Visit our sponsors

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Recollections of England's V-Festival 2001 (Chelmsford, 2001)

Photo: Wheatus on the second stage at V2001 (Click for full size.)

Photo: The big tree by the second stage provided a respite from the rain. (Click for full size.

I'm sitting at home in Minneapolis today listening to the V-2003 Festival highlights on Virgin Radio over the internet as I clean my house. I try to make a habit of being exactly where I want to be at all times, but as the live festival began at 2 PM Minnesota time today, (8 PM in Chelmsford) I do feel a bit of a yearning to be there in the English countryside, even if it was just a month ago that I returned from this year's jaunt to the European rock festivals.

The V-Festival was my first foray into the non-US festival world. (Lollapalooza in the US was my first true festival experience.) I had worked most of the day on the Friday before the festival at my job in Minnesota. I was helping an English customer get setup for a videoconference at just before noon and was in bit of a rush to get him up and running. "I have to be in Chelmsford by 2 p.m. tomorrow," I mentioned in passing, figuring that would get his attention. I also wanted to make it clear to him that I would simply not be available that afternoon if things went awry once his conference started.

Festival-going the way I do it makes for a truly dream-like experience due to the combination of jet lag and sleep-deprivation that accompany the first legs of my journeys. First I fly all night on Northwest flight 44, and I don't sleep well, if at all on overseas flights. I land in England at Gatwick Airport in the morning and smell the diesel of the trains mixed with cigarette smoke on the train station platform while catching the Gatwick Express into London. I arrive at my hotel too early for check-in because although check-in is at 11, your room typically isn't ready until 2. After a bit of bargaining, I usually get into my room around noon, leaving enough time to shower, shave and catch a bus or train a hundred miles or more to my ultimate destination. As I get off the train and ascend into Chelmsford, the local police have setup an amnesty zone where we are encouraged to drop off our "gear" in a bin, no questions asked. “If you proceed into Chelmsford and caught with drugs, you will be arrested,” we are warned. “The dogs caught two people earlier today,” is tacked on for additional emphasis. Fascinatingly, people comply and dump bags of pot and other substances into a small garbage can right next to the police officers and proceed on their merry way. This is a far cry from the underhanded entrapment schemes devised by the US police at festivals. (See this article in yesterday's Star Trib as an example.)

There's been no division of a night's sleep between the workday the day before and suddenly and suddenly I'm walking through the gates of a major music event on the other side of the world, amidst thousands of people, many of whom camped overnight the night before or who commuted a lot less far than I did.

In 2001 tears literally came to my eyes as I walked into the grassy area of the main stage at Chelmsford and heard up close the first strains of music that had only been represented by a glossy ad in Q Magazine just 6 weeks before as I sat in my Minneapolis backyard. It may have even been David Gray onstage, running through "Please Forgive Me" as I dried my tears. It could have been Neil Finn, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don't recall for sure, as they were all there that year--as was Placebo, Wheatus, Nelly Furtado, The Foo Fighters and a host of others I won't even begin to name as you already get the picture. I'd flown myself straight into a music lover's heaven, and I knew it.

The V Festivals are a great place for a foreign festival-goer to start. They are well organized, by English standards; a little less rowdy; a lot less muddy due to special grass covering that covers the entire front stage areas in most cases. The Chelmsford site is gorgeous and tree-lined. Some of the bigger trees have not even been cut down even though they block the sightline in some cases. Instead they are mounted with speaker racks to aid those further back in hearing. They also provide shelter in the likely event of rain that happens almost daily in England. We experienced a downpour during the first afternoon and the big tree by the second stage became a popular spot, though many people simply ignored the rain and just sat on the grass covering and continued enjoying the show. (See picture.)

V2001 was small compared to the Reading Festival I would attend the following week, and dwarfed by the Glastonbury and Roskilde Festivals I would attend in later years, but as a starter I was blown away. Although I spent most of the two days wandering around in a daze, my first festival experience is one I will never forget, perhaps evidenced by the fact that two years later I can still recall it in the most specific of details.