Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reading Music Festival - the good, the bad, the barely clothed

We left our hotel around 9:00 am, headed for the nearest underground subway station (or tube as the locals say), a few minutes from our hotel we hopped aboard, destination: Paddington Station - yes, like the bear, they even sell them there.

At 10:30 am, after navigating an underground maze of tunnels connecting various tube stations, taxi stands, entrances, and exits,  we board another train,  this one above ground, for a 30 minute ride out and away from London.

As the train pulls into Reading Station, passengers spill onto the platform, ninety percent under the age of 21, carrying a weekend's worth of supplies, and sporting a flashy pair of rubber rain boots (or Wellies as the locals say) - to be referred to simply as "youths" from this point on.

Reading is actually a decent little town, having never been there before, and after wandering aimlessly for the designated ticket collection office and eventually collecting said designated tickets, we start walking. A good preview of how the rest of the weekend would be spent - we walked, dodging people headed every direction,  down industrial looking blocks, past the train station, through suburban areas where grandparents handed out free tea and coffee, and finally into a large field - festival central - where we were herded through lines by enthused security guards, shouting directions as the paths forked and wearing tired expressions as we were clearly not the first lost souls unsure if they had weekend or day passes.

It was about this time that I started to see the bigger picture - we weren't just two people, trying to get into a concert, unsure in the confusion if we were over or under 19. We were part of something much bigger - a calling to celebration, to music and expression, to freedom, rebellion, and fun. As I watched the mob of people move around me, setting up tents, brushing teeth over a communal trough, carting flats of beer around, and eventually leaving all that to join the mass of people headed for the festival grounds, I no longer saw a group of barely clothed youths, but a congregation of worshippers. I was part of Music Festival Mecca.

Kasabian on the Main Stage (via)

Entrance to the grounds is by wristband only, a hot commodity with over 90,000 sold, and the 187.50 Pound price tag (for three days) was well worth it for a glimpse of music's hottest acts - from unsigned and undiscovered bands to those topping the charts and setting out on world tours. The Reading Festival has been an annual event since the first performances in 1971. Initially held at Little John's Farm, the land is now devoted to the festival, and it clearly needs some time to recuperate afterwards - much like many of the attendees.

Although not an exclusive event for the youths of England, anyone with the cash and good timing to buy a ticket can take in the amazing line up of performances, they certainly dominate the festival scene - and it's hard to miss hoards of youths sporting, what I can only assume are, the current trends in camping attire.  Before Reading I didn't know that midriff tops and high waisted jean shorts were cool again, and should be worn so the lower half of your bottom hangs out, exposed to the world. Whatever happened to cleavage? Just as I was stocking up on deep v-neck shirts and push up bras, assess get the nod and I'm left looking passe in skinny jeans with my boobs pressed up to my chin. It seemed that the cooler a girl was (based on how many friends made up the posse that followed her around) was related exclusively to how high cut her shorts were - the whole thing created a wedgie-look that appeared rather uncomfortable.

I also wasn't aware that tights could be worn as pants - and I'm not referring to solid leggings, we have those at home - I'm talking about transparent blank nylons. As pants. As we stood outside, drenched by heavy rain, waiting for Florence + the Machine to hit the stage, I looked down and saw two girls in front of me wearing matching jackets, soaked through, barely long enough to cover their bottoms, without pants on. It looked as though they'd forgotten to put on a skirt before leaving the tent for the night. All I could think was 'they must be really cold'. By the way, it only rained hard that one night and the performance was well worth it.  

Reading Festival Uniform (via)

Fashion forward or not, in the end the weekend is about music - which we enjoyed until my feet gave out, and then continued to enjoy seated away from the stage. With four large stage,s Reading has it's bases covered when it comes to music genres, and at any given time you're likely to find something that suits your personal preferences. We ended up hanging around the BBC Radio 1 stage for most of the weekend, which hosted a range of alternative indie and rock bands, and then skipped over to the Main Stage to catch some of our favorite headliners for an hour or two. Three days and approximately thirty-three hours later we walked away, a little worse for wear, with a list of new bands to add to our iPods and slightly more obsessed with those we arrived loving.

Since the festival we've tried to list our top five performances and the task has been nearly impossible. Not only because so many bands were so good live (no lip-sync here!), but because they cover a huge range of musical styles. Although not a true 'top five list', here are a few of our favorite acts/performances...

Of Monsters and Men - Kaiser Chiefs - Two Door Cinema Club - Foster the People - Florence + the Machine

Florence + the Machine (via)

Two Door Cinema Club (via)

Foster the People (via)

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, these are not my pictures - I do not own the rights to these pictures - The Reading Music Festival has professional photographers that capture the entire weekend on film to share online. Although I wish I'd taken even one of these shots (or been so close to the stage) the silver lining is that my expensive camera gear stayed at the hotel, tucked away from rain, dirt, and thieving youths, and I still have fabulous images to share with friends unable to attend in person.

Overall the Reading Music Festival was a fabulous experience - big, loud, and in your face. It roughed us up a bit (the late nights and second hand smoke were too much for our immune systems) and overwhelmed us at times (somehow more people squeezed into the festival grounds than the total population of our home town) but it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience and we're so glad it fit into our trip!

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Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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