Music festivals are a good historic anchor point for me. They reflect my personal development and many socio-cultural trends. The first festival I remember visiting was Torhout 1987. I went with one of my uncles. We arrived in the middle of the Housemartins set. Iggy Pop just released his Blah Blah Blah album and together with Echo & the Bunnymen and Peter Gabriel he was the one I was really interested in that day.
Back then festivals were a 1-day thing on one stage. No multiple days, no overcrowded festival campsites, no all night after parties and no snotty boys pissing against your tent in the middle of the night. You simply packed your car with friends, beer and sandwiches, drove to the festival in the morning and returned late at night again. Internet and cell phones didn’t exist yet, so no one could post and relive their experiences, what you saw was literally what you got and if you lost your mates you were screwed. Life was very simple back then. And very romantic, in hindsight, for someone born in the 60’s.
Between 1995 and 2005 I didn’t visit any festivals. Too crowded, too muddy, especially in The Netherlands, where it always seemed to rain during festival weekends. I was a bit of a snob, felt I could not really enjoy music in such an environment. In short, I was an asshole traumatised by too many muddy experiences during the early 90’s.
In 2005 I started again with the Lowlands festival (Biddinghuizen, The Netherlands). A year earlier The Pixies reunited and I desperately wanted to see them. Arcade Fire played on the same stage just before The Pixies. It was packed. I remember thinking that all style boundaries had disappeared over the years. Cute little blond girls were now listening to furious punk music…something that was impossible during the 80’s, when style and music were two sides of the same coin. Arcade Fire played a magic set that night but I couldn’t wait for The Pixies to start. All the kids would leave after Arcade Fire, they for sure weren’t waiting for a band that had their heyday all those years ago. But they didn’t, and it shocked me.
After 2005 I continued visiting festivals. I only internationalised. After all, why would you go to a festival in The Netherlands, where the weather is always bad, when you can also go to Spain, Hungary or Serbia to see the same artists under a clear blue sky with 30 degrees Celsius. Easy choice made possible by Easyjet. But the overall festival experience did change. Smartphones now dominate the scene. All experience is filtered through a camera and is therefore second-hand. With Smartphones everywhere it is very difficult to lose your mates and have remarkable, crazy, unforeseen adventures. But I still love watching unknown bands at a small stage with 50 other people.