From packing your bags to pitching your tent - this comprehensive guide contains everything you could possibly need to know about the UK music festival scene. So grab a warm beer, sit down on the muddy grass and let's talk about festivals...
Which festival to choose?
We're pretty lucky in the UK, in that we're spoilt for choice when it comes to music festivals. There are so many however, that it can be daunting when you have to choose which one is the right one for you. Ask yourself these questions before you commit;
What's the line up like?
Is your favourite band going? How much do those bands charge on their personal tour? Do they even tour in the UK?
Where are your friends going? Where will you meet like-minded new friends? What kind of people go there?
How much does it cost? Can you pay in instalments? How much is food and drink there?
How far is it from home? Will you have to get a train there and back? Can you drive? Are you trying to lessen your carbon footprint?
Festivals are definitely a personal preference and something which is fun for one person might not be the right choice for another. Try watching some videos or footage from past festivals and see which ones get your heart racing. If you're unsure where to start - take a look at these popular festivals;
Reading & Leeds
Isle of Wight
T in the Park
Radio One's Big Weekend
We are FSTVL
Secret Garden Party
Big or small?
Bigger festivals tend to be more expensive not only for tickets, but also food and drink once you're inside. They might be more 'commercial' and have more rules to abide by, but they do pull in the big names and will always have lots going on to entertain you. You'll get that unique feeling that can only come from standing in the middle of a crowd with thousands of others singing along to your favourite tunes.
Saying that, don't completely write off the smaller festivals! Some of the best times we've had have been watching local bands in a council estate playing field. Charity run festivals and tribute acts can be really great fun as well as raise money for a good cause. We find these festivals have a more personal feel to them. Other pros include not having to walk miles, loads of space for camping, friendly for young children, hanging with the bands and supporting local artists. Smaller festivals in their infancy can cancel if they don't sell enough tickets or run out of money; so choose carefully.
We couldn't possibly list all the festivals on this blog, so here's a couple of our favourite go-to websites which list the known festivals in both UK and the rest of the world;
If you're still unsure about which festival is right for you, then just choose one! As long as you're ready to relax and meet new people you're bound to have a great time whoever you go.
Packing and preparing
This is where the festival fever really begins!
'What should I pack?' is one of the most commonly asked questions by festival first-timers. We've done enough events in our lifetime to have learned the most important rule the hard way; PACK LIGHT. Did you get that? Just in case you missed it, here it is again;
PACK VERY FUCKING LIGHT.
We aren't joking. Upon arriving at the festival you'll most likely be dragging your supplies for up to 2 miles, quite possibly through queues of other eager party goers and almost definately through inches of already sloppy mud. Don't even think about bringing a suitcase; those flimsy wheels won't last a minute. Pack only what you know you will need, and if you are travelling with a group, collaborate and share some common items so you avoid taking duplicates. Hiking or backpacking bags work really well for festivals. Anything big, bulky, awkward or heavy doesn't.
Some festival goers can be seen with trolleys, wheelbarrows, flatbeds and even council bins loaded up with gear. While it seems like a good idea, we've found the wheels get full of grass and mud making them hard to move and eventually they break, leaving you to carry everything by hand. If you really don't want to pack light - most of the bigger festivals offer a 'wheelbarrow for hire,' service where you can pay a deposit, use the wheelbarrow to lug your essentials to your pitch and then return it.
We've got this far into a festival guide and we haven't mentioned beer yet? What kind of monsters are we?! Well, our best beer tip is to buy it at the festival when you arrive. There are shops and bars in most campsites who offer crates at not much more than you'd be buying them for in ASDA anyway, plus, they're cold and ready to drink! Sure, you're paying a couple of quid extra, but you will be saving yourself an injury lugging those heavy crates and you'll thank us when you're sat sipping your ice-cold tinny laughing at the poor souls doing their third trip to the car. You can't even take them into the arena anyway. Well, not unless you're really good at disguising suspicious bulges in your trousers.
Ok, so now you know the most important rule it's time to talk about the essentials. We've already established that beers aren't one of them, (neither is anything glass, drugs, weapons, fireworks and obviously dangerous stuff like that) but what should you bring? Personal preference varies, but here's our list of packing essentials;
- Festival ticket
- Tent, poles, tent pegs and sleeping bag (Yep, we're gonna go for the obvious here!)
- A water bottle (you can refill it for free at water points around the festival)
- Wellies (and welly liners?)
- Toilet roll (also known as white gold at festivals, don't lend the entire roll out if you would like to see it again)
- Anti-bacterial hand gel (because; portaloos)
- Wet weather clothes (something waterproof is a must, even if it's just a bin bag)
- Warm weather clothes (prepare for a heatwave or torrential downpour - both are likely)
- Suntan lotion (sunburn at a festival is the number one complaint in the medical tent... come on guys!)
