The art of festivals

Written by Louis Raphael Michael

The word festival can mean many different things. For most nowadays it conjures up images of music stages, giant crowds, endless tents, and people gone wild. To our grandparents’ generation it might have made them think of the annual fete, with games and stalls on the village green, perhaps a maypole dance at the height of summer. To the religious their hearts may swell thinking of their holy days throughout the year, and the deep reverence of their manifold meanings.

The common universal thread here is that to humans the world over, no matter what background, and throughout all human history, say the word festival and the unanimous association is ‘celebration’.

There is and always has been an innate desire in humans to celebrate.

Even when our ancient ancestors lived in constant danger in the deepest depths of the wild, we know from archaeological evidence that they celebrated. In their own spiritual ritualistic way, they used parties to express thanks and joy. For the food they could gather, for each other, for the bounty of nature, and for the gift of their lives. They lifted up their hands to the sky, and they danced and they sang, and they focused on the good.

Today things are very different, because we are safe and comfortable. We have so very much more than we could possibly need. A severe consequence of modern convenience is that many have lost touch with gratitude entirely. It’s hard to appreciate the value of any one thing when anything and everything is at the push of a button. This apathy is the reason why many feel so lost in life. Essentially, we’re talking about glass half full, glass half empty, the famous test of perception. In a world of apathetic ungrateful zombies, how do we switch perspective back to deep gratitude for every aspect of life, so that every breath feels like a miracle?

This is what the festival is and what it always has been. It is so much more than just a chance to let your inner party animal out.

On a deeper level, it is the chance to remember and realign to the deep appreciation for life. Whenever one goes astray into depression, meaninglessness, spiralling into numbness, the festival offers a space of upbeat, energetic, euphoric rejoicing. It is a space where you are allowed and encouraged to put down your burden. To get in touch with the playfulness dormant inside you. To lift you out of the noise and busywork of daily life, and reorient you towards living as your optimal self. At its best the festival transports you to a higher state, reminding you what life is capable of being when you feel light and joyful. The festival is as much for the inner child as the inner party animal.

At least, this is an idealised understanding of festivals. In practice the music festivals that have grown to dominate the world are governed by how much money the music corporations, landowners and alcohol distributors can make, and the spirit of celebration is pushed aside for the same old boring capitalistic pursuit of profit. And yet, regardless of this money hungry incentive, the music festival still shines as a true festival, rich with meaning making. Groups of friends making lifetime memories and dancing until sunrise. Or, people having deep realisations on psychedelics laying in a decorated fairy forest; or meeting the love of your life eating £10 chips at 4am.

The true spirit of the universal time-honoured tradition of festivals is an integral part of human culture. It evolves and changes alongside us, as part of us. Even in the madness and debauchery of the contemporary music festival, there is something so surprisingly pure, and this aspect is more meaningful than you might think.

A place of escape and euphoric release.

Perhaps you went to your first festival with a group of friends, after exams, or taking holiday days off work. There’s a good chance it was a huge blowout where you felt a release, and then the inevitable dread of going back to the real world. You know you want to stay in the festival atmosphere, but what does that really mean? Why do festivals feel so good? Let’s think about how they’re different from daily life. 

The obvious is that you’re on holiday, free to do whatever you like with none of your usual unpleasant responsibilities. You’re cut loose from the relentlessly functioning adult persona and free to be something a little different, if only temporarily. The festival itself is built around musicians and performers both unknown and bigtime famous. Therefore at the centre is human artistic creativity to be appreciated, respected and enjoyed by all.

The entire festival becomes one big community. With everyone connected by the event and sealed into this world together, we talk to strangers and making friends becomes far easier and more natural. Everything is designed specifically to be walkable. You can get everything you need on just your own two feet. Usually there is beautiful, even fantastical decoration, further bringing you into a different dimension where life feels a little more special than usual. On top of all that, there is a loosening of convention, and a freedom of expression; people feel freer to be themselves. 

Within a festival you are cut off from the real world, and all its expectations and restrictions.

By letting go of everything you think you need to be you may just come home from a festival having finally found yourself. So added up, we have freedom from unpleasant responsibility, a focus on human creativity, a strong sense of community, walkability, beautiful aesthetic decoration, and freedom of expression. When you look at it like that, festivals are rather utopian. To me, it seems like even though we can’t make it work quite yet on a mass global scale, the human idealistic dreamer spirit has created pocket-utopias within music festivals. Yes, drunken fights may break out and teenagers may be vomiting on the side of the path. But when you are walking through a beautifully decorated field with delicious food everywhere and talented musicians performing nonstop, surrounded by friends and friendly people, in the sunshine and nature, the feeling of liberation from the oppression of everyday life is undeniable.

This is a mere inkling of the utopia humans may one day build, a world of oneness and creativity.

Yes, life is undeniably hard, and made harder in today’s world by incompetent governments and ruthless corporations. But life is also a miracle, every second of every day. That the trillions of cells in your body are working in perfect harmony to create your reality. That alone is an unfathomable marvel, and that is true for all the billions of humans and trillions of lifeforms on this planet. The unknowable intricacies of nature are never-ending and unfolding around us at all times. It is our duty, our privilege and our vital lifeline to simply bear witness and be filled with awe. It’s this cosmic mystery that ignites the human need for celebration.

Deep down we know that we need to rejoice at these wondrous facts, but the burdens of modern life weigh our spirit down too much for us to get into that jubilant mode of being. Festivals revive us, they show us how good life can be, and when we feel so good and free we almost can’t stop ourselves from saying, from the bottom of our hearts, ‘I’m so happy to be alive, here in this moment’.

To escape and immerse yourself in nature at a music festival this summer, why not enter our competition for a chance to win tickets to Secret Garden Party.

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