Or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love not going to festivals
There comes a time in every ageing hipster’s life when they gaze deep into the black, fetid abyss that used to be their soul and are confronted with some bleak and undeniable realities. And after over two decades of being breathlessly excited about live music and the glorious shared sense of community it creates, I am now forced to face the grim truth that so many of my contemporaries have already accepted:
I am over music festivals.
It started small, as these things always do: the long, stinky drive after five days surrounded by overenthusiastic young people at my last Splendour in the Grass convinced me that, at my age, most camping festivals were a bridge (and a car journey) too far. My deep love for Meredith and Golden Plains was preserved only by the existence of the Rochester, their premier tent village with camp beds and structures one can stand within. I determined that the only time I will ever sleep on the ground again will be when I lapse into unconsciousness from the eventual stroke that will one day kill me.
But camping festivals are fair enough, surely? There are still local events, after all.
You’d think so, but it turns out that the move away from camping was the thin edge of the wedge. After missing last Splendour – and even giving last Meredith a miss – it was so, so easy to also miss Homebake, or Parklife, or Big Day Out, or even Laneway. There were always other younger, more excited writers eager to go in my stead, and I could even make it appear to be a noble decision by playing the veteran graciously handing the torch to a new generation of music journalists, rather than the more accurate 40 year old plumping for air conditioning and a night in.
In any case, festivals mainly mean summer and I accepted a long time ago that I couldn’t wear shorts in public without looking like I was trying to look like those Hip Dads I see at markets of a weekend, where the faded You Am I tee is somewhat undercut by the ergonomic Scholl's sandals and baby sling. It’s a look that’s not represented at your typical music fest. In fact, nowadays I attend Dinosaur Jr, Yo La Tengo and Hold Steady gigs less for the music and more for the momentary relief of being surrounded by my people: the bespectacled, greying, beardy, tired-looking people who check their phones before the encore and calculate how much sleep they’ll get before work tomorrow.
And I can accept that, because most festivals are not designed for me. No-one looks at the Shore Thing line-up and goes, "Well, it’s OK, I guess…but could really do with some superannuated indie bands that no-one much cared for in the '90s or have heard of since.”
But the inaugural I'll Be Your Mirror festival in Altona, Melbourne, this February had a two-day line-up that was right slap bang in my demographic sweet spot (My Bloody Valentine! Drones! Godspeed You Black Emperor!). And even so, after two days I yearned for the sweet relief that only death will bring. I should add that this attitude was enhanced by the fact that I’d torn my calf muscle the day before the festival, an injury that the perky physio I consulted assured me was “not uncommon among older people”. Thanks a bunch, Dr Teenager.
Aside from limping around in the heat like some sort of hipster Igor, the final realisation that festivals and I were probably done with one another came as I wrote the first draft of my review of the event and it dawned on me that I’d just spent two paragraphs complaining about the weather.
Because obviously the forces of nature are under the promoter’s control, and in any case who’d have thought it might be hot at an Australian festival in February?
I’m turning into my grandfather.
Fortunately, so are a lot of other people I know. In fact, I knew more than a few people that came to IBYM from Adelaide and Sydney, and who had paid for plane fares and accommodation and the like, that still bailed on the second day altogether. One friend of mine lasted all of about three hours before deciding that expenses be damned, he was going to find a bar to prop up instead.
And given that this is a festival that is catering specifically for an older crowd (I’d say the average age was early-to-mid-thirties), that’s a sobering message to send to those looking to put on a festival: it doesn’t matter how good a line-up you put together or how many extras you tack on, if the weather’s unpleasant and it’s a hassle to get to and from the site, people my age are going to bitch and moan as though the event is a teenager riding its skatey-board on the footpath in front of their house all the goddamn day.
That being said: see you at Golden Plains next month.
Maybe bring me some extra cushions.