To all of you music fans, festival lovers and camping addicts, I offer my experiences of some of the most well known, less known, big and small music festivals in my life, Starting this week with Reading-Leeds festival, way back at my teens. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
The Journey Begins!
The year is 2000. August. England. I’m 17 years old, travelling with my best friend, Moti, to our first music festival, in a train drive that cost far too much, from London to Leeds. We are totally ready for three days of music, with some of our biggest musical heroes of the time. Or are we?
The whole thing started when we heard that our friend Avi is travelling through an exchange program to England, to spend about two weeks there. So why not go visit Avi in London for a few days? And while we’re at it, why not look for a music festival? This was at the end of a year where we have seen Radiohead live in Tel Aviv, just before the release of Kid A, and Rage Against The Machine giving a rock concert to remember. We just wanted more of that. So we spent a few days in the countryside west of London, including one bizarre night in Bristol, which we chose to visit just because Massive attack and Portishead came from there. We didn’t meet any cool Trip hop persona in the streets, however. So we had a pizza and went to sleep somewhat disappointed… but none of it mattered! We spent some great days in London with our friend and his local buddies, and here we are, on the train to Leeds, excited and ready for the best experience of our young lives.
Travel Light, Get Wet at Night
After a few hours we were there, at the gates of Leeds festival. You are probably imagining us struggling with all our gear, a tent, the food, the beers, the big bags full of warm clothes. Well, no need to worry. It was really easy, because we didn’t have any of those. We discovered our mistake soon enough, after the first rain started, and hardly stopped at all for the next three days. Having one pullover each, no coat and no tent, we had wondered what crossed our mind when we decided to leave most of our stuff back in London. The answer to that was easy: nothing. Our brains were not yet made for planning a trip in a European country. Coming from Israel, which has no less than 30 degrees during the summer, no rain at all, I guess we thought it’s the same everywhere. No?
No. but it was ok, for a while. We had our tiny backpacks with us, and in we were, on our way to watch Placebo and the Stereophonics, both bands were at a high point of their career at the time. It didn’t stop Moti from running for shelter from the pouring rain during Placebo’s concert, thus gaining an Elliott smith concert. I stayed, happily singing along the lyrics of “Pure morning”: “A friend in need, is a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better, a friend with breast and all the rest”. The words never made so much sense like now… and as it happens, we managed to find that friend just after the show! Meeting my friend again in one of the tent stages, we started to chat with a nice, beautiful northern England girl. That meant that her accent was all too close to a Scottish one, therefore, not to clear. It didn’t matter. Here was “a friend with weed and breast and all the rest” that promised us that we can stay with her and her friends. They have a lot of food and spare room in their tents, she smiled to me while passing along a nice smelling splif, as the brits call it. We scheduled to meet just after the coming concert of Ian Brown, near this pole and that side of the tent. Needless to say, we never saw her again…
Happily we went off to see Ian Brown, who gave a brilliant concert, showing everybody that he is a lot more than the x-lead-singer of the legendary stone Roses. He was just after his second album, “Golden Greats”, and before the third, “Music of the Spheres”. He was on fire, and so were we, enjoying the music and relaxed to know we have a shelter from the rain for the night, and maybe a bit more than that for me, I was hoping. Moti was already in a serious relationship, so no redhead English girls for him. At the end, not for me neither. No matter how hard we looked for our nearly-Scottish friend, we didn’t manage to find her among the hundred thousand or so people. Surprisingly. So we learned in the hard way a very basic rule of music festivals: pick very carefully your meeting place! Or was it, don’t trust smiling strangers that promise you all you ever wanted? Hm. I need to check on that.
