I thought it might be fun to post this, which was written a few years ago, but I think it is still relevant!
The VVVIP Perspective on Festivals copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2009-
It was a dark and dastardly night. The rain was torrential. A lone figure appeared on the horizon, battling the ferociousness of the elements as he struggled to lift one foot out of the mud and put it down again in different mud. Despite the inclement weather, the lone reveller was clad only in a pair of see through pink cheesecloth trousers and a colourful, batik t-shirt. His feet were bare and almost blue. As he drew level with me, he eyed me with the look of one who is not seeing entirely what is in front of him. There was a pause, while I stared at him.
‘Can I help you?’ I asked, helpfully.
Eventually he spoke.
‘A fried egg sandwich,’ he says. ‘Please,’ he added, as an apparent afterthought.
I duly prepared the sandwich and proffered it in my small, grubby hand.
He fumbled in a hessian pouch and handed over the coin. Then with an expression of one who has had his mortal soul saved from eternal damnation , he bit into the sandwich. The rich yellow egg yolk spurted out and dribbled down his beard. I watched in amazement as oblivious, he wandered off in the direction of the tents, which floated in the next field.
I awaken, jolted by the car in which we are travelling, and discover that I am no longer in 1977, working the fried egg sandwich stall at Lisdoonvarna. I am back in 2009 and once again it is a filthy night, with torrential rain and howling winds and rivers of mud. But now the wet field is in Punchestown.
Outside the limo, hordes of people dressed only in shorts and wellies and plastic poncho things, battle to get to a portaloo.
I watch them with that mixture of sympathy and smugness that Bono suggests in the Band Aid song. Thanking God it’s them, instead of me.
In the warm, dry, dressing room with sofas and a telly and proper glasses and ice cubes, Shane immediately inspects the drinks.
‘There’s no gin,’ he observes.
‘I want my dinner,’ I say. ‘Where’s my dinner?’
A nice young man offers to rectify the situation without delay. Soon we are comfortable on the sofa, Shane with a gin and tonic, me with a plate of meat and potatoes with gravy and a bottle of Claret. The door opens and Nick Cave appears, closely followed by the Bad Seeds. They are immediately concerned that we have been adequately provided for in the way of food and drink. In spite of the fact that it is their dressing room, not ours, and we have come to visit them, they form an orderly queue to shake our hands and kiss our cheeks.
Perhaps it is human nature, perhaps it is just me, but the more I get, the more I expect and demand. The festival experience is just one more place to make demands and expect them to be met. If you are among the majority of festival goers or ‘revellers’ as they are described in the papers, you probably expect to experience hardship, deprivation and discomfort, you expect to get wet, to get ripped off, and to have to queue for ages for the loo, only to find that you would rather wet your pants than endure the smell of vomit therein.
You may find yourself wondering what it is like for the small minority who get access to the ‘VIP’ area, or the Press tent or God forbid the artist dressing-rooms. And you are right in thinking that it is a lot more like home, the closer you get to the top.
The toilet is something that we all have to use at some point, even those of us who have VVIP passes. And it is the standard of cleanliness of the toilet and ease of access to it that is perhaps the most accurate measure of one’s status at a festival. If you are the lead singer of the headline act you can arrive by helicopter, only moments before you go on stage and you can leave the site immediately afterwards. You may not need to use the toilet at all. But if you are forced to, as most of the performers are, you can have your driver take you right to the door of the artist toilet, (as I saw one famous diva do at the Electric Picnic) and wait outside to drive you the few hundred yards back across the grass to your dressing room.
As anyone who regularly flies first class will tell you, the more you do it the more you begin to notice the little things that are not to your liking. It is much the same with the facilities at festivals. Sometimes it is the lack of wooden hangers in the dressing room, sometimes it is the fact that it is Bollinger and not Krug in the cooler. Or perhaps it is simply that you don’t want to be next door to the Arctic Monkeys, you remember how much nicer it was to be neighbours with Bowie. Whatever it is, there is always some small thing to complain about.
The gates to Hell are heavily guarded, as difficult to get past as the security at Glastonbury. Which is lucky for those who never get in. But now that I am on the inside, and utterly spoiled I can never go back to being a normal human being with the decent qualities of patience and humility and a sense of camaraderie, those attributes that make a festival fun.
But there is hope for everyone, even the damned. A few years ago I was invited to actually perform at a festival. It was at the small, insalubrious Flat Lake Festival in Monaghan, and I was billed to appear at eleven o clock on the Sunday morning when sensible people are sleeping soundly. The stage was in a barn, with hay bales for seats and there was no microphone. My tiny audience was augmented by a few noisy children, some dogs and a tractor. The person who announced me got my name wrong. It was humbling in an unpleasant way. But afterwards, a few people said they liked me. And somewhere deep inside me a tiny flame flickered into being, and refused to be extinguished even by the fact that I didn’t get paid. And that tiny flame propels me to go back to Monaghan again this year, possibly even to perform. Because even though they use the scary, non-flushing eco-loos, and have no dressing rooms, I now realise that there is more to festivals than the toilets. There is.