The importance of festivals to culture and society cannot be underestimated.
It’s easy to think festivals are just about a bunch of privileged people in a field drinking cider and dancing – and yes, those festivals are great – but the layers of significant cultural importance that make up even those festivals represent a long journey within a particular culture, society and history.
I’ve been to over 59 festivals in 22 different countries, and I still want to experience more. Festivals are a fascinating insight into a group of individuals, bound by a common understanding.
They’re tribal. They’re representative of what a certain way of life thinks, the way they express themselves, and offer a safe space for people to explore and welcome this part of their identity.
Religious gatherings and agricultural celebrations are the earliest recorded festivals. And now, 100s or 1000s of years later in 2020, still, spiritual / wellness festivals and food festivals are the current a la mode. Our need to celebrate ourselves, our food and our social interactions remains unchanged.
Importance of festivals to cultural understanding
One of the main reasons I enjoy going to international festivals so much is the fact they are a microcosm of what they represent. Festivals are an opportunity to see as much as possible in a weekend into worlds so different, or even familiar, of my own.
I ticked off a huge bucket list festival in Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi a few years ago. I was unwell and not my usual party self, but, it gave me the opportunity instead to sit and listen to the local poets. Through their poetry they enlightened me to some of the issues of the day – calling out their ‘fat government’ and covering everything from housing, to relationships, to the nominal opportunities.
They were all fascinating insights into modern social issues and the Malawi of the present, that I would have had to dig deep to find out. And probably wouldn’t have bothered to, to be honest. Even if only for a weekend, it gave me a better understanding of what life was like in Malawi. The cheers from the crowds at certain shared points showed me that this was the zeitgeist thought of the attendees, and the poets on stage had touched a nerve.
It was the same at the Knysna Oyster Festival in South Africa. A comedian was up on stage with his take on a huge news story of the time, about a pastor who claimed he could cure HIV and cancer with a fly repellant. It’s an awful tale, but his comedic take, and the laughing responses from the audience again, taught me a lot about a modern issue I wouldn’t have known about.
And, I never even knew speed eating oysters was a thing.
You never know what you’re going to learn when you visit a new festival. That’s all part of the fun and anticipation.
Comedy makes current social issues fun, music makes them melodic, while poetry makes them considered and heart felt. Festivals bring you them all.
Check out my video of the Knysna Oyster Festival
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Cruel Festivals We Should Never to Go To
Importance of festivals for tribal thinking
Humans are tribal. Always have been, always will be. The mantra ‘find your tribe’ is a popular marketing phrase now, but really, it’s what we as humans have always tried to do.
‘Unity’ is often cited as a reason to love festivals, and I totally agree. The unification I felt at the 90s festival I went to in the Midlands just totally proves that. Play Vengaboys to your average crowd these days and it’d be met with disgust, but here, I found my people. And in the Midlands where I grew up too. It was an unpretentious festival, where everyone was there to have fun. I had a brilliant time.
You’ll get those people who’ve found a festival they love, and go every year. Let’s take Burners, as they seem to be some of the most passionate people out there.
From the Facebook groups I was in when I fancied a year at Burning Man (didn’t happen), some of them are obsessed. They have these meet ups throughout the year, they plan their art work and their RVs and what they’re taking months in advance.
Burning Man is a gathering of 75,000 people willing to – paying a fortune to – brave the sandstorms and desert to come together and look at art and trade skills in a primitive environment.
Now that’s a unique tribe.
Festivals are a chance for tribes and groups to get together – whether it’s their religion, views, social beliefs or interests that binds them.
Importance of festivals as an escape
For me, festivals are the ultimate chance to switch off from normal life. When it comes to music festivals, the biggest worry is basically just what band to see next, or where to go to the toilet.
No one wants to waste their phone battery so there’s no pointless phone scrolling. There’s no TV, news, magazines and ideally, no advertising either. Festival goers live in the moment.
I remember my first Glastonbury back in 2012. My friend’s dad had recently died, my nan was very ill, and we weren’t in our best ways. All was out of mind though as we concentrated on bands, food, having fun, making friends and just having a wonderful weekend. As we drove home on the Monday we agreed it’d been the first time we’d stopped thinking about our worries, in quite a while.
When my five-year relationship ended one of the first things I did was to go to Latitude Festival by myself. Apart from feeling like a right loner putting the tent up on my own, the rest of the weekend was wonderful and I had a great time. This was an escape for me from the last few months. Latitude was my escape.
About a month later I went to Sziget Festival in Budapest with a bunch of friends. That was another escape, albeit a much, much boozier one.
Festivals are a stress reliever. You could argue they bring another level of stress, in shelter, finance and food worries. But these minor stresses take over the bigger worries of the day. Festivals really are a chance to totally switch off.
Importance of festivals to the local economy
Festivals are huge business now. In the UK we have hundreds of festivals, from a capacity of a few hundred to Glastonbury at 210,000. That’s a higher population than the world’s 20 smallest countries.
Figures from UK Music suggest that with the 3.4 million people who attend festivals in the country every year, it gives the economy a £550 million boost. Glastonbury alone contributes over £100m to the economy annually.
