Hero guide to …music festivals for the over 40s
If you’ve spent the past 20 years or so watching the Glastonbury highlights from your sofa thinking “oh I’d love to go, but I’d rather be constipated than use a chemical loo” then listen up, yes, the toilets are grim, you’ll get soaked/cold/muddy and, if you do it right, you’ll limp home knackered..but don’t let this put you off, you’ll have the best time you’ve had for decades. Literally.
Here are my 8 tips for festival-going for the over 40’s:
Choose your festival carefully
I’d give Glastonbury a swerve and go for a smaller, less rowdy festival like Latitude in Suffolk instead. You have to walk bloody miles just to get from one side of Glastonbury festival to the other, but Latitude – while still pretty big – is only a quarter of the size, so far less exhausting. Plus, no-one’s going to laugh at your dad dancing at the likes of Latitude, where you’re far more likely to hear someone say “let’s get a nice Argentinian white to wash down this lobster roll” than “want some ket? “ (as in ketamine, as in horse tranquilizer, as in something teenagers take to get high. Don’t go there.) Leave festivals like Glastonbury and Reading to teenagers intent on getting stoned and a dose of chlamydia and find a more grown up an alternative.
I went to Latitude in summer 2018 and although the music line-up could have been better, it was a great weekend. The Killers, who headlined on a Saturday night, were almost worth the £200 entry fee alone, The Vaccines were great, Liam Gallagher did a ‘surprise’ set, and there was plenty of other stuff going on to make me feel like it was great value, such as live BBC recordings, stand-up comedy, ballet performances and dance acts. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t sleep in a field just to attend a live recording of Gardeners’ Question Time or QI, or to listen to a debate on feminism or the practicalities of driver-less cars, but it’s great to mooch around and have lots of events to dip in and out of.
This is essential because you’re going to glamp not camp, right? If you’re up for pitching a tent in a field and sleeping on a blow-up mattress, I salute you, but ask yourself this, do you really want to sleep in the middle of thousands of noisy festival-goers, queue for a shower in the morning and queue for a stinky loo – and do that for several days in a row? And it’s really not necessary because most festival organisers have cottoned on to the fact that middle-aged, middle-class people like us will pay through the nose to sleep in pre-erected tents, yurts, tee-pees and Airstreams if they also provide clean showers and flushing toilets, but the glamping options sell out fast so you need to be on the festival sites as soon as the tickets go on sale.
I should point out that not all glamping options are that swish. At Latitude, I slept in a ‘pod’(£600 for 2 for 4 nights) that was slightly bigger than a garden tool shed, the bed was an uncomfortable blow-up mattress on a narrow wooden shelf, and the other sheds were so close I could hear the occupants breathing. Also, I still had to brush my teeth in a communal trough (there were no individual sinks), which would have been fine if a woman hadn’t decided to use the trough to wash her feet at the same time.
If you are going to glamp, I’d recommend booking a tee-pee, which are roomier than the pods, or go the whole hog and book an Airstream campervan (if you have the cash).
Leave your smartphone at home
There’s no point bringing it, you’ll hardly ever get a reception in a field in the middle of nowhere with thousands of other people all draining what is probably very limited 3G capability anyway.
However, trying to find your friends at a festival without a phone is like trying to spot Where’s Wally in the middle of Oxford Street on a busy Saturday in the summer, so instead, make sure your whole party are equipped with old-school mobiles, which have a much better chance of picking up a signal. I bet you’ve got at least one of those old brick phones left around from the noughties. Get a universal card holder to stick your SIM in and use that instead. Another advantage of these phones is that the batteries last forever, so no need to worry about finding a charging point, although don’t worry, posh festivals have lots of charging points.
Wear walking boots or trainers, not sandals or flipflops
If it’s not muddy, it will be dusty. Very, very dusty. The dusty will get everywhere and, if you wear sandals or flipflops, you’ll never get your feet clean (see trough comment above). Also, your toes risk getting tramped on. And you’ll want comfy shoes because of all the walking you’ll have to do (see above). When it’s wet, take wellies (obviously), but not wedge wellies, they were an aberration if ever there was one.
Take woolly socks, woolly hats and warm sweaters
Even in the summer, even in the middle of a heatwave, it can get chilly at festivals when the sun goes down, so if you want to be partying till sunrise, be prepared to wrap up. While some of the entertainment is in marques, you’ll be spending much of the night outdoors, and sleeping under the stars can also be a bit nippy with just some nylon or a thin bit of plywood between you and the elements.
And camping chairs, picnic rugs and wet wipes
Unless you want to sit on the grass, mud or dust, you’ll need to bring your own camping chair – nice for sitting outside the tent when you need to take a breather – and a picnic rug – good for when you’re watching some comedy, a debate, or claiming your spot for a gig that doesn’t start for another six hours. Will you look like an old duffer? Probably, but at 40-plus you can’t afford to sacrifice comfort for cool. And at middle-class festivals like Latitude, you’ll blend in nicely. Got some red trousers and a green sweater? Even better.
I also recommend bringing wet wipes as there are few places to wash your hands and you don’t want to come home with e-coli. If you forget, don’t worry, there’ll probably be a shop on site, or even a supermarket – a Waitrose even, if you’re lucky – stocked with all essentials.
And lots and lots of money
I wouldn’t recommend cooking your own meals at a festival because a/ you’ll be very close to hundreds of highly flammable tents and b/washing up on site is a chore and a half, so you’ll need to buy breakfast, lunch and dinner, which will be very, very pricey. At some festivals you might be able to get a cheap burger and fries, but they are not my kind of festival. My kind of festival is where you can get smashed avocado on a giant crumpet for breakfast, a burger with truffle mayo for lunch and Pad Thai noodles and a Chianti for dinner, none of which will be cheap. I paid £8 for a tray of (very decent) noodles at Latitude; a pint was £6; a coffee was £3.
There will almost certainly be cashpoint machines on site, but if you don’t want to walk 10,000 steps every time you need some money, bring plenty. By plenty, I mean at least £100 a head, a lot more if you’re planning to party hard (the bars don’t close much before dawn).
Leave the kids at home
I personally wouldn’t want the added hassle of bringing young children to a music festival, even though some of them, like Latitude, are as child-friendly as it’s possible to be in a field blasting out ear-deafening music and serving alcohol from lunchtime till 3am. There are just too many people, you’ll spend the price of a small car on over-priced ice-creams, milkshakes and churros just to keep them happy, and I really don’t see the point of taking children to a gig then sticking ear-defenders on them so they can’t hear the music.
Of course, lots of people do take small children to festivals. I’ve seen young mums dragging prams through muddy fields at Glastonbury. My friends take theirs to Latitude. I think they’re mad. Apart from anything else, they cramp your style and stop you behaving like a kid yourself, which is the whole point of going to a festival.
That said, if you’ve got teenagers who think you’re cool, a music festival is a great bonding experience. It’s lovely seeing generations hanging out together, although the youngsters tend to roam around in packs of other teenagers most of the time. Just for the record, my kids wouldn’t be seen dead with me at a music festival, I’m so not cool.
Can you recommend a festival for grown-ups? Give me a shout!
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