In the aftermath of the concert we were resting in the emptying tent, being reminded politely that the tent is closed for the night and we will have to go out soon. To the rain. To the cold. Oh, miserable life. Why didn’t we bring a fucking tent? Or jackets? An umbrella, something?? Moti asked for a cigarette from a guy next to us. Surprisingly, he answered in Hebrew. Me and Moti were exchanging quick glances of “we’ve got a chance here!”, and started a conversation with him. He came alone to the festival, and had a small tent he was hoping to find somebody nice to share it with. “Well, you just found them!”. We explained our desperate situation and left him no choice but to invite us to his tent, complaining all through the coming three nights that we were not what he had in mind as a tent partner. “Get used to disappointments” said the voice in my mind still looking for almost-Scottish-redhead-girl. This time we didn’t set up a meeting place but followed him right then and there to his tent. We learn fast, what can I say?
Mud, Balloons and Erased Memories
The next day introduced us to another important member of the music festivals in Europe. Rain’s greatest earthly friend, the mud. This one I’m going to meet in the festivals to come…
With one pullover and no boots, the chance of not having mud all over wasn’t great. Somehow we managed not to fall, or to get tempted to join the mud sliding and mud fighting happening around us.
The second day had Gomez, Beck, and Super furry animals waiting for us. The Gomez concert was one big party, and being one of my favourite bands after listening repeatedly to their first two albums, I was thrilled when they started throwing huge animal balloons to the crowd during “Whippin’ Piccadilly’s” extended musical interlude, dancing and smiling with all the huge crowd around. What did happen to Gomez, anyway? Searching them in Youtube just gives me hundreds of SELINA Gomez videos, sadly enough. And I think that in any case, their best albums actually were the first two, which came out at my teen years. Their brilliant, folk-rock of the post Britpop era didn’t catch to their later 2000’s albums. If they are a new discovery to you, don’t hesitate to look for their first two or three albums, “Bring it On”, “Liquid Skin” and “In our Gun”.
Beck. The man was already a big performer and a hard to define musician fifteen years ago. I think. I don’t really remember anything from that show. God, I’m old. But maybe it wasn’t great? Or just average? How can I not remember any special version from the “Midnite Vultures” album, which came out just one year before and was a great, sexy, sensual musical event? Maybe I found one too many spliff partners during that show… that can explain it. You see, being the hobos that we were in this primal experience, I have invented and improved a method to find someone to borrow a few puffs from, even before they were lighting the damn thing! Yes, I’m not proud of those moments, but to this day I have sympathy for those who desperately look for a puff or two. Hell, sometimes it’s still me…
Super furry animals were fun as ever, full of happy energy, celebrating on stage the success of their latest album, “Guerrilla”. “Night Vision” was a sensation, and their prophetic song, “Wherever I Lay My Phone (That’s My Home)” is still engraved in my mind. Years before the smartphones and at the time almost nobody owned a mobile phone, they saw where we are heading. But the most memorable song from the concert was the hymn “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck”, with the ultimate chorus, singing loudly “you know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else”. Blissful moments, indeed.
Hard Rock at High Exposure
The surprise of the day was a relatively new band, known for mainly one song, “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”, with the repeating line:” whatever you do, don’t tell anyone”. It was The Queens of the Stone Age. Lucky for them, in a time before social media, it was still easier to keep a secret the fact that the band’s bassist loves to perform naked. We had the pleasure to see bass player Nick Olivieri in all his glory, after going off stage just to return with only his bass guitar to hide his pride. Apparently, the Brazilian police didn’t enjoy it like us, and had the hard rock n roller under arrest for performing naked in a music festival in Rio the following year.
For us it was a good moment, though, and a real rock concert that shined above the post brit pop bands filling the line up. They were not the only ones, though. The festival was also hosting Rage Against the Machine, the Deftones, Slipknot, and Limp Bizkit. From those I remember the intense concert of Slipknot, covering their faces in masks, and forever regretting not going to see Deftones, which I only discovered in the year to follow. “Rage” I already saw in Israel not long before the summer, so that was already done.
The now obvious notion that you can’t see everything in a music festival, was a new discovery for us. Therefore, we missed things, or a split, or both. I remember Moti seeing the late Eliot Smith, while I was elsewhere. Same thing happened with the Doves.
Finishing with a Bang
The last day was already upon us, offering a brilliant, intense concert by Primal Scream, touring with their first heavy sound album, XTRMNTR. The show was as powerful as the album, offering all the hits from it, as well as older material from the band’s classics “Screamadelica”. “Swastika Eyes” still brings back memories and gets me dancing in my computer chair to this moment.
