Reading Festival – Tips for First-Time DayTrippers

So I had my first experience of Reading Festival last Friday. Something Peter looks forward to each year as much as Christmas. I’ve done a bit of ‘festivaling’ in my time, but not Reading – even though it’s on my doorstep. Too old to be bothered with the noise and grunge of camping, I was quite happy to spend the day and go home – to my shower, my NZ sauvignon blanc and my bed. However, it’s a big time for end-of-GCSE people where I live. So the early bird and whole weekend thing is a mammoth, rites of passage, experience and an excellent way to let your hair down (and almost everything else from what I could see) after months of revision and staying in!!

It was also a fantastic opportunity for me to introduce my daughter to Reading, who will be at that stage this time next year, giving her a feel for what it’s like and get her bearings. The first thing I must say is that it is incredibly well organised. We hit Reading train station, and having previously Google-Mapped the vicinity and the right roads to take, we were delighted to see a string of Reading Festival shuttle buses waiting right outside the station. You couldn’t go wrong – even though it’s not far to the event, for a quid, it was worth hopping on the bus – and so appreciated at the end of the night with aching feet.

Arriving at the event, it’s a bit tricky to know which queue to get into. But there are marshalls just about every few feet you take, so they point you in the right direction. First you walk through the endless campsites – that was an eye opener – I’m used to grassy fields, shower blocks, maybe a little tea room, and nice play areas for the kids outside the tent – none of that! Just mountains of little pop-up tents buttressed up against each other with barely room to step outside without tangling yourself up in the guy ropes (or falling over the cases of beer!). Although we did see a makeshift Supermarket tent – something my older daughter assured me wasn’t there 3 years ago when she debuted.

Then we enter the arena, having had 3 checks to make sure our wristbands weren’t fake or nicked from someone else. The no bag (bigger than A4) policy kicked in this year. So difficult to carry anything other than money and a black bin liner to sit on (great advice Peter). It does mean you have to layer your clothes, and peel them off and on as the day changes though - we weren’t to know it would be 34 degrees.

I was surprised at how ‘compact’ the arena is. Compared to something like Camp Bestival – which is like a town in itself, but welcomes a third of the numbers seen at Reading. You could actually stand in the centre of the arena and see every tent and stall – if you have good eyesight. But it does make getting quickly from band to band much easier – you can take in a bit of everything.

And the bands – well – the last time I saw so many bands in one place on one day was Live Aid! But there the similarity ends – unless you count Phil Collins’ historic Concorde flight from London to play  Philadelphia as a similarity with Queens of the Stone Age (who were excellent by the way – if a little late) flying down from Leeds to play Reading. The first big band we came across on the Main Stage was … Mallory Knox – what can I say. If the rest of the day was going to be like that then I was in for a real treat. The crowd loved them: Energetic, Compelling, Dark – but with a rock style that isn’t so menacing you can’t hear the words for the screaming.  They were just wicked! (Have you seen the film Natural Born Killers?).

I won’t bore you with my take on all the bands – Peter gives a far more telling description in his posts, here, here and here. But one of the ones that stood out for us (on Friday) was 2 Door Cinema Club – my daughter’s favourite of the day.

We hung around the periphery of the crowd for most bands because you can see everything on the giant screens anyway – but for this one we made an exception. We got right towards the front which was a great experience. Although I was a bit worried about getting squashed with my daughter to be honest (with flashbacks from The Clash at the Brixton Academy in 1984 where I was genuinely suspended in the air between big peoples’ shoulders) – but no - generally people were surprisingly courteous, constantly apologising for pushing you or stamping on your toes. Maybe that’s just because they were dealing with an old lady!

Anyway, by the sounds of the screams, singing and arm saluting, they kept the crowd enthralled, which is more than I can say for Rat Boy. I’ve read official reviews that say he ‘stormed the stage’ – rubbish. The crowd were not engaged at all really – I think he put it down to being listed in the middle of the day. Non-official comments I followed say that the sound mixing was s..t, you couldn't hear him, and the live performance was disappointing. I’m not a fan, so couldn’t possibly comment!

However, I am now most definitely a fan of Declan McKenna – he was at the other end of the spectrum – the crowd couldn’t get enough of him. He was passionate and so talented. And great to see a couple of brilliant female musicians up there too – I did smile at the inspirational look on my 15 yr old’s face. But it was a dream come true for her when Circa Waves (another big crowd magnet - a bit poppy for me, but performed well and interacted well with the fans) were joined by Alex from TDCC. That guy is really charismatic.

Kasabian/Bastille – the big names – take them or leave them really. Fat Boy Slim – I didn’t see – but judging from the sounds emanating from a tent bursting with energy and people – the boy still has it! But YMAS (You ME At Six for the uninitiated)  were everything I was expecting. Had been hearing them for a few years from my older daughter who is a big fan, but I’d never seen them. And yes! I can see the attraction – and the live performance certainly didn’t disappoint.

All in all, a long but great day, marred only slightly by the rip-off prices and some ‘dodgy’ excuses. So – overall tips:

  • When you go to buy the overpriced bottle of water or cola, and they tell you they have to take off the lid for health and safety reasons – SAY NO. Sorry, but I’ve never been rushed to hospital from keeping a lid on a bottle. Peter’s kind and lovely daughter (Reading veteran) suggested it might be to prevent people damaging acts by throwing them as misiles – but at that price - I don’t think so! Being the old cynic I am, I suspect it’s simply to make you down it in one go and then buy another one! Plus, there are water points – so fill up from there and only pay once – better still – take your own.
  • The plastic bag to sit on was a great idea – not because the ground might be damp – but because within a few hours it is literally littered with noodles, plates, chips, pizza and God only knows what else – more bins perhaps Reading?
  • And speaking of pizza – do a scout round the arena first and identify the good places to buy food. Eat a good breakfast first so you don’t go in so hungry that you stop at the first pizza stall you see - £8 for a tiny, moderately warm, hard-baked cheddar piece of round thing that would have cost 99p from the kids’ section in Asda. There are stone-baked places that charge just a bit more – seek them out!
  • If you want your hair braided, glitter on your face – do it at home. £10 to have your hair plaited and £5 for a bit of Vaseline and some glitter on your cheeks – no talent required.

Apart from that – it’s an amazing experience for young and old. Happy carnival atmosphere with lots of dancing. And we felt perfectly safe. So next year – my daughter goes well equipped, knows where to eat, how to get around and definitely not to take too much camping equipment – cos there ain't no place to put it. For anything else – ask Peter – he knows everything there is to know about Reading Festival.

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