For the last 30 years, Steve and I have been going to the annual World of Music and Dance Festival, WOMAD, at Charlton Park in Malmsbury. The last time I went was the day Steve had his second course of chemotherapy. Normally we’d go camping but this time we decided to stay in a pub for comfort. I drove and Steve rested. We arrived at the festival just in time to see George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic on the main stage performing Atomic Dog. Steve was so happy to be there, I was so amazed at his strength and determination. I haven’t been back to WOMAD since, partly because of the intense memories but also because I’m rubbish at putting up a tent that was always Steve's job!
This year I decided to go to Folk East, a smaller festival in Suffolk held in the grounds of Glemham Hall. The venue is close to my home so I could go for the day.
I was keen to see my favourite band, The Oysterband. They’ve been touring for 40 years. I’ve seen them perform many times, they never disappoint. This year they were the headline act on the main Sunshine Stage at 9.30 pm.
I arrived at the festival at mid-day. I wasn’t sure how I’d occupy myself for the next 9 hours but I soon got into the solo festival goer experience.
My first stop was to visit St Elizabeth’s Hospice charity shop tent to look at the clothes. I wasn’t sure I’d brought enough warm layers with me, the air temperature felt cool for August. I purchased the most beautiful pair of black leggings covering in sequins, perfect for any festival goer. By the time I left the charity tent, the sun had come out but I was sure I’d be able to use the leggings later in the evening.
Now here’s an interesting fact, if you want people to talk to you, take a notepad and make copious notes. I was sat outside Café Mobile drinking coffee and writing in my journal, I had 5 days of catch up. I was writing fast and furious and it wasn’t long before someone asked me if I was writing a book. The conversation kicked off, the connections were made as I explained my story. Later in the day, I was delighted to bump into someone “I knew”.
I decided to get a drink from one of the small bars and sat next to Vanda, Jasper and Suzanne. They were curious too about my writing but they were slightly more interested in drinking than talking to me! At one end of the tent, Capstan Full Strength was singing sea shanties when some members of the acapella choir Magnificent AK47s walked into the beer tent. The last time I’d seen this choir was in Birmingham New Street Station last year. I stopped to watch their set, lost track of time and ended up late for my meeting. Definitely worth it though.
The choir leader conducted an impromptu set in the beer tent starting with their fabulous version of Delilah
They did two more songs and then the flash mob disappeared into the crowds.
I wandered around looking for one of the bars to buy a cider. My dear friends Caroline and Allan were on shift duty. As soon as their shift finished they joined me outside and together we watched the sunset over the Folk East marquees and crowds.
It was starting to get cooler now so I said goodbye to my friends and went back to the car to put on my leggings, trainers, socks and jumper. I switched my shades for my warm blanket. I was ready for the evening now.
Back on the festival site, I ordered food from the Mexican Cantina, a delicious pitta wrap full of salad, hummus and grilled halloumi, perfect. I was feeling a bit chilly but too early for the blanket so I went into the Broad Roots tent to watch Geoff Higgingbottom, a crazy singer from Stockport. I loved his northern humour and his version of Steve Earle's classic Copperhead Road. From there I squeezed into the packed Moot Hall to watch the acapella group, The Wilson Family. They had great harmonies and banter but I had to leave before the end of their set to get ready for the Oysterband at 9.30 pm.
The stage was semi-lit, the crowds were gathering. I found a great position standing right at the very front. The Oysterband had traveled straight from the Cropredy Festival. The lead singer, Jonathan Jones is very charismatic. When he raises his arms above his head to sing, it’s like he’s being channelled by a higher force.
The songs kept on coming, we danced like wild things and then they performed “Dancing As Fast As You Can”.
For some reason, the lyrics touched me and the tears started to pour down my face. Although I was at the front nobody seemed to notice my sadness. I wiped them away at the end of the song, took a deep breath and carried on dancing, dancing as fast as I could.
The power of my emotion surprised me, my response too but inside I felt proud of myself for being out there.
The set was wonderful, I loved the encore, Put Out The Lights. I recorded a version of this on my iPhone when the Oysterband played in Ipswich in 2013.
The crowds dispersed, it was late and I was feeling really tired. I had to pick my way, in the dark, across the uneven fields back to the car park and it was at this point that I felt alone and sad with no-one to share the day with.
The drive home was hard, I was tired. I’d been out in the fresh air for over 12 hours but the day had been wonderful. I know I can go to a festival on my own, now. It was a landmark for me.
Give it a Try
Find a music event, it doesn’t have to be a day-long festival, buy a single ticket, take a step outside your comfort zone and go solo.
Have you ever been to a festival or gig on your own? What was it like?