Music festivals: at what age can we stop pretending this is fun?

All over Ireland, thousands of people are facing into months of anxiety and trauma.

These are people for whom summer is marred by feelings of regret, despair and self-loathing. They are society’s hidden victims: people in their 30s and 40s who have accidentally bought tickets to music festivals.

Forget hay-fever sneezers, Ireland’s most seasonal suffers are the OAPs – Over Aged Picnicers.

They suffer in silence, or at least they do for the fleeting moments in between DJ sets. Most of the time they suffer in a lot of noise, mostly generated by remixes of songs they once liked but no longer understand.

In a matter of weeks I’ll be standing in a field in Kilmainham, dazed, confused and desperately hoping the next DJ is planning an acoustic set.

Forbidden Fruit used to be the ultimate middle aged, middle class festival. It was designed for people who wanted to politely clap the Trinity Orchestra and discuss promissory notes in between acts.

A lengthy queue for the bar was a welcome opportunity to finish the Crosaire.

Peak Forbidden Fruit was reached when I noticed a Fine Gael Minister lying on the grass in front of me. (The Minister in question is actually younger than me – in human years at least – but it still felt like a seminal moment in the death of my youth.)

Two years ago though it changed. The age profile collapsed and suddenly the ECB was a techno duo playing the Undergrowth Stage. I felt like I’d wandered into a house party to collect a nephew who was desperately hiding from me in a cupboard.

An inebriated young woman thrust her phone into my hand and demanded I “take a Snapchat” of her.

My admission of being unfamiliar with the technology caused her jaw to fall lower than her skirt, which, in fairness, was actually fairly high.

trying to be young
“What is a Snapchat?”

Festivals used to generate nervous excitement, now they just generate nerves. Spending three days in a field listening to DJs from Brighton seems like the closest thing to conscription my generation will ever know.

Eventually we have to ask: at what age should we stop pretending this is fun?

Last year, I did one day at the Electric Picnic. There was a time when I could have been described as a Picnic loyalist, if that term didn’t imply eating cucumber sandwiches on a bench in Sandy Row.

Back in 2004, when the Picnic was a one-day event attended by as many people as a Trump administration ethics committee, I arrived at the venue just as the gates were opening. I have a legitimate claim to be the first ever person to have attended the Electric Picnic.

In 2006, when my now wife wouldn’t let Day Two begin until she’d queued for ninety minutes to use a communal hair-straightener, I knew the jig was up.

After a gap of a decade, driving to last year’s festival was almost a festival in itself. Even being greeted by a downpour so intense that Noah would have given up did not – to use the appalling cliché of festival colour writers everywhere – dampen the spirits.

By 1pm I was lost in a magical world of artisan food stalls. By 5pm I was cursing the lost years and texting Herself to start planning for unstraightened hair in 2017. By 9pm I was so delighted that I could go home to bed that the Lions backline couldn’t have kept me from my car.

But still I find myself nervously counting down the days until this year’s offerings.

After buying tickets to this year’s festivals I can sympathise for people who voted for Brexit. We all bought into dreams of a better tomorrow, only to now spend our days sweating and blaming bus advertisements. Both decisions will end up costing millions.

Come June 3rd myself and the Brexiteers will be suffering largely the same fate – both standing in lonely fields facing a world we don’t understand and wondering why young people are looking at us with such contempt.

I know how this will end. I’ll wander around the field, pointing at young girls’ skirts and muttering “I hope they get the weather they hoped for”. At that point, if there was any justice in the world, burly security men would eject me forever back to the world of mortgage payments and wondering about Emmanuel Macron’s choice of Prime Minister.

But there is no justice in the world, so I’ll spend each day mispronouncing the names of German electro artists, before slinking home at 10pm to squeeze in an episode of Broadchurch before bed.

I don’t deserve your pity. None of us do.

But if I spot you wandering lonely as a cloud through fields of millennials this summer, I’ll be there for you.

And I’ll have a nice cup of tea.

Originally published in The Times, May 23rd 2017.


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