Festival Rules Apply: Sonisphere (RIP), Download, Graspop and Nova Rock, which one and what you should pack. 

Sonisphere played its last gig in 2014 which was also my first metal festival and my first proper introduction to them. I had done Oxygen in Ireland for a day, but I don’t really count cos there was no camping, I was freshly showered and got a bus back to Dublin that evening. Side note, if you’re going to smuggle alcohol into festivals do not empty out a Listerine bottle and pour vodka inside. Rinsing it out will not remove the disgusting mint taste later on. Listerine flavoured vodka is not refreshing, its stomach churning. 

Sonisphere was incredible, the campsite was so fun, everyone around us was lovely and the first time we were all leaving our little circle of tents I remember asking in hushed tones if it was OK to leave our stuff there, what if we were robbed. My friend shouted over to the bunch of Yorkshire lads in the tents next to us to keep an eye on their tents. They shouted back that they would and we communicated in chants for the next few days (YORKSHIRE, YORKSHIRE, YORKSHIRE, DUBLIN, DUBLIN, DUBLIN). I still respond to people from Yorkshire by saying Yorkshire back to them in their own accent. It was a massive outdoor party where strangers were just friends you’ve not met yet. It’s where I learned for the first time about ‘ festival rules’. Several times I was reminded that ‘festival rules apply’. What this basically means is that you can dress however the fuck you want, regardless of your size, you can look as gothy, rainbowy, wizardy, withcy and in barely anything. Men walked about in mankini’s, women in hot pants with duct tape crossed over their nips (pitied them having to take them off later!). This ‘wear whatever the fuck you want’ vive is normal, no one is stared at and I think for a lot of people this was probably a place where they could go and never be slagged off or jeered at.

Another thing that surprised me was the age range. They had a family (quiet) campsite and parents brought their little ones in buggys, on their back and on their shoulders and stood reasonable distances from the stage with their kids on their shoulders going fucking wild seeing their favourite band on stage. These kids has the most enormous ear protection on to the point I wondered how much they could hear at all, but judging by their little arms giving in socks I knew they were having a whale of a time. One time I watched a kid around 6 or 7 get up on stage and dance with Five Finger Death Punch, his life was made that day and the crowd’s hearts collectively melted. The people in general were so kind, if someone fell over multiple people would jump to try and help them up, especially in mosh pits. Our Lauren, who had blue hair this year, that’s how we could keep an eye on her when she was in a pit, to make sure she wasn’t down. Every now and then we’d see a flash of blue hair jumping up and sigh of relief. The crowds are lovely, but a pit’s a pit.

In terms of the people, the Sonisphere crowd or ‘family’ as Hetfield would call us, felt safe and friendly. People, that some might find intimidating if they seen them on the streets, were actually just warm teddy bear people who like to listen to music where people scream. Sonisphere was the beginning of my love for metal festivals. 

Download 2015:

This year I was super excited coz I knew what to expect. I had of course heard of the infamous ‘Drownload’. This was a weather event beyond..do you know what? Google download and rain and see for yourself. So basically we prayed for good weather but prepared for the worst. Can’t remember the line ups, but I know I had a deadly time. Be prepared to que for a few hours to get in, they have to bag search. Be prepared to do this in the heat or the rain and know it’s all worth it. 

One thing about Download, they have camp loner. So if you’re going on your own there is an online forum you can join. When I got through the gates I saw a lovely drunk woman in shorts and a bikini waving a massive flag called Camp Loner, she was rounding up all the people who were arriving on their own <3. This was just magic and all festivals should do this. We ended up in a really good camping spot thanks to my friend who insisted we couldn’t’ camp in the walkway up from the main entrance and that I would thank her later. I did. 

Proof I was once blond. The tan I had on melted under these wellies so I was pasty white from calf down. Life lesson. Also, that case is a magic case that keeps cans cold.

Graspop 2017:

This was by far my favourite festival. We were camped close to, but not right beside the toilets and showers and get this, the toilets properly flushed. Actual plumbing, like with water. Also, running water to wash your hands and brush your teeth. I remember being so greatfull to be near the bathrooms without the stink!  What a luxury. This, by the way, set the bar on what luxury travel is for me. 

We found a solo festival go-er on the bus on the way in and adopted him. I managed to both lose and re-find my entrance ticket in the queue, whilst also bashing into people with my enormous pop up tent on my back. The tent was brilliant (details in my to pack list down the bottom) but awkward in size and a degree in mechanical engineering is required to easily get it down. I can’t emphasise this enough: practise putting up and more importantly, putting down your tent. Don’t be one of those festival cunts who just leaves you tent up and there for someone else to clear up. If you do want to donate it for charity to collect for the homeless, have the decency to collapse it first. No one gave you that hangover, you did it to yourself. Also bring bin bags, or buy them in your supermarket run (first day) so you can collect your rubbish as you go along. You may also need these bin bags for wet clothes, worn clothes etc. European countries will have recycling facilities so separate out your cans from general waste. It also keeps your campsite and where you’re spending your 3-4 days much nicer, you’re not stepping over bags of rubbish (or tripping over them into tents when you’re drunk!).

