What is it like to work at a festival?
When thinking about spending a few days, kicking back with good friends, good music (though sadly not usually good weather), it is important to make sure you are fully prepped and kitted out for your festival experience. A little bit of work beforehand goes a long way to guaranteeing your enjoyment, so let The High Tea Cast take the hassle out of festival going and do the work for you! Check out our festival section for all the festival advice and hints and tips.
“Hey, lady!” The short, dark-haired man strikes a pose, pointing first at me then back to himself, before running off with a giggle. The man in question was Jack Black, and his rather greeting was one of my first experiences of working at a music festival.
Brief backstory: my friend Sam is a qualified masseuse. In 2008 she was offered a spot as onsite massage therapist for the bands and crew coming through the main stage dressing rooms at Leeds Festival. Not wanting to navigate uncharted waters alone, she asked if I’d come help out.
At that point I had never been to a festival in my life, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I assumed that mud would be involved, but beyond that, nothing. Sam had done plenty of festivals, but never as part of the ‘crew’. There was a little frisson of excitement – maybe someone famous will come in! – but no real sense of how it would work out.
We must have given a good impression, because 2012 was our fifth year at Leeds. I think what makes us popular backstage is our complete inability to be impressed by fame. Being terribly old (i.e. anywhere over thirty) helps, because we often simply haven’t a clue who people are. On one memorable occasion a musician actually uttered the immortal words ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ The answer was, inevitably, ‘Err…no?” We thought we’d redeem ourselves by screeching “Aaagh! Please sign our breasts!” but he ran away. We never did find out who he was.
There is a downside to not recognising people. One year we were watching a band from the side of the stage after having consumed rather a lot of cheap wine, and I became convinced that the short woman next to me looked a lot like Beth Ditto from Gossip.
You can see where this is going already, huh?
Nudging Sam hard enough to knock her sideways, I started stage whispering. “Look! Doesn’t she look like Beth Ditto, only shorter? She really, really does!” The woman was glaring by this point, but it only made me all the more convinced that she should be told just how much she looked like a small, loud American singer.
Beth Ditto has got really sharp elbows. Just sayin’.
Mostly it’s just a case of hanging out and having fun. Okay – I hang out and have fun, whilst Sam works (I earn my keep by taking bookings and generally entertaining people, whilst she’s busy rubbing aching muscles). We live over a hundred miles apart and don’t see each other nearly enough, so a whole three days to just be silly together is awesome.
A lot of our time is spent being surrogate mum to musicians who, as a breed, never ever seem to grow up. We loan eyeliner to boys and hand out candy to some of the biggest names in rock. However famous they are, they all love a lollipop.
Sometimes people just want to come sit on our sofa and read a magazine in silence for a while. There’s not much peace to be had behind the main stage of a major festival, and our little tent is an oasis in the middle of the bedlam.
Leeds has provided me with some incredible memories. That very first year, we stood on the main viewing platform to watch The Killers headline. I’ve huddled with soap stars whilst watching Guy Garvey and Elbow give an amazing performance in the rain, and this year we ended up gossiping backstage with the lovely Scroobius Pip (the only person in the world for whom I will brave a mosh pit). One year I found myself on the very top level of the sound tower, sitting in a deckchair with a granny-blanket on my knees whilst watching Radiohead play to fifty thousand people.
But if I had to pick one memory to top them all it would be from 2011, when a reformed Pulp headlined the last night of the festival. Sam has mutual friends with the band, so we sang and danced like loons on the viewing platform as the biggest crush of my youth rolled around the floor singing like a gangly, sexed up spider, before going back to the dressing rooms to drink them dry and have bizarre conversations with Jarvis about whether it is possible to ‘think’ oneself warm (I say no, he disagrees).
It’s a running joke that I’m an inveterate name-dropper and I cannot deny the accusation. My excuse is that it is all so ridiculous that it makes me cackle with hilarity at the sheer unlikeliness of it all.
As someone who works home alone most of the time, it’s important to have something amusing to think about whilst sat in the middle of winter’s gloom, contemplating yet more tedious bookwork. And if those amusing thoughts can include touching Dave Grohl more than is strictly socially acceptable, then who am I to argue?
Violet Fenn blogs at The Skull Illusion.