Ok, so let’s just be honest here from the start: I am quite the festival junkie.
There is nothing more in this world that lifts my spirits higher than the festival experience or as it has come to be, the festival lifestyle.
I love camping in a tent for days (or weeks) in a remote and beautiful location that takes hours to find in the middle of nowhere. I love waking early to hit the dance floor when beats lure you out from your dream world to the ethereal world you are perched within.
I love the community that builds as the days progress and your neighbors become family; you share tea, sugar, earplugs and of course, cocktails come sunset or sunrise in many cases.
I love the freedom of festivals; the sense that anything is allowed and encouraged, you have permission to be yourself entirely, to be playful, to unleash your spirit, to live beyond the boundaries and controls that day to day life tends to impose.
I love the creativity of festivals; the art installations, the statues, the sculptures, the lighting displays, the quirky bits and pieces sporadically dotted around the site that help to make up the whole puzzle. I love the markets that offer a dazzling array of the most sought after festival attire and the food stalls that offer delicacies from all around the globe, from hangover brunches with the works to super food smoothies and acai bowls.
I love watching people in bliss as the music takes them on a journey within and beyond. I love the way that these experiences change people, open their eyes to a world that they felt must surely exist somewhere, but had finally sunk into. For many people, including me, it is a way of finding the path back home.
For years I had dreamed of jumping on the gypsy bandwagon to tour the English summer festivals. But up until this year the season came and went and I found myself in other locations, fulfilling other obligations, promising next year would be the one.
So when June arrived, without questioning the impulse, I packed my bags full of summer clothes and wild costumes and jumped on the plane, ready to meet the rolling green fields and English summer I had dreamed of.
My first week in London was all I had envisioned, with blue skies and sunshine and endless hours lazing in Hampstead Heath, picnics in Trafalgar Square, bike rides around the river Thames and cold ciders in busy outdoor pubs come evening. I was in love.
My English summer lasted exactly one week. Seven days of delusional bliss. And then, Mother Nature got a little confused and winter bit back with a vengeance. Rain fell incessantly for days on end and the summer clothes that filled my backpack became invisible underneath new stockings and woolen scarves, rainproof coats and thick socks. Boots were purchased, and then Wellies, and by then, I felt a like a true Londoner: grim faced and pasty, disheartened and sporting a perpetual frown.
The call to my first festival soon appeared. I sat in the flat I was staying in, watching the rain fall out the front window, the heating on high and cramming all my new winter clothes into waterproof bags with extra blankets, thermal underwear and hot water bottles.
I have to admit, moments of doubt fluttered across my mind and the temptation to soak in a hot bath and read yet another book with a pot of tea by my side danced in my mind irrefutably. But when push came to shove, this was why I was there, I had signed up for this ride, scrawled my name on the dotted line—so with umbrella in hand and wellies on foot I struggled to the tube station, feeding myself bites of encouragement with every step.
Low and behold, although the rain often felt like it continued for days without respite, it was also true that the English weather was likely to change every five minutes. Black clouds would part to reveal patches of blue. The gray would lift and the rain would pause, the sun would shine and then the gray would return.
I found early on in my festival experience that these moments of respite were what kept you trudging on; the belief that maybe, just maybe, the sun would be coaxed out for a day—imagine that, a whole day!
Taking into consideration these unpredictable conditions, what struck me when I first reached the damp green fields was that these English people knew how to camp.
Whereas back home you could make do if you chose to with a sheet of canvas tied between two trees or lay out a few sarongs come night fall to sleep upon, the precise unpredictability of the weather made these happy campers go to great measures to ensure a good time was to be had, no matter what conditions presented themselves.
Massive two or three bedroom tents, huge shade/rain shelters, proper kitchens under marques, bell tents, tee pees; there was no scrimping on the structures that appeared like a small city erected overnight.
My tiny one-man tent looked like a flag left in the field to mark a destination rather than an actual sleeping device—nonetheless, I have to admit, it did me well. I couldn’t really sit upright when inside, but I stayed dry and believe it or not, slept soundly for at least three hours each night.
The other mind-blowing spectacle that was to be found at every festival site was the glamping area. Yep, glamorous camping, where you could hire a bell tent or teepee already set up and awaiting you, equipped with everything from blow up double beds, bedding, carpets and even an open fire.
The glamping sites were equipped with their own posh hot water showers and porto-loos stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, items that became a mirage in a sparse desert after day one for most campers.
