Festivals vs. Gigs

9 Aug

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We are now well in the middle of the UK festival season. Glastonbury is now a glorious, beer-soaked memory, V Festival is approaching fast while Leeds & Reading is still a couple of weeks away, marking the symbolic end of the summer. Meanwhile, mini festivals like Y Not and Lee Fest are popping up left, right and centre.

What’s strange is how well it seems to be going. When the recession hit, we were assured that festivals were now a thing of the past thanks to shrinking incomes and soaring ticket prices. Many people saw gigs as the way forward – you get exactly what you pay for and don’t have to stand through dozens of bands you’re not interested in or sleep in a tent that size of a small Alsatian. Yet gigs seem to be the ones that are struggling. Iconic music venues like the 100 Club are regularly faced with closure. So in these money strapped times, I thought I would decide once and for all which are better – gigs or festivals.

Having been to a couple of both, I would say my money is mostly – but not entirely – on gigs. My favourite one was Foo Fighters in 2010, performing in the enormous outdoor National Bowl in Milton Keynes. There was a palpable sense of build up all day. The crowd was very supportive of the warm-up acts, Biffy Clyro and Jimmy Eat World, even if those weren’t the ones they came to see. When Dave Grohl and co. finally arrived, there wasn’t a single person in the 65,000 capacity stadium who wasn’t cheering. But the icing on the cake was the special guests. When John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame and Seasick Steve joined Grohl on stage for the encore, I and many of the people near me nearly lost our voices. What was great was that the audience knew who they were; by attending a Foo Fighters concert, you could almost guarantee they admired idols such as these. I don’t think it would have quite the same effect had Foo Fighters been performing at Glastonbury, which attracts fans of a wide range of genres. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but prevents that same feeling of community.

Festivals, in my experience, are quite different. You spend the whole weekend bouncing from tent to stage and back again in order to catch your favourite bands. This pinballing inevitably means you’re always near the back and barely get chance to enjoy the performance before you’re dragged off by impatient friends somewhere else. Choice can be a curse as well as blessing. No matter what you do, you’re going to miss things you want to see. There’s also the problem of tourist-fans – people who go to see bands just to say they were there, regardless of whether they want to see them. I’m lost count of the amount of times I’ve been wedged against people who are stood motionless, looking as though they’re waiting for an advert on YouTube to finish playing. It kills the mood to say the least.

That isn’t to say that festivals don’t have their place in British music. Despite soaring ticket prices – a standard weekend ticket for Glastonbury costing £216, often being resold for much higher – they are still far and away the best value for money. With plenty of energy drinks, you could see up to twenty bands in the course of a weekend. There’s also the fun of camping with your friends. While a gig can be a great night out, a festival can feel more like a holiday.

Nevertheless, for the truly special moments, I’ve found you have to stick with gigs. When I see Arctic Monkeys in November – an event I’ve been waiting five years for – I know there won’t be any tourist-fans, hangers-on or people who wandered into the wrong tent, just true fans. Call my standoffish, but that seems like the purer musical experience.

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One Response to “Festivals vs. Gigs”

  1. El Guapo August 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    I understand what you’re saying, but a festival offers teh chance to see bands you’ve never even heard of, and get turned on to stuff you didn’t know existed.

    The advantage of gigs is that they are generally cheaper, and occasionally there will be an opener that is worth the price of the ticket on thier own.

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