Whoever decided to ask a battle-scarred festival veteran – someone who once attended 11 consecutive Reading and Leeds festivals, no less – to write about their favourite memories failed to foresee an obvious problem. Namely, that after 11 consecutive Reading and Leeds festivals (plus a dozen or so Glastonburys, a handful of T in the Parks, a sprinkling of Indietracks and the occasional depressing event set up in a massive Portuguese car park and most probably headlined by Muse), your memories are likely to be somewhat squiffy. They’re the kind of memories that have been doused in several litres of Lightning Strike cider, left to marinate in a hedge for four days and woken up with ill-advised tribal facepaint. And, like the bearded man in the healing fields who claims he can levitate through the 17th dimension, they’re probably not to be trusted.
So when I check my own festival memories I have to wonder if many of them actually happened. Did I really see a baby in a buggy crowdsurfing through a packed field? Can it be true that I carried one of my friends across a mud-plagued Glastonbury site while he told passing strangers that he was the supreme ruler of the universe, only to then watch him pass out in a toilet block and urinate on himself? Was the night I spent inhaling toxic plastic fumes as tents and toilet blocks were set ablaze around me a figment of my imagination, a fever dream brought on after eating an undercooked chicken pad thai?
Whether it’s watching Kevin Rowland confuse an entire crowd by wearing white stockings and suspenders or witnessing Michael Eavis redefine the very definition of the term “singing” while onstage with Stevie Wonder, the thing about festival memories is that they often take on a strange, hallucinatory air. Sure, you buy your ticket to watch Oasis or Beyoncé or Skepta – but then you come back telling friends that actually you went to see six shows by a fully grown man pretending to be a lobster while singing Christmas songs instead.
That is the whole glorious point. The best festivals should exist at the point where reality and surreality meet, and your mind is no longer completely sure what’s happening. There should be giant spiders spouting fire, DJ sets that involve you climbing onstage to dance in your wellies, and deep and meaningful conversations about life, the universe and where you put your last piece of chewing gum.
You’re left with a muddy mountain of experiences, many of which are hard to verify and almost all of which have no application once back in the real world. It’s unlikely that many potential employers out there are going to be impressed by your ability to fashion semi-waterproof shoes out of two Sainsbury’s bags and a lanyard. Remembering where your tent is located at 5am after several hours in the rave fields might be a game-changer at the time but it doesn’t really translate to anything particularly useful in the office environment. But that’s not important. What’s important at a festival is that you had the best possible time – and that’s especially likely to be the case if you can barely remember any of it.