Nova Rock 2019:

I might have PTSD from this one, well no. But I won’t be opting to spend 5 days in 35 degree heat with no/VERY limited access to water again. First off we were in our late 20’s now and if we could avoid lugging our pop up tents to Belgium with us, we would. Nova rock offered something called Tent Hotels which was basically a field full of pre-popped tents, black out ones so we did that. What we didn’t realise was that it was a family campsite too. Crap. This was going to be zero craic. Opposite us was a man with his son, who was maybe 9? The man and his son were lovely, but it did mean we had to censor our talk, mind our language and just generally not relax completely and enjoy ourselves. Something to bear in mind if you’re considering the tent hotel. 

If you are recenly single, like I was and past the drunk crying stage, which I wasn’t the place is awash with beautiful people by the way. You’ll find them in the campsite drinking warm beer and dancing to the Vengaboys or blaring all the words to cotton eyed joe and trying to do a jig.

Rob Zombie was out of his wheelie bin at this one and was basically singing with his mouth closed whilst he fell around the stage. Still, my younger sister did her first crowd surf which we caught on camera. A proud moment for me and an exhilarating one for her.The music was good but there was no escape from the heat and the  water was only bottle bought, no taps to refill. The only cold drinks you could get were in bars in the middle of the arena and you’d pay up to 15 euro for a cocktail. They did have hard plastic returnable cups which is obviously better for the environment n all but easily accessible cold water would have been great, even warm water. I ended up the medical tent on one of the days with suspected heat stroke. It was bad. Anyways I’ll move on to the all important what to pack list. 

  • A tent, I recommend a 4 person tent for one person so you have space for your backpack, smaller bags, chair when you take it in at night, wet shoes and food and drink supply. Some people do a coffin (1 man) tent. I don’t recommend it, also what if you get lucky huh? What then? Decathlon do ‘pre loved’ tents btw, if you’re on a budget. I can recommend this one.
  • All the bits that are required for a tent. If someone is lending you a tent 1) make sure you bring it back 2) make sure it has all the required pegs and one or two extra. A rock will break your pegs I promise, bring a hammer. (One of you can bring a hammer if in a group, divide and conquer y’all, divide and conquer). 
  • Clothes for the weather, if it’ll be very hot let’s be real, you’ll probably live in that one pair of shorts for 3 days, bring them and something to travel home in. Bring a top per day. Bring 2 hoodies, one in case it gets soaked unexpectedly and one for when that ones ‘drying out’. Pack as light as possible, fashion does not exist in a field. 
  • Flips flops (for the shower), runners for living in, wellies for when/if the mud strikes. No more, you will not wear them. If you want to cut one of these out, cut out the runners. Also, if you leave a wet festival you may come across what is known as a ‘welly graveyard’. Hundreds of people may abandon their wellies as they exit the festival, take your pick, they’ll all be binned otherwise. 
  • A bumbag. Luckily these are back in fashion. They were not in 2014 and still an absolute basic requirement at a festival. Also handy for sneaking in drink if you don’t have bazongas to hide things in. 
  • Wet Wipes, to wipe the obvious dirt from day 2 onwards until you’re willing to brave the showers. Get up very early for the showers, they will have been freshly cleaned and the water will be hot.It is worth it. Put your shoes back on as you leave or your feet and will be filthy by the time you get back to your tent. You’re thinking of the grass, think of the mud/dusty mud. 
  • Hand san. Cant stress this one enough. Many festivals won’t have a place to wash your hands, they’ll have massive vats of hand san. That handsan can run out, always have your own supply and keep it in your bumbag. Also in your bum bag should be tissue, portaloos can run out. This will be where you keep your locker key too. 
  • Poncho. If you ever come across a poncho that doubles up as becoming a small bag with straps, get one. I bought one at a festival and I’ve had it for years. It’s also handy for sitting on, on a wet hill to watch a band and saves you from destroying your arse. 
  • Two forms of ID, if you’re European carry your passport and maybe a drivers licence, or maybe your passport card and your passport book. Keep them separate, one or both in a locker if it’s provided. You will need it for buying drink (unless you’re ancient) in the town anyway and if you go back for top up shops over the weekend.
  • A Powerbank, buy one that will give you at least 4 or 5 charges and then accept this will never be enough. 
  • A camp chair is your best friend, spend €15. 
  • Suncream, a hat, a collapsible water bottle, dry shampoo. 
  • Plasters, painkillers, dioralyte, antihistamines. 
  • Shower minis, whatever you wash yourself with, a hair towel (turban one) and a quick drying towel. The showers are likely to be communal, embrace this, it’s very liberating. 
  • Makeup. If you’re going in a group, you’re all likely to bring the same makeup. Divide and conquer. Everyone brings one eyeshadow palette, one person brings setting spray, one hair spray etc. Share and reduce the weight in your bags. You’ll be so glad when you’ve to carry it all on your back after drinking for 4 days. 
  • Do keep hydrated. Hydrated people have a good time. Dehydrated people get sunstroke. 
  • Oh and Duck Tape. Always have duck tape. You just never know. 
  • Do not bring a blow up bed, they sell them there, they blow them up for you, it’s like €15 and you don’t have to carry it to and from. 

Lastly, if you are going on your own, remember most people at these festivals are lovely and if you’re chatty you’ll likely make friends in the queue. Look up Camp Loner for Download. For women look up Girl Gone International on Facebook. They have a group per city and country around the world and are great for making friends. If you ask, you’ll likely find someone to go with you. Festivals are just big sweaty drunk friendly places full of new friends you’ve not made yet. Embrace the mud and have fun! 🙂

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