen bands I never thought I would get close to, from Smashing Pumpkins to The Libertines. And the ones that meant the most to me, from The Strokes to  My Chemical Romance, have put on killer headline sets. Perhaps the greatest joy, though, has been watching the likes of Wolf Alice climb up the stages.

Over the summers there have been golden secret sets from massive bands such as Green Day (2012), Queens of the Stone Age (2017) and Jamie T, who, in 2014, returning from five years in the indie wilderness, put on a performance that felt like it could decimate the entire festival site. There was also the year when, working for this very publication, I was forced to stop watching Arctic Monkeys and schlep across the field to review long-forgotten electronic trio Nero. I have still not forgiven the parties involved in this.

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No, the festival isn’t perfect (there’s often criticism for a lack of gender balance on the line-up), but as a fantastical playground for youth and shirking the reality of adulthood – surely two of the very pillars of rock’n’roll – it stands as something unbeatable. Hopefully we’ll be able to return to Reading & Leeds next year, but no matter when it’s gates open again, it’ll be just as important, fun and chaotic. Pour one out on August 28th for your favourite bank holiday weekender.

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