- Toiletries (toothbrush et al)
- Babywipes (strictly toiletries, but these are so handy they deserve a mention of their own!)
- Earplugs (so you don't have to lie awake and listen to the drunk guy calling for his mates at 4am)
- Prescriptions and medical info if you need them (Hayfever medication and Paracetamol, anyone?)
- Something with a light to find your tent at night (We were going to write torch, but then realised it was 2017, so, a phone?)
- ID (Required for buying alcohol on site and picking up tickets)
- Money/cards (Festival ATMs almost always charge fees and have huge queues - so bring enough cash to last)
- A plastic bag or bin bags (these magical inventions aren't just for your camp rubbish! Wear them in the rain, pack your dirty clothes and wellies in them and use them to carry items about in the day)
- Contraceptives (insert rude joke here)
You could just bring the essentials and wing it for the rest of the way, but we usually take a little extra to make our experience more comfortable. In addition to the list above, you should also consider taking;
- Food and snacks. We highly recommend trying out the delicious selection of festival food stalls, but if you need to pack a few midnight snacks, make sure they're easy to open without a can opener and don't require heating or refrigeration.
- A phone and a portable battery charger. Although most festivals offer on-site charging, they usually cost and do you really want to be stood at a stall charging your phone while your mates are off having fun? We didn't think so.
- A towel. There are on site showers, but even more likely is getting caught in the rain. Not only can you dry yourself after a downpour, but a towel can be doubled as a pillow, mop up leaks in your tent and keep you warm when the temperature drops at night! Microfibre towels dry fast and are light too.
- Bug repellant. You might be unfamiliar with the great big wilderness in the UK, but yes, we have mosquitos in the summer. Bug spray or those cool inventions that repel little, bitey things can keep you sane. Just remember; it's their home you're invading, so try not to go on a killing rampage and leave nature how you found it.
- Ziplock bags. When it rains (not if!) pop your electronics into ziplock bags to keep them dry.
- Camp marker. Anyone who has camped in the middle of 10,000 other tents will understand this one. Flags, bright colours or even inflatables are all great ways to spot your tent in a crowded field.
- An airbed. If you don't mind the extra weight, airbeds can turn that hard, cold ground into a decent night sleep. Just remember the rule that everyone forgets; pump it up TWICE. Once when you arrive, and then again before you sleep.
There are on-site traders and shops selling just about everything you could need, even though they usually charge a little extra for the privilege.
There's nothing that kills your buzz better than sitting in traffic for 4 hours. Why not catch a train if there's a station within walking / taxi distance? Some coach companies offer great deals on festival trips - check out National Express for example. It's kinder to the environment and a lot less stressful. We advise finding out the peak travel times for your chosen festival, then going a lot earlier or later to avoid the rush. Consider car-sharing to not only reduce traffic but also save on car-parking fees, some of which can be up to £25 per car. Ouch! If you do plan to arrive early, just remember that you might be sat waiting in your car before the gates officially open.
Pro tip: Make sure you've got breakdown insurance BEFORE setting off. We can't count the number of times we've seen broken down festival-goers on the side of the road, or cars stuck in the field's mud spinning their wheels endlessly.
Woohoo! You've finally arrived! The party starts here! Crack open the beer and get ready to...walk for 2 miles? As we mentioned earlier, you're gonna be walking from your car all the way to the allocated camping field, possibly multiple times. If you packed light like we suggested above, then you'll be fine, but that is only half the struggle. Now you've got to set up your tent! Here's our top ten tips for pitching once you've arrived.
1. Get there early enough to find a space.
The fields fill up fast, and unless you're happy pitching at the furthest end on your own, try to get there relatively early to pick the prime spots. The best spaces tend to be closer to the arena and not too far from the walkway. We'd also suggest avoiding an area near the toilets - for obvious reasons.
2. Take a small tent
This is where those light, pop-up style tents come in very handy. No messing about, just find a small space, whack some tent pegs in and hey presto! Time for a beer.
2. Practice at home
You might feel silly, but this is a great tip - especially for new tents. Once you master it, you can better judge the amount of space you need and what pole goes where. Then you can spend the rest of your day laughing at helping everyone else struggling.
2. Share with friends
If there's a group of you, invest or borrow a tent big enough for you all. Less tents to setup means more time to party and it makes your weekend much more fun to share your camp with friends! Try to bring a tent that is the smallest size for what you need - so don't bring a ten-man tent if there's only 3 of you. It takes up space that others may need.
2. Do it properly as soon as you arrive
It is so tempting to chuck your gear down and have a rest, but every time we've ever done this, we've not gone back to the tent until it's dark and / or raining and spent twice as long setting up. Even worse, is rushing the job to go and party, and then your tent falling down while you're sleeping inside later on. It's not fun, believe us.