We also had the pleasure of seeing Grandaddy, the critics favourite band of the moment, that were hitting number one almost everywhere with their second album, “The sophtware Slump”. It was a moving concert, full of emotion, and kind of a contrast to all the rockers and happy brit pop sound all around. It went great with the rain and the cold, though.
Flying Toilets to Oasis Break Up
The peak of the evening, and supposedly the entire festival, arrived at the end of the third day, in the form of Oasis, maybe my first favourite band. At the time I wasn’t a big fan anymore, but was still happy to see live the band that had created one of the first cd’s that I bought in my life. There are other bands that consist my starting CD compilation, but they are way too embarrassing to admit here… The show was formed of everything we expected from the Gallagher brothers. Their biggest hits, cursing, and promises that this is their last show and they are breaking up after it. We were pleased to share an historical moment like this, not aware that this declaration is a routine for the brothers, as well as making a mess. Like the Rock n Roll stars they always considered themselves to be. Oh well. We had a good time.
Our first festival was coming to an end. We were full of good memories, stories and the tines were still living in our minds, with an occasional boom sound. Wait, what? What boom?? Looking to the horizon, at the other end of the campsite, we saw what had to be a flying portable toilet. And than another one to the cheers of the crowd. Apparently somebody found a way to ignite all the chemicals inside these small stench boxes, and as a result, making them fly. It was cool for a while, and very strange, so we were going closer, of course. Not falling far behind, though, was a big group of well armed police officers, dozens of them marching in perfect lines, with their helmets, bats and shields all ready for action. We decided it was a good time to turn to another direction.
The Memories That Last, and Those That Don’t
I spent the rest of the night alone, covered in my sleeping bag, taking refuge at one of the coffee shops that was open until the morning. Why I was there, where did my friend go, and how the time passed? I don’t remember, but I think I didn’t know at the moment either. After three days of pure music, rain, cold, fun, confusion and shelter hunting, we were ready to go back home. If I could, I would attach some pictures here, but I can’t. Not because it was the pre-smartphone era, but because Moti lost my camera. Thanks dude… But maybe it was for the best. Maybe it’s part of the reason that I remember this experience so vividly. It is also due to the fact that this was a primal experience, which came after years of listening repeatedly to my favourite albums, in a pre-mp3 era, when every CD you had was precious. There was nothing better than having all this music come to life in front of us.
I didn’t talk about the bands we missed, like Foo Fighters, that we didn’t really like, or Embrace, that we didn’t really know. Or Muse, that we deliberately skipped, because for us they were just Radiohead imitators at the time. Or Pulp, that I can’t think of any good explanation to why we didn’t see them, honestly. Or maybe we did? Am I getting senile already?
And I didn’t talk about Clinic, who gave a great concert, who were playing a strange instrument, something like a big, elastic plastic hose, while bragging that “The Fucking Streophonics don’t have something like this!”. Nor did I mention the Animalhouse, a small, forgotten band that had a great concert and a cool album that is almost untraceable now, called “Ready to Receive”. Or Blur’s Graham Coxon brilliant solo performance. And more and more. Things we saw, things we missed and got bigger with the years to come, bands which were in the bottom of the lineup and are now at the top, or bands that disappeared completely. It’s a big list, but I think that this is already enough, no? In any case, the bug of music festivals got me than, and hasn’t left me since, a good festival being always a thing to inspire towards, and the best thing to do with my time and money.
If you liked this article, if you like music festivals, or if you know somebody that was in Leeds 2000 and knows my lost almost-scotish friend , don’t hesitate to share this with them, and with all music fans that you know. Next time we will be ten years forward, in 2010, at the Genial Electric Picnic festival in Ireland.
Go out and discover new music!
The upcoming Leeds Festival takes place at 28-30/8, and features bands like Alt-J, Metallica, Jamie xx, Mumfurd & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, and many, many more. Enjoy the mud!