How to Survive a Music Festival Now You’re Old

Festivals are back. Good luck to anyone who feels like they've aged a million years during the pandemic.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
Emma Garland
London, GB
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
KH
photos by Kit Harwood
Woman smiling in hammock at a festival
All photos: Kit Harwood

Ageing is often a matter of understanding your ever-increasing limitations and adapting accordingly. Commune living might’ve worked for you after uni, but now you like having a clean tray in the fridge for those little cheese cubes from M&S and meditating without having to overhear 24-year-olds having blazing rows. Maybe being an insomniac weed-loving gamer was an acceptable lifestyle before Father Time came to smash you over the head with his scythe, but now you’ve got a mortgage or kids or an actual career that needs your attention. Rarely is this need to adapt your favourite activities and act your age more pressing than when it comes to festivals.

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The quintessential festival weekend for a young person typically involves a chaotic set menu of at least three different class A drugs, a beer bong, wet wipes, a couple of periphery crews of mates from college and forgetting to pack a pillow. It means destroying your body and soul and spending the next afternoon recovering slightly just to go back into the trenches all over again. It’s a pure endurance exercise designed by madheads. It also just sounds like a lot when you’re pushing 30 and nursing an anxiety disorder.

If you feel spiritually unable to turn away from the festi vibes, you’re not alone. We went to Green Man Festival 2021 weathered and rank from the global pandemic with the intention of learning how to do this as almost-olds. Despite the fact that at least one of us cried and swore off ever putting anything that wasn’t Goop-approved in our bodies ever again, we more or less succeeded in working out how to do this sustainably. Join us in festivalling as old bitches:  

GETTING THERE

Two festival attendees entering Green Man 2021

Two ticketholders entering Green Man 2021.

Remember when going to festivals meant either trying desperately to procure an impossible, gold-dust, possibly made-up “coach ticket”, or getting two trains and a shuttle bus while trying to carry a hiking backpack and a tent without falling over? Not so anymore. Now you are old you can simply load up the car, cruise down the motorway and stop once an hour at the services for a piss because your bladder, like the rest of your post-pandemic body, has degraded. 

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Service stations themselves are the sort of thing you start caring about more as you age: We spent quite a long time before our journey trying to find one with the best combination of outlets and refusing any that didn’t house a Greggs (pro tip: having a Greggs on the way to any festival, or indeed anywhere at all, feels like an important thing to do). I also caught myself savouring my final service station wee, knowing it would be my last in a real toilet for many days, and then I also caught myself romanticising it later as I sat on a long drop in wellies. Dear lord, Jane. 

CAMPING

A badly erected tent at Green Man 2021

You camping in your early 20s.

Airbeds, chairs with cup holders, sensible footwear, a little bag containing a witch’s assortment of Nurofen, antihistamines, IBS medication and Berocca. These will be your essentials as an Old at a festival, when comfort will suddenly become more of a priority than making sure you’ve got a decent assortment of body glitter and wigs. Nothing to do with losing your youthful sense of joie de vivre, it’s just if you fail to pack all these things you won’t be able to stand up.

Spew at Green Man 2021

Some spew.

The older you get, the more of an “event” camping becomes. You can’t just rock up with a backpack full of pants and feel fine about it as long as you’ve got a bit of fabric to pass out in with your feet sticking out the door. You have to think about shit like bringing a head torch in case you need to rummage for a hit of Night Nurse in the dark without stepping on a stripe of spew that isn’t yours outside your tent.

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FOOD

Mac and cheese food stall at Green Man 2021

A mac and cheese stall.

Gone are the days of bringing a box of cereal bars and one carton of orange juice to a festival and somehow making them last for four days, like Christ feeding the 5,000. Unfortunately you can no longer physically be roused from your sagging air mattress without the promise of a latte, and while you’re waiting at the stall, feeling like death, you see that they’re also selling egg and bacon brioche buns. In your hungover state, despite being 28, you think: ‘Yes… baby deserves a treat’, and order one. Fifteen pounds later, you get misty-eyed and wonder what your teen self, who once subsisted at Reading Festival on a single burger, would say about you now. 

A katsu rice bowl at Green Man 2021

A really good value katsu, actually.

Basically, being old at festivals means you actually buy stuff from the food stalls rather than queuing up, balking at the prices and deciding to have a warm Guinness (basically a roast dinner) out of the tent instead. You say things like “This katsu is actually really good value”, and while you may once have prided yourself on your straight-through crew ability, that ability now solely depends on the ease of your access to a tray of chips. Sad to see, but important to remember, lest you find yourself drooping at 3AM because you need a churro.

SHOWERING 

People walking through mud at Green Man 2021

Festival showers are a nice idea.

As teenage dirtbags, we always thought growing up that festival showers were just there as a nice idea, a vague suggestion, but ultimately a faff and a waste of time. Who can be arsed to stand in a 200-person deep queue hungover in the sun for a freezing wash just out of some misguided sense of shame. Not us! It’s not like anyone can remember to bring shampoo, a hair mask and shower gel anyway. Basically: If you aren’t going to shag – which, at a festival is pungent and ill-advised – what is the point of making sure your intimate areas didn’t smell like a lukewarm buffet?

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The good life now means that wet wipe showers are childish and unfathomable. Our bodies are literally decaying at a wild rate and we need a full-body cleanse daily to wash away the dust and detritus. It’s time to bring an actual toiletries bag with almost everything you use at home and at least one towel. The festival showers, we realise, are for us. 

BOOZE

Two VICE journalists holding up cocktails at Green Man 2021

Two old bitches.

Two things to note, regarding “getting pissed” – a significant aspect, if not the singular purpose, of attending a festival.

1 –  If you’ve been doing festivals since your teens, your default instinct will be to stop at a Big Supermarket on the way, buy two 24 crates of something cheap and play a game of “wreckheads Buckaroo” lugging them to the campsite for the purpose of saving money. This ritual will go uncontested until you hit your late 20s, at which point you have no choice but to move on and accept, with whatever’s left of your dignity, that you are too clapped.

You physically can’t drink 12 lagers a day every day anymore like you used to, so there’s that. Equally, there comes a point where you would rather pay £6 for a freshly poured pint that tastes nice rather than drinking the cans of piss you brought from home that have spent the last three days slowly being brought to a boil by your tent. The Monday morning is emotional enough as it is, don’t make it worse by having to abandon a bunch of perfectly good Dark Fruits you couldn’t stomach because you went too hard on the first day.

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A glass of Berocca at Green Man 2021

A sumptuous Berocca. You will need this.

2 – Before accepting this, you will try to drink the 48 cans of piss anyway. You will then feel buggered, and based on your more recent experiences of “staying at the pub an hour longer than you should have, feeling sorry for yourself and doing a three-hour brunch the next day”, the only cure is to queue 45 minutes (or as long as it takes) for a Bloody Mary spicy enough to push the mistakes out of your pores and arse.

THE MUSIC

A person in a raincoat watching music at Green Man 2021

You now stand politely towards the back on the left, nodding along to the riffs.

The reason, of course, why we are all purportedly at festivals, is to commune in front of bands and rock out. The act of doing so changes as you get older – whereas in your teens you’d camp out for hours before a set to get to the front and maybe touch the hand of someone in a band, you now stand politely towards the back on the left, nodding along to the riffs, and saying to your mate, “The sound’s not very good.”

As a kid, I used to race around the stages like a Ferrari, urgently checking my lanyard for clashes and planning who I’d see with the precision of a military operation. Now I’m as knackered as a crap old car and genuinely considered bringing my camping chair so I could sit down at the Thundercat set. It will come for you too, children.