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(Credits: Far Out / Dmitry Vechorko / Danny Howe)

Music | Opinion

Are festivals the best place to watch live music?

Music festivals are a confounding yet significant part of popular culture. For over 50 years, people have been flocking to the myriad of bonanzas on offer, ranging from the original Woodstock in 1969 to contemporary celebrations such as Coachella.

There’s something about being in the outdoors and losing all inhibitions that attract millions of us year on year to different landscapes all over the planet to achieve one primary goal: to listen to our favourite musicians do their thing and have the time of our life.

But is it all it’s cracked up to be? Extra-musical problems aside, such as incessant rain, a neverending morass of mud, or the multitude of issues with travel, when it comes to watching live music, the quality of what festivals offer can vary markedly. This raises the question, are festivals even the best place to watch live music? After all, why would we leave the relative comfort of an indoor listening experience for the baking heat or a rainstorm?

It’s an interesting question, as you speak to any person that has frequented some of our favourite festivals such as Glastonbury, Coachella, Primavera Sound, Green Man or End of the Road, they’d tell you that festivals are absolutely the best place to watch live music, regardless of the weather. When the mix is right and the setting perfect, the communal atmosphere that is stoked by thousands of us singing along in unison to the same artist, who just so happens to be killing it, cannot be beaten.

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I was lucky enough to see the likes of Wet Leg, Gorillaz, and Pavement on the first weekend of this year’s Primavera Sound in Barcelona, and whilst many horrendous logistical problems threatened to overshadow the overall experience, when it came to the music, which is, of course, the primary function of a music festival, it was just exquisite.

Fans had travelled to the capital of Catalonia for the same acts, and
it showed. The artists knew it, and we all knew it, and given that the mix was invariably brilliant, the stage was set for a listening experience like no other, and this goes for all of the music I was lucky enough to catch there, from DJ Shadow to Napalm Death. Being outdoors, surrounded by like-minded people, and watching some of the most exciting names in the business is an experience that goes far beyond the confines of an O2 Academy or stadium-sized venue.

It cannot be ignored that some festivals suffer from terrible sound engineering, either due to environmental factors, or the artist not delivering 100%, and these are not mutually exclusive, and often compound each other.

If the elements are misbehaving, the stage isn’t set up properly and the mix is ineffective, it can make for one of the worst experiences of watching an artist that you’ve ever had. All of us that enjoy spending time at music festivals will have at least one horror story of turning up to watch an artist who we love, or there is a significant buzz around, for us only to leave majorly disappointed come the time their set ends, if we haven’t already left halfway through.

However, these experiences should not deter us, as I’d wager that for every bad set we’ve witnessed at festivals, we’ve also had two in an indoor venue.

Although we’ve all witnessed artists deliver life-affirming performances at their own shows, when it is done right, you cannot beat watching live music at a festival. The community spirit and sense of belonging is palpable, and whilst you may get that at a one-off show on an artist’s tour, courtesy of established performers such as Nick Cave or Charli XCX, watching them do their thing at a great festival, backed by the great outdoors of your choosing, is a transcendental experience that everyone should experience at least once in their life.

Whether it be the Green Man’s mountainous backdrop or the luscious rolling fields of Glastonbury, you pick a festival tailored to your own environmental needs, and if it’s one of artistic repute, you rarely regret it. Festivals are the best place to watch live music, you just have to pick the right one.

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