According to the Observer magazine last month, festivals are a time to embrace “the joy of live.” But – why would we want to do that? Why bother with all the hassle of going there when the modern world is built around stuff coming to us? And what the hell is so special about “live” anyway?
Let’s start with something no mp3 player could ever capture:
The stage lights strobe every colour of the rainbow, the floor thunders with stamping feet, the musicians hammer out the last triumphant note of a song – and as you’re plunged into darkness, you clap your hands to your head. The atmospheric pressure of massively amplified music has been pushing at your ear-drums for the last 45 minutes – and now it’s gone, your brain seems to be trying to squeeze out your ears.
You’re fully in the moment, and right now, it feels like it’s literally blowing your mind.
At live performances, the standard rules break down and everything gets freaky.
If you haven’t been to a festival in ages, it’s easy to forget how excitingly weird live is. The non-live art we consume is usually pre-packaged: a managed, relatively predictable set of experiences. The smaller the label or more personalised the art, the edgier it usually gets – but we usually have a clear idea of what we’re getting and where it’ll take us.
Live performances? They’re chaotic, unpredictable and raw, and anything could happen. This raises the stakes on every side. For the performers, they’ve got one chance to get this right – and for the crowd, there’s the thrill of the unexpected, the cheeky ad-libs, the things that will make this performance legendary (or notorious).
They’re thrilling and terrifying in equal measure, and they make everyone’s heart thump.
Remember when network TV understood this, and every popular show had a live-broadcast episode (The X-Files, E.R., Eastenders)? Go further back and you’d find families clustered around the TV at a certain time because that was the only way to watch anything. But now? We’re in the age of On Demand (and maybe Too Little Effort). Our heart-rates