What it's Really Like to Work at a Music Festival
“It’s only mud. It could be worse,’ said my colleague.
“How?” I whimpered, my hair dripping with brown liquid.
“A guy I knew once jumped into the toilet silos and played pop-up pirate on people using the loos...”
Music festivals are fun. They really are.
Whether you’re a hippie-dippie type that roams round with flowers in your hair, or a wasteman out on the lash with the boiz, there’s a festival out there - somewhere in the world - for you.
But there’s one festival that does away with this idea of ‘categories’. A festival where punk rockers share a beer with jazz fans.
Disco-heads set their tents next to dub-steppers.
Scene-kids shake hands with chart music extraordinaires.
The name of this musical melting pot? Well, I’m not sure you’ll have heard of it. Pretty small affair, really. Quite an underrated venue in the middle of nowhere.
A place called… Glastonbury?
I’ve been a few times, and I’m one of those annoying people who brings it up whenever I can.
Mainly to hide the fact I’ve got no personality.
As I’m sure you know, tickets are almost impossible to get hold of. You wake up at dawn ready and waiting for the website to go live – refreshing the page on all your devices at once until one of them finally smashes through the web traffic.
It works best if done in a group, then whoever gets through can book the tickets for everyone else too.
So, after all that stress, it’s devastating when you’re not one of the lucky few.
One year, I got fed up of this.
So, me being me, I came up with a plan to get around it. A classic half-baked Minimal Effort idea.
‘I’ll apply to work there,’ I said. ‘Free tickets, I guess?’
I managed to get in, working through Oxfam or something, and that was that.
A few months later, and there I was, on a bus to Glastonbury Music Festival. I’d brought a pop-up tent stuffed into a backpack, and a bottle of whiskey wrapped in a Tesco bag.
(A few spare pants and socks too. But you know, not really important.)
At this point I was blissfully unaware of the hideous mess awaiting me. In fact, I was quite excited.
‘Look at me,’ I thought. ‘Doing my bit for the most famous festival in the world.’
I even made friends on the bus, who I chose to set my tent next to.
(This ended up being absolutely disastrous. Not for the reason you might think though. But that’s for later.)
The only inclination I had that this might be tough was when we trekked from the festival’s main gate down to the staff area – 4 miles away.
I’m not even joking. I was genuinely 4 miles away, if not more.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we were frolicking through sunny meadows, but it was pissing down. The ground was sodden, and mud churned up with slimy squelches.
Don’t get me wrong, once you were there, the staff fields were luxury compared to the rest of the festival. Hot showers. Private port-a-loos. Two free meals a day.
It was just getting to them that was the issue.
The muddy, slippy, treacherous path wrapped its way around the outside of the festival fences. Adding to this, it was only wide enough for two people. If someone was struggling, then it’d clog up, meaning more people would struggle, meaning you could be stood in the pissing rain for up to two hours.
At one point, I was severely tempted to ditch my tent, stay in the main festival, and sleep under one of the stages.
Now, I know it seems like I’m moaning. Glastonbury is renowned for the fact it rains every year. But this was something else. You just have to trust me on this.
Then came the shifts.
I was tasked with checking tickets, which in the grand scheme of things wasn’t so bad. After all, I could have been one of the poor chaps put on toilet duty…
So began the mind-numbing process of checking if everyone’s tickets were real.
Stood in the rain. Doing seven eighths of bugger-all.
In fairness, there were exciting bits though. Like when there’d be a rush of newcomers, and we’d be swarmed by punters, hundreds of them, all pushing to squeeze through the tiny ticket check gates, and we’d push back, screaming for people to form an orderly line, having tickets thrown at us from all sides, rain and wind lashing against us, and there’d be a few punters with fake tickets, and we’d call security into the scrum to have them taken away to be shot.
Then, work was over, and you’d have free reign over your time. For those brief few hours between shifts, you could enjoy, really enjoy yourself.
I’ll admit, I was naughty a few times. I put on my fluorescent orange vest so I could push to the front of lines for the bar.
The great thing about those vests, they can be rolled up and stuffed into your pocket with a worrying amount of ease.
There’s a few other fun things you can do whilst wearing a staff jacket, but I’ll leave it up to you to find out yourself…
It goes without saying that me and a couple of other staff got absolutely blasted.
Going around the stages, and the twisted party areas, and the hippie vans and rave tents, suddenly the rain didn’t seem so bad.
‘Staff coming through!’ we’d slur. ‘Shh-taff coming through! Oi, you’re not allowed that drink, give it here.’
I think someone punched me. I can’t remember though. If they did, I probably deserved it.
One night, after my shift, I stayed up late to watch Muse play until 4am.
This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that my shift started at 7.
So, it was an hour walk back to the staff area. An hour’s kip. Then up, and an hour back to the gates.
On my way to the gates, I fell over in the mud, so had so spend the next eight hours stood in the rain, filthy beyond recognition, mud matted into my beard.
I know it’s my fault for staying up late, but if you can't even watch the acts at a music festival, then why bother going?
It was after this shift that I had a slight breakdown.
Exhausted, filthy, soaking wet, I stumbled along that dreaded staff-path back to my tent for a sleep. This is the moment I realised my mistake.
I’d set my sent up so I could be next to one of my friends. What I didn’t know (until this moment) was that the patch of grass I used was in a slight dip.
The whole tent was flooded. My sleeping bag, my spare undies, my backpack, all ruined. As for the tent, bloody hell it was a mess. You see, it wasn’t just water that had flooded in. No, it had also dragged some of the lovely mud in with it.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I called my mum. I was furious, on the verge of tears - my exhausted, mud splattered mind about to snap in two.
One of the guys I was on shift with walked by and witness my breakdown.
‘It’s only mud,’ he said. ‘It could be worse…’
I had no other choice but to sleep in the water. I lay on my back, folding my pillow so that my head was as far away from the murky puddle as possible.
After a few hours in my mucky sensory deprivation tank, I rose like a swamp monster. Stumbling to one of the food stalls, I bought a peanut butter milkshake and sorted myself out.
Glastonbury is an amazing place. There’s nowhere else in the world like it. It’s full of wonderful attractions, stalls, music and people. If I had it my way, I’d go there every year.
But would I ever work there again?
No chance in hell. Not even if you paid me.
Which, by the way, they don’t…