Glamping offered the tempting notion that come the end of the festival you could leave without any muddy pack down, without any hung over attempt to squeeze a tent back into its impossibly small bag; just in and out without any hassle.
Well, it changed my concept of the festival experience, but I would be lying to say I wouldn’t jump at the chance to be a glamper for a weekend!
Now these patient English folk wait all year for these precious few months of summer. In a place where gray skies, rain and dampness predominate most of the year, the months from June to September are eagerly awaited and as I came to see, are appreciated and made the most of no matter the trying circumstances.
Mud was something of a given at these festivals, the degree of its range and severity differed from year to year, place to place, field to field, but chances are the mud was going to make an appearance and rather than fight it, the English met it with high spirits.
To embrace the mud fully, in all of its untamed glory, I realized was the only way to deal with it and prevent you from retreating to your tent for three days on end. Yes, you do return home with mud on every article of clothing you own, with it dug deeply under every fingernail amd forever indented into the soles of your wellies, but to reject it, to attempt to avoid it only caused greater pain and frustration.
Then again, when that sun did appear, what a joy and sight to behold! Layers were stripped off and costumes came out of the woodwork in ways I have not experienced since Burning Man. Laughter reigned, crazy dancing and cuddle puddles on the drying fields abounded and no one was immune to the contagious high that erupted from the sheer sensation that only summer evokes.
I managed to fit in four festivals, one every weekend for a month with only one day break in between each one.
It was a wild ride that tested me in many ways, but without a doubt, the highs overpowered the sporadic moments of despair.
I experienced music that blew my heart and soul to pieces. I saw young people with colored wristbands that snaked all the way up to their forearms; evidence of the festivals they had experienced that one summer alone.
I saw kids on their parent’s shoulders bopping away to beats with tiny headphones over their ears. I saw costumes so intricate and beautiful worn freely with little care for the splatters of mud that covered them.
I saw love in the eyes of couples that promised nothing in the outside world could erase the connection they had merged in that moment. I saw hands hold others who had fallen or eyes hold others that were wandering lost.
I explored magical forests, mystical woodlands, hideaway saloons, deep jungle stages, fairy strewn trees, inflatable churches, lavish lagoons and every terrain one could imagine or dream of.
I discovered that my body could and would dance to anything, from house music to country music to drum and bass, to techno to trance to gospel choir music and everything else in between.
I found myself on more stages than I could have ever imagined, from dance offs to dance comps to boxing ring dance games to cabaret; dancing to my hearts content with no inhibition and no judgment, just wide smiles of acceptance and understanding.
At each and every festival I encountered, I discovered that sense of ecstatic bliss that I only ever do at festivals, when the whole world disappears and there you are, swallowed into a deep oblivion where only euphoria lives.
This is the alluring fairy I chase and it doesn’t always appear—the perfect mix of ingredients is necessary, but England, she showed me them all and more.
At no point did I wish for surrender—when I was knee deep in mud, when it was impossible to sleep after four nights of heavy bass music vibrating through my body, when the nights chill came and my dozen blankets were not enough, when momentary heart ache appeared, when the come down of one festival on the way to the next threatened to question the absurdity of the journey, when a four-hour line up to enter the festival turned into six, when the porto-loos became absolutely unbearable on day one or when for a moment I became lost in the haze of overwhelm.
The tunnel is very short and you pull through quickly, for there is always someone by your side with a smile, a cider, a tutu or a muddy embrace.
I could have stayed on the train for another month—in fact if I could have, I would have. But my home across the ocean called and I was satisfied, thrilled and overjoyed with my adventure.
And I knew that this would not be my last summer festival season in England. I feel sure it will be my first of many to come. Bring on the rain and the mud, the crumpets and tea, the house music and trance, the cider and jaga bombs, the camping and (hopefully) the glamping. I’m hooked.
Kelly Kaiana is an aspiring writer, a raw food chef and a passionate yogi, practicing and teaching in the style of Ishta Yoga. A lover of travel and culture, this gypsy poet calls Byron Bay home, a place abounding in natural beauty, spectacular sunsets and endless inspiration. An eternal optimist, Kelly is passionate about community, vegetarianism and all things environmentally friendly and sustainable. The spirit of bhakti inspires her creative flow, whether that be through making jewelery, creating a new yoga practice, serving beautiful, nourishing food or collecting natures treasures for her alter. When she is not traveling the world or making raw wedding cakes in the kitchen, you can find her strolling through farmers markets in the sunshine, dancing barefoot in the rain or etching spirals and dreams into the sand.
Editor: Jamie Morgan
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