Can the festival style make a comeback?
Oh, is that how they say the future is supposed to feel?
Or just 20,000 people standing in a field?
Jarvis Cocker sang these words with glee to 100,000 confused fans as his band, Pulp, was headlining Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage in 1995. Britpop was in full swing in June, and I was down to Worthy Farm for the first time with five friends to celebrate being done with our exams and free from parental interference, our excitement does not water down neither by the rain skins on our surplus army parkas (topping our t-shirts of band with homemade pearl necklaces tucked underneath) nor by the local Somerset Cider. We carried our big hearts.
As much as virtual concerts have valiantly tried over the past year, seeing music outdoors is not something you can fake. This spring I made the trip to Worthy Farm again for a festival, but not the one we know: it was a livestream – of performances by Coldplay, Kano, Damon Albarn and Wolf Alice, among others – that was aired recently, not quite the Glastonbury weekend, or, as we call the faithful, ‘Summer Christmas’. While the 900-acre site is almost daring, it kind of feels like a happy riff on the norm. We are besieged by the pandemic, but the return of live music promises to be euphoric. For many generations, we have needed to gather in nature, listen to music and dance – and we need it more than ever.
From my early days as an indie-rock kid until my marriage to a music agent in my late twenties, I have embraced the spirit of the festival with vigor, touring the circuit across the UK , the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. For each there is an indelible memory, a thong and an extra crevice in my biker jacket. (When I left Vogue a few years ago I had my own fake blanket; under a picture of me trying on my best model pout was a phrase painting me like the Jules Verne of guitar rock: “Around the world in 80 festivals.”) I stood arm in arm watching Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke alone on stage just to give the crowd another burst of the ‘Karma Police’ coda, and was crushed on Prince’s SXSW closing night at La Zona Rosa in Austin, where he and his 22-person group (also crushed on the small stage) wizard have the 1200- capacity room with six callbacks. I even have DJs at festivals, once stealing the Jay-Z crowd. (A brief warning: the appointed time – and my tent’s proximity to its stage – may have helped my beginner’s luck; I retired that night at altitude.) can’t wait to be back in the muddy fields of Somerset, the manicured Coachella polo field and the off-season ski resort of Fuji Rock.
While no two festivals are the same, all share a sense of oneness and a lack of cynicism at the entrance. The pandemic has isolated us and eaten away at our social bonds, but the festival is fueled by people coming together – from the first set to the last encore of the evening. When the Brexit vote took place in 2016, Glastonbury provided a welcome cocoon of conviviality, if only for a weekend. Peacocks, beasts of burden and enigmas find their place there; even Emma Watson, in the middle of filming The Bling ring, joined us at Coachella – her long hair extensions and temporary tattoo are the perfect disguise, freeing her to dance on David Guetta. The feeling is restorative; your faith in people is skyrocketing rapidly. Complete strangers miraculously returned Chanel handbags and car keys when they feared they would be lost forever. On stage, I saw Dave Grohl kindly lend Axl Rose, who had recently broken his foot, his light-up throne (from the moment Grohl broke his leg) so that the Guns N ‘Roses singer can headline Coachella seated.