Wednesday, October 01, 2008

End of the Road Festival

I’m back. It’s been over three weeks, the holidays and festivals are over and new bathrooms have been installed. I’m back to work, and more importantly, back to blogging. Given where I left off, he first thing that I should report back about is the End of the Road Festival, so here goes. There will be a full review of music to come, but it won’t be comprehensive. For a more detailed rundown on musical happenings, check out Sweeping the Nation’s reviews, or even Matthew Song, by Toad for a more equivocal opinion. There are also loads of other reviews out there (like this one), if you care about such things.

Before I begin in earnest, some general observations:

Less intimacy. Obviously this is relative, because if you’ve been to any of the country’s megafests, EOTR with its 5000 capacity is as intimate as they come. It’s just that compared to the previous two years, there were a lot more people around. Now, with line-ups as good as they have been, they should have sold out every year, but this was the first. I wish the organisers every success, because each festival has been excellent, but I guess it’s just me complaining that a couple of thousand extra people gatecrashed my festival. This is silly of course. I hope it sells out every year. I’ll just have to get used to it.

More people + rain = lots of mud. It was the first EOTR with proper festival mud. Although it was dry (and even regularly sunny) for most of the weekend, a three-hour downpour early on the Friday did for the site. Five thousand people tramping through two gates and around a field soon made a sticky bog. I’m so glad that I bought a pair of wellies during a wet camping holiday a few days earlier.

Still magical. Each year, the EOTR team make a fantastic effort to make the festival site look as lovely as possible. So we enjoyed the usual fairy lights in the woods, the piano in the clearing, the library in the woods and the various odd quirky decorations scattered about. It’s also good to see how they’re trying to make things a little different each year, so this year we had brightly-coloured papier-mâché masks hanging from the trees, a light-up dancefloor and a table tennis table.

Good food and drink. Being proper campers, we dined out mostly on the food I had lugged up from the car, though there were plenty gastronomic delights on offer. The Pieminister queue was longer than ever, so much so that come Sunday afternoon when we went seeking pies, they had sold out! However, the organic burgers were an excellent alternative and put most of London’s self-styled posh gourmet burger joints in the shade. At the bar, there was a pleasing lack of bland lagers and plenty decent beer to be quaffed. Result again!

Festival parenting. This was the Growl family’s first time as proper festival parents. Last year we stayed off-site but this year we returned to the full camping experience. The first thing we noticed in the family camping area was what terrible parents we must be, as our three-man tent was dwarfed by the über-tents of the über-parents around us. We were further shamed by our lack of tables, chairs and fully-equipped portable kitchens. But despite such neglectfulness, we had a great time. The Baby Growl seemed to enjoy both camping and the festival experience in general, and the little waterproof suit we bought her proved to be one of the best purchases ever.

I know that festival going non-parents often complain about the presence of families, as if that lowers the credibility of the occasion, but hey, starting to procreate isn’t always accompanied by developing a liking for Phil Collins and realising that one arena gig a year is enough. EOTR had plenty of good activities for kids laid on and although most of it was pitched for kids a couple of years older than ours, there was still fun to be had and future years can only get better. Mrs Growl has already started trawling the internets for a cheap, end-of-season deal on an über-tent.

Finally, there are a few complaints, as you'd expect. The sound mix was occasionally a bit dodgy on some of the stages. The toilets left a lot to be desired (more people + what seemed like the same number of toilets as previous years + lots of mud led to long queues and generally poor conditions inside), though the organisers are aware of this and have vowed to improve next year. We could have also done with some sawdust or suchlike substance thrown down in the gates and main thoroughfares just to make walking a little easier. But all in, as with previous years, there was little to quibble about. A great festival all round and my finger is already hovering over the ‘buy’ button for the early bird tickets for next year. Who needs to know the line-up? It's going to be good!