Festivals: Better for work or pleasure?

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festivals, experience, culture, Seonaid McKay, Kettle Mag
Seonaid Mckay
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Sat on a bus from Wolverhampton to V-Festival 2015 whilst dressed in a Wall’s ice-cream uniform is ridicule enough. Then try adding a wad of drunken festival-goers clad in glitter and flower-crowns, enough bags of camping gear for a hike up Kilimanjaro, and the lingering thought of spending the weekend scooping ice-cream whilst trying to catch any sort of glimpse of a musical performance, and you get a potential recipe for disaster.

This so happened to be my first ever festival experience, and the seemingly painful reality of working in the food industry at festivals set in the moment I stepped foot on muddy ground.

Fast forward a year later, and I’m on route to Y Not festival 2016, sat in a car wearing the hippest festival garb I could be inspired to put on whilst blaring out every indie track imaginable. Heading to a festival that I had paid for, anticipated, and painstakingly planned out for months felt a lot cooler than dreading exceptionally long hours of food-serving madness.

Even the first squelch of mud against rubber as I hopped out of my car felt miles more joyous. But which one actually ended up being the better experience?

Working hard

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Pros:

  1. Sometimes, you get PAID. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get paid to (occasionally) prance around a field in a work uniform, eating free ice-cream, and singing along to your favourite (I.E. The one you dislike marginally less than all the rest) artist on the line-up?
  2. FREE FOOD. Often, whilst working in the food industry, you get the perks of being a part of a ‘secretive food sharing’ society. It’s an untold mystery that offering up ice cream to the curry guys a few stalls down gets you a plateful of free samosas every few hours.
  3. Clean toilets and private camping areas, far away from anyone all too willing to climb into your tent at 5am in the morning. Need I say more?

Cons:

  1. Soberness. There is nothing sadder than being completely sober whilst serving a string of people who get more and more drunk as the day wanes on.
  2. Minor music viewing. No matter how hard you try to tactically schedule in your breaks at the point when your fave artist is due to play, your string of drunkards always choose that exact time to stop you from leaving your van. And you probably can’t see or hear anything from where you’re set up, either. Sorry.
  3. It’s work.

Playing hard

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Pros:

  1. FREEDOOOOOM. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Eat when you want, see who you want, dress how you want. You want to sit in front of a badly made fire-pit for 2 hours? DO IT. Want to wear 4 flower crowns and cover your entire body in gold highlighter? You can do that, too.
  2. That vibe, though. It’s crazy how different the overall festival vibe is when you aren’t tied to work hours and rules. It’s an indescribable feeling of being submerged in a little sub-world governed by nothing more than musical joy.
  3. Drunkenness. Enough said.

Cons:

  1. Expensive food. No one wants to have to pay £5 for a plate of over-oiled, under-salted chips. But, unless you somehow have time (and steady enough hands) to cook for yourself, your money is going to quite literally fly out of your pocket as soon as it spots a food van.
  2. The toilets. Yuck, gross, disgusting, manky, murky bowls of several thousand people’s waste. No thanks.
  3. The rain. In a food van, you’re always out of reach from the slimy, wet hands of torrential rain but when you’re running wild and free out in the harsh terrain of festival life, there is literally no escaping it. Especially if you’re only there for the headliners.

In conclusion, which did I actually prefer? Both had their perks, albeit on entirely different spectrums, and both had their borderline ‘deal-breaking’ cons, too. Personally, I think the choice lies within your mood/needs of the time. If you’re weighing up whether you want to spend money or make money, write a list of what you want out of your festival experience and align it with what has been said here. You’re considering working a festival but you’re worried about missing out on the best parts of festival life?

Honestly, the experience won’t be the same, but it definitely won’t be bad! It’s all about taking the experience by the horns and tailoring it to fit what you want out of it. For me, both experiences were equally as fun because, although I may not have thought I wanted it at the time, I needed it and the rewards were undoubtedly endless. 

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Second Year English and Creative Writing Student at Coventry University. Born and bred in South Africa. Current Head of Social Media for @CoventryWords Magazine. Feminist. Secretly a mermaid.