Ok, you've set up - now it's time to party!
Funds and finance
We understand that festivals can be pretty are pricey. In fact, some festivals are more expensive than going abroad for an all-inclusive holiday! However a good festival experience is totally worth it. Bring enough cash with you to avoid long queues at the ATM, but don't carry so much with you that you risk losing it or having it stolen. Bring a card or two as a back-up in case of emergencies, and invest in a money belt to keep everything safe. There are plenty of ways to save money too - it just depends on your budget.
Eat filling foods. The food at festivals can be expensive, so choose things that will keep you fuller for longer like Jacket Potatoes or curries with rice so you're not blowing your budget on food multiple times per day. Fill your pockets with power bars and snacks to much on in-between meals.
Bring a water bottle to fill up. All festivals will have at least one water point where you can fill a bottle with drinking water for free. Apart from being essential for keeping you hydrated, it means you don't have to keep buying soft drinks at the stalls.
Bring a waterproof coat. When the heavens open, and they will, everyone will dash to the nearest stall to buy an over-priced and low-quality disposable poncho. Buy one off eBay beforehand then bring it with you (they fit in your pocket!) and save your money for important things like beer. Or bring a good quality, light and waterproof coat. They may not look the nicest but they certainly get the job done.
Sign up to deals and offers before you go. We learnt this trick at V festival in 2004; signing up to a mailing list for Virgin before going to the festival gave you a code which could be exchanged for half price beers all weekend. Oh, how we loved those codes! Since then we've found money off from the traders and stalls by following them on Facebook, free phone charging points, free festival apps and even free tickets by entering competitions! It pays to do your homework, is what we're saying here.
Recycle your beer cups. How do you make thousands of drunk people pick up their litter after themselves? Pay them of course! Download, Leeds festival, Reading festival and V festival have all offered this at one time or another. It might only be 5p per cup, but those 5ps soon add up into more beer money, wayhey!
Volunteer. Pay for your ticket with an agency, then as long as you turn up for your allotted shifts the company will refund the money meaning you have been to the festival for free. A great way to save money if you don't mind a few hours work. Try out these websites if you're interested; HOTBOX EVENTS / PAAM / FESTAFF
Don't buy a programme. Downloading the official app for your festival on iOS or Google Play is a great way to find out information such as line-ups, area maps and schedule changes in real-time without having to pay for a programme when you arrive. As expected though, it may mean that your battery runs out faster. In which case we'd recommend purchasing one programme between a group of friends, or alternatively (and this is my favourite) accost a passer by and borrow their programme to memorise your favourite band times! Just don't forget to say thank you after you've given it back.
Go back to your tent during the day. If you've got a gap in bands during the day, use the time to walk back to camp and heat up some food for the group instead of paying for food at the stalls. You can even have a few drinks while you're there to save money on beers too.
Festivals are magical places where hundreds or thousands of strangers all come together to share their love of music. Ask any of them and they'll all tell you the same thing; it's about so much more than just the music. It's the experience and the chance to escape real life for the weekend. We've seen high class lawyers run around half naked in ridiculous costumes and young teens socialise with elderly hippies.
With that in mind, if you want to enjoy yourself and let loose, you should remember a few important things. It doesn't just improve your festival weekend, but the experience of those around you.
Be kind to others.
While it would be nice if this didn't have to be first on the list, there's always one who thinks their fun is more important than everyone else's. Having a fun time shouldn't be at the expense of others, so be polite, kind and considerate at all times. That includes turning your music down at midnight and not urinating on places where others might sit.
Don't peak too soon!
This is a common mistake, and can we blame you? You're excited, happy and having fun! But drinking all day, especially in the sun can soon catch up with you and before you know it you'll be in the foetal position on the floor of a portaloo while your mates are rocking out in front of Metallica. Don't say we didn't warn you. Drink plenty of water between alcohol and remember to eat too!
Be open to meeting new people
Festivals are where lifelong friendships are formed. It's the ideal place to meet people outside your usual bubble of friends, so don't be afraid to chat and join in with the infectious party atmosphere. Even more so with your camp neighbours, you're going to be in close proximity with them for the next few days, so get to know them and the benefits are obvious; someone to watch your camp while you're not there, someone to lend you a teabag or a spoon and a some fresh conversation while you drink the night away.
Prepare for any weather, and don't get upset when it rains
It could be sunny and dry all week with glorious predictions on your weather app, but you know in your heart of hearts what will really happen... it will rain! The best thing you can do, aside from being prepared with wellies and waterproofs is to suck it up and embrace it. Don't let the wet weather damped your spirits and nothing can get you down! Your outlook is everything. After all, it's only water.
