The above picture is of me at Glastonbury in 2014.
Sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, people end up going to gigs on their own. Not necessarily because they’re Mr or Mrs anti-social-billy-no-mates. It could be that their friends have different music tastes, aren’t into it, can’t afford it, or have other commitments the night of the gig, or it could be that they have young children and can’t get a babysitter so their other half says he / she is happy not to go. Or sometimes the person going to the gig just wants to fly solo because they’re comfortable in their own skin and don’t feel the need to have to be with someone.
I’ve done plenty of gigs on my own for all of the above reasons. If you’re like me and love music, especially live music and go to a lot of gigs, there’s a strong possibility you’ll have been to at least one on your own.
But have you ever considered going to a music festival alone? I’ve done it a number of times, maybe 10 of the 70 odd festivals I’ve been to. For some people it might just be too intimidating, but for me, it’s not. Here’s some of my experiences and basic thoughts.
My first ever solo festival was the big one – Glastonbury. In 1995. I’d split up with my partner earlier that year (we’d been to the festival together in 1994 and it was that weekend that marked the beginning of the end of our relationship for me) and I already had my ticket. ‘Sod you, I’m not letting you ruin my life,‘ I thought, so off I trooped to a field in Somerset.
It would be an understatement to say I had a brilliant time – it was unbelievably good. A textbook Glastonbury. Jarvis from Pulp became everyone’s new alt-pop leader, I fell in love with PJ Harvey and her pink catsuit, danced with a bunch of crazy out of it loons to Orbital as the sun set and met a beautiful hippy girl (who was actually wearing flowers in her hair) who for a few hours on the final night of the festival seemed to embody every ideal of Glastonbury.
That time was pre-internet, so unlike today where you can go on festival forums or social media and find others who are going solo and arrange to meet up, I arrived 100% on my own with no expectation of meeting anyone . There were some brief chats with strangers during the weekend, but apart from the hippy girl I certainly didn’t make a bunch of new weekend friends. And it was fine. Better than fine. I could really immerse myself in things. There were no compromises to be made; I could stand where I wanted to watch performers, eat what and when I wanted, got to bed early or stupidly late if I wanted, wander off-piste if I wanted, I got to see way more music than if I’d been in a big group, and could take whatever risks I wanted to without being accountable to anyone else. I came back knowing that I would want to do it again.
If you look online you’ll see a number of articles about going to festivals and virtually all of them give advice that says something along the line of ‘be sociable, talk to strangers, make new friends.’ I’d disagree with this advice as blanket advice. Sure, it’s good guidance if you’re the sort of person who needs the company of others or otherwise you’ll be miserable. But my suggestion would be do what feels best for you. If you want to talk to strangers and make new friends, do so. But if you’re happy just existing in your own space and thoughts, that’s fine as well.
Since that first time I’ve done tiny festivals, in between ones and huge festivals solo. I’ve been to many camping festivals but also urban multi venue festivals which give the benefit and convenience and comfort of finishing the night in a cosy bed in a hotel – something which at my age is immensely appealing. At one of my favourite festivals (Bestival) between 2006 and 2012 I became one of a small group who started up and promoted via the internet (and with the support of the festival organisers) a ‘Forum Campsite’ which welcomed solo festival goers with somewhere to meet and camp with people in a similar position. Through the Forum Campsite I met a number of people who have now become friends, more than just people who I meet up with once a year for the festival. Also through running this blog and its Twitter page I’ve developed quite a few friends and acquaintances who go to festivals – so if I was lonely (which is rare) I know there are other people I can meet up with. Of course it's also good to go with my regular friends or my family, but it's not the only way of doing things.
Going to a festival on your own is not without its risks though. What if something went wrong? For example what if you were taken ill? Or what if you were the victim of a crime or lost your money? And what if the weather is shitty? Being cold, wet and muddy might seem funny in a group but it can be a pretty soul destroying experience if you have no one to laugh about it with. When you’re with a group of friends there would be someone to look after you, but that can’t be guaranteed on your own. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always tried to introduce myself to people I’m camping near (I usually try to camp near a bunch of people who seem relatively responsible) and always do a daily check in with someone not at the festival via phone. My general lack of excess when it comes to drinking / drugs etc at festivals also helps – it lowers the risk of mucking things up and keeps the brain positive and happy – there are no comedowns.
Another precaution I always take at festivals is to take something with me to do during downtime. At bigger festivals like Glastonbury that run for virtually 24 hours non stop there’s nearly always something to do, and if there isn’t there are usually new nooks and crannies to explore, but at smaller events there may be times when it’s possible to be at a loose end and a chat with a friend would fill the time. That’s why I always take a good book. If there is an hour or two to kill, I bury my head in that.
So my advice if you’re thinking of going to a festival on your own? If the thought is there then I’d say try it. If you really hate it you can always pack up and go home and put it down to experience. Chances are though, if you’re thinking about it, you won’t hate it. You might even come away feeling more self-confident, more sure of yourself and having seen way more of both festival itself and the musicians performing than if you’d gone in a big group. I certainly don't regret the decision to head off to Glastonbury all those years ago on my own.