The scene at the gates of my local London primary school is not exactly rock ’n’ roll madness. It’s a pleasant crowd, restrained in dress and small talk. If someone suddenly popped a tallboy of cider and started swaying back and fourth with a lit Zippo going “YEEEAH BABY!” they would be escorted off the premises, and rightly so.
But last Friday afternoon was an exception. Amid the usual phalanx of casually fashionable mothers and nannies waiting for their wards, the lucky few stood out. You could tell them by their gear: floppy Fleetwood Mac-style sun hats, vintage band tees, thigh-high rubber boots, backpacks crammed with organic fruit chews, champagne coolers and tent poles. These were the mothers who were taking their kids to Glastonbury.
I was not one of them. I gave the festival a miss this year despite an absolutely killer lineup from PiL and Tame Impala to Haim and the Rolling Stones. I did this for what I thought were practical and sanity-ensuring reasons. I have a five-year-old stepson and an 11-month-old baby, and when my partner, who is a seasoned festival-goer, casually suggested it (“It’s supposed to be gorgeous this weekend, why don’t we throw the kids in the car and head off to Glastonbury?”), I stared at him as if he had six heads.
Having spent a brief and distinctly uncomfortable portion of my 20s reviewing rock concerts for the this newspaper, there was no way I was going to subject my young family to three days of wet sleeping bags, second-hand weed smoke and mile-long port-a-potty queues. I love live music, but I hate physical discomfort – and Woodstock ’99 was bad enough when I was 23 and drunk.
But this was my mistake. As I watched the live television coverage of Glastonbury and read the plethora of lifestyle features on “festival style” and “festival etiquette,” it soon became clear that no one is obliged be uncomfortable at festivals anymore. “Glamping” is not just for Kate Moss and her posse – it’s increasingly the norm. This year at Glastonbury, more than 7,000 “sustainable caravans” and “boutique tents” were rented on the festival site. These so-called “pop-up hotels” offered rug-strewn wooden floors, space heaters, king-sized beds with fancy linens, phone chargers and full-length mirrors. Meanwhile, over at “Kidzfield,” toddlers with cellphone numbers scrawled on their arms in permanent marker built castles in the shaded sand pit, rode the “chairoplane” and dipped into the on-site book and toy library – all under the supervision of Criminal Records Bureau-checked child-minders. So this means you can ditch your kids at Glasto and head-bang in the mud to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I still can’t decide if this is utterly negligent or rock ’n’ roll heaven. Probably both.
Anyway, it’s not just Glastonbury. The U.K. is now awash in grown-up festivals (or “piss-ups for poshos,” as their many sneering detractors like to call them) and Glasto is just the kick-off to this new season-long social season – think of it as the Chelsea Flower Show of drunken outdoor summer concerts.
Forget the gourmet burrito truck: Now the best music festivals are places where you can have a sit-down dinner on fine china with a chilled bottle of wine. In a field. Later this month, the Latitude Festival, whose lineup includes Kraftwerk, Hot Chip and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, will feature an on-site bistro and cocktail bar. At the Secret Garden Party, an event that urges its attendees to “leave reason at the gates,” you can sleep in the family campsite or rent either a three-bedroom luxury cottage or an “extravagant yurt.” And if your kids are harshing your mellow, leave them with a sitter and get a massage or reiki treatment at the spa.
And at the Wilderness Festival in August, London’s biggest chefs will host an “indulgent itinerary of gourmet gastronomy” including Yotam Ottolenghi, Mark Hix and the teams behind such famed restaurants as Polpo, Moro and St. John. The idea, according to creative director Tim Harvey, is to put food and bacchanal high on the bill alongside acts such as Martha Wainwright and Empire of the Sun.
You know for sure festivals have gone completely bourgeois when your online grocery delivery service sends you a voucher for its “Foodie glamper picnic and survival hampers,” complete with kettle chips, Timotei dry shampoo and a two-man tent.
This all sounds a bit poncey because it most certainly is. Some seasoned concert-goers are crying out for a back-to-basics approach. In a Times piece last week, How To Be A Woman author Caitlin Moran advised female festival-goers not to wear hotpants, get spa treatments, decorate their tents, sit on their boyfriends shoulders or drink anything but “the cheapest spirits known to man – something genuinely nasty, brewed in Lithuania, and available only in petrol stations,” because craft beer and fancy cocktails make you pee too much.
It’s hard not to agree with her. Festivals are supposed to be about the music and the crowd, not the fancy tacked-on extras. But the truth is, I’ll be glad for the luxury yurt next year when I pack my glamper hamper and drive the kids to Glastonbury.