Get a good night sleep
It's difficult to call it a night when you're having such a good time, but when the first bands kick off at 11am the next day, you're going to need a decent night sleep if you want to party all over again. Getting a solid 7 hours or more will give you the extra energy boost needed to get through the next day. If you're running on empty, you might have to take a time out and miss a bit of the action to catch up with the Z's. Lame!
Watch out for thieves
Tents aren't exactly the most secure homes you can sleep in. You can never protect yourself against thieves and wrong 'guns 100% - but you can deter them if you think smart. Don't leave anything valuable in your tent while you're not there - if it doesn't go in your pocket - don't take it! Additionally, don't put padlocks on your tent. While it seems like a good idea, thieves will presume there's something worth stealing inside and slash through the material instead.
Wherever you are at the festival, take note of the nearest points of importance. Notably the first aid tent, the police and stewards, the fire exits and meeting points. Hopefully you'll never have to use them, but you can never be too sure. We always agree on a significant place to meet if we all get lost. Don't rely on calling your festival buddies as these events are notorious for having bad signal.
Look out for your friends and make sure they look out for you. Similarly if you see someone whose had a few too many and is struggling to walk, lend them a kind hand. Wouldn't you want the same if you were in trouble?
And finally, if you plan on doing any illegal drugs, understand that festivals are not exempt from the law and if the police catch you they could prosecute you in the same way as outside the festival. If you really insist on taking drugs still, make sure you;
Tell a close friend exactly what you've taken and when Never accept drugs or open drinks from strangers Don't take new drugs or more than you've ever taken before Don't endanger others with your drugs by leaving them around Seek medical help if you feel unwell
Some festivals offer drug-testing services so you can see exactly what you're taking. It's a great idea and one that can save lives - so take advantage if you can.
All in all, festivals are really safe places where you can relax and have fun, but there will always be some bad eggs wherever you go. Keep your wits about you and if you do get so inebriated that you can't walk - head to the first aid or Samaritan tent where a friendly face will look after you until you're ready to leave.
Watching the bands
Festivals are a great place for music because everything feels so much more awesome out in the open air. Think bigger, better and louder! Of course, you now have to contend with 50,000 other people who want to be in front of you. Take a gander at our top tips for watching bands at festivals.
1. Research the bands before you go
Here's where Spotify can really come into it's own. Before the big weekend try and listen to some of the bands you're not familiar with. If you've got a band you really love, brush up on their back catalogue for the ultimate sing-a-long!
2. Have a plan, then be prepared to abandon it
I hate to say this but, there's gonna be some clashes. Have a good idea of bands you cannot miss, bands you wouldn't mind catching and bands you'd rather miss to get some food. Then try not to worry too much if things get cancelled or plans get changed - be flexible! Can you watch half of one set and half of another? If you get bored do you know who is next on your list?Don't underestimate how long it takes to walk from one stage to the other, too!
3. See someone new
In 2010 we were waiting patiently for Alkaline Trio when Mute Math came on stage. Realising we were at the wrong tent, we decided to stick it out, and were we glad we did! Mute Math are now one of our favourite bands to go and see at festivals. Some of the biggest bands today started their festival careers opening up the small tents first thing in the morning. Try and see a few unknown newbies and you might discover someone you really love. Plus you can get to the front and hold your beer without spilling it - well worth it!
4. Hey! No pushing!
Violently pushing through the crowd isn't just rude, it's dangerous! You might not care if you get a bruise or two but younger kids, people with disabilities and a lot of others can be hurt easier than you think. A nice smile and 'Excuse me please!' parts the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea. Besides, pushing and shoving only leads to spilled drinks - and that is definately NOT welcomed at festivals. Another tip? If you can see someone is trying to get out, stand to one side and give them room. It will get them out of your way faster and is much nicer than watching them struggle to get past you.
5. If you lose your friends, don't worry
Talk to your friends beforehand so if you lose each other you know where to meet. Even if you do manage to save some battery and find some signal, it's difficult to explain where you are so if you do lose them, don't spend the whole gig getting frustrated and angry by stomping around in a circle. Enjoy the band alone and chances are you'll bump into them when you're not looking anyway!
6. Getting to the front
The front is the holy grail for hardcore fans, but it takes dedication. Headliners will have fans flooding the front well before their set is due to begin, so if you want to be close enough to touch Ozzy's feet - you better be there at least an hour before. The rule doesn't apply so much to the smaller, more independent festivals. Instead of pushing through hundreds of bodies, consider walking round the outside of the crowd and cut in the front when you're as close as you need to be. The sides to the front of the stage are often pretty empty due to the speakers blocking the view, so it's a great place to sneak in. We will warn you now though; make sure you empty your bladder before you get settled. You've potentially got tens of thousands of people between you and the portaloos and you might not make it back in time!