“Edinburgh’s festivals create the equivalent of 5,242 full time jobs, according to a report by BOP Consulting, with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe alone accounting for over 3,000 of these.” – from an interesting report on citywire.co.uk
Where I live, in Southsea, Victorious Festival advertising is all over the city’s billboards, year round. The current ads are making sure everyone knows they’ve injected £50 million into the local economy over the last few years.
Hotels need festivals, camping shops need festivals, transport links need festivals – our economy needs festivals.
Importance of festivals to individuals
I know quite a few people who feel transformed by the festivals they’ve been to. Just having that time out, that escape from normal life, their mindset has changed, even flipped. This is how festivals get their loyal followers.
I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by people who, in general, enjoy their jobs and lives. But for some, festivals are a chance to get away from the pressure of life – what they wear, do and say is controlled and policed by work and / or society.
Festivals are a chance to express yourself, to be free, and without judgement. This is your chance to wear the glitter, the feathers, the leggings, and step away from who you are outside the festival gates.
Of course at most festivals all that’s required is to drink, eat and dance to the music and have a lovely time. But it’s when festivals invite your participation – like Tomatina, that you really get involved. This is also when you really get to create those bonds with others too.
Oktoberfest remains some of my favourite three days of my life, with a bunch of wonderful strangers. Strangers who I haven’t really kept in touch with, beyond a Like here and there on Facebook, but I will remember fondly. I was there with Busabout, who organise group trips to festivals and from the prep of buying a drindl, to the last morning of feeling like death, the tour group I was in became my absolute besties. It’s the adventures we had together that made it so memorable.
Importance of festivals to followers
Religious festivals, and music festivals, are a pilgrimage. Music, like religion, brings people with a similar set of beliefs together. They’re a chance to relax into the comfort of being around people with the same mindset as you brings.
Festivals like the Kumbh Mela for example, give a sense of personal achievement and fulfilment to attendees. Believers pool everything they have, and all their resources into being able to go. It’s part of their duty to God.
The chance to see a favourite band, or a religious leader, doing their thing is the ultimate goal for followers.
Importance of festivals for social interaction
Festivals are a chance for these ‘tribes’ to come together in real life to connect on a whole other level. It’s a level of connection that’s dying these days, with the fleeting online social interactions we’re more used to.
United by a shared love for the festival, and the surroundings, it’s easy to become close to festival friends.
Whenever my friends have been to festivals there are always gushing dedications on social media after. We’ve been on a journey, seen things together, done things together – had an incredible experience together.
For Glastonbury for example, you need to have your ‘squad’ assembled 9 months in advance to even have a chance at getting tickets. It’s all part of the bonding experience.
“Festivals aren’t ordinary places. They’re built to be extraordinary—to look like beautiful, faraway places that are larger than life. It’s a surreal world where everything is new and catches your eye. From fire-breathers to dancers, fireworks and beyond, there’s never a dull moment. For most people, especially first-timers, it’s a totally new experience.”
Insomniac.com – The Science of Falling in Love at Festivals
Festivals are a chance for real connection with actual humans. An opportunity to put your phone down and enjoy the moment.
Importance of festivals for new experiences
There are some crazy festivals around the world. Each and all testing the limits and comfort zones of all who attend.
It’s not just the actual festival that offers a new experience though, festivals can also be an interesting opportunity with the conditions.
Brits’ whole keep calm and carry on vibe is tested to the very limits with the British weather. Glastonbury 2019 was almost unbearable on the Saturday, it was so hot. I got the best tan I’ve had in a long time while waiting for Kylie to come on, and festivalgoers were desperately seeking shade under the very few trees in the grounds.
While 5 weeks later Boardmasters was called off thanks to the winds.
That weekend I tried to go to Bristol Balloon Fiesta – on tenterhooks as to whether it was going to be on at all. I lost my car parking fee, and the campervan we’d hired ended up in a multi storey car park in Bristol, rather than the open field being photographed as balloons went overhead as I expected.
I often hear, ‘oh I couldn’t do a festival, I couldn’t camp’.
Well, you don’t have to. In festivals’ need to cater for all, there are usually a range of sleeping arrangements to go for. Yurts, city festival hotels, campervans – seriously, I genuinely believe there’s a festival for everyone and all.
City festivals like Primavera in Barcelona, and Field Day in London, give festival lovers a chance to enjoy the delights of a city. While Wilderness and Latitude give festivalgoers the opportunity to enjoy camping in the great outdoors, with a few thousand others.
Festivals are a chance to explore new things, to be with nature, and at the mercy of the elements.
Importance of festivals to me
I’ve been going to festivals since I was 16. A group of friends and I picked up our GCSE results, and then boarded a train to Reading Festival. We’d braided our hair, had been talking about it for months, saved up our money , and thanks to our friends’ dad who worked at Carling (the sponsors) at the time, we managed to get free tickets.
No way would we have afforded it otherwise.
I remember the craziness and wonder of that weekend vividly. Us village kids had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for!
I went back for more though. The next year we went to Leeds Festival and this time really got stuck in. You need to open yourself up to festivals, to really get the most out of them. Go with an open heart and mind, and enjoy them all the more.
In my experience of festivals, (most) are a positive space where people come to simply enjoy themselves and whatever the festival has to offer.