“You came all the way from America- just for this?!” Sitting around our campfire at a music festival in England, this was the response my husband, daughter and I heard most often. The Brits were amused by the absurdity of it- Americans, willingly subjecting themselves to such an arduous experience? They had a point, too-it was cold, dark, wet and…the mud. OH MY GOD, the mud. It was everywhere…and it was exhausting. I had never before, and hopefully will never again, experience mud like I did at Glastonbury 2016. But even as I type this, three months later, from the warmth of my clean, dry American bed, I am yearning to be there again.
This feeling is common among festival goers. It is called Post Festival Depression, and is defined by Urban Dictionary as “the comedown as bad as heroin withdraw after returning home from a music festival.” Common symptoms are: appreciation that the ringing in your ears was worth it, inability to take off the festival band until the next festival, Youtubing videos of the festival, and stuffing yourself with greasy food. Some more dangerous symptoms are: making your toilet filthy so as to reenact the festival toilet experience, camping out in your backyard while blasting EDM, not feeding the cat, and continuing to dress ridiculously despite being home.
Urban Dictionary isn’t exactly the authority on psychiatric conditions, but PFD is no joke. I know- I began experiencing the symptoms immediately following the first music festival I ever attended: Bonnaroo 2006. Since then Ive learned to accept inevitable onset of PFD, and now, after each festival, I welcome it like an old friend who keeps me company until the next festival rolls around. But why would anyone want a friend like PFD? What is it about music festivals that keeps us going back year after year? They are physically exhausting, emotionally draining and depending on logistics, financially challenging. For me, it all comes down to one word: culture.
By culture, I mean the feeling of connectedness you feel with the people around you. That feeling is largely dependent on the environment created by the founders and producers of each festival. Bonnaroo, for instance, has created a very unique and inclusive festival culture where positivity abounds. They have a set of common sense rules that appeal to basic human decency and kindness, and refer to their festival attendees as “Bonnaroovians.” “The Farm” is located in the Tennessee mountains, geographically removed from society, which helps create a utopian atmosphere where people depend on each other and go above and beyond to help their neighbors. Last year our neighbor sliced his hand open on day one and someone in our group who is in the medical field rendered aid and dressed the wound every morning at our campsite (photo above). Taking care of each other is a big part of Bonnaroo culture, and for 360 days a year its something I really miss. Other festivals like Glastonbury, Pitchfork, and ACL all offer their own unique cultural experience, which is the coolest thing about music festivals: no two are alike. Exploring the grounds and taking part in the activities and interactions is half the fun. And some festivals, just by their very nature, demand heavy interaction. Glastonbury, for instance, is the size of a city. It is so far out in the English Countryside that cell phones are rendered useless. But the city is built to encourage human contact. There are little shops complete with porcelain cups and saucers for a proper teatime, a community sauna and hot tub, an enormous crafters village (think: woodworking and silversmithing), and a six stories tall metal spider that shoots fire high into the sky all night long. There’s a healing field where you can go have your palm read or your chakra balanced, a mini Stonehenge with amazing views, and there’s Strummerville… a secret area established by the man himself: Joe Strummer. I could go on and on about the amazing features of Glastonbury… but, by far the most valuable asset of the festival is its founder, Michael Eavis, who, in his 80’s, still runs the show. And what he strives to create with Glastonbury is truly magical. He does not allow commercialism in any form, and is not restricted by the fear of liability that bogs down most music festivals. It is a place where, as a guest of Micheal Eavis, you are trusted and respected. On his land, society is influenced only by the language of creative expression. There is no McDonald’s, no car companies handing out “free” face wipes or blow up frisbees. There is no television, no radio- no status updates or tweets. The absence of these things creates a void, and after the initial panic, you slowly begin to experience a world that you had forgotten. A world where beauty abounds, the air is fresh, and the only thing more important than art is the well being of your neighbor. You come back to life, and you are reminded of how good it feels to be human. That is why music festivals are important; because the world is an awesome place, and people are too. But in this digitally overstimulated, disconnected world, sometimes we could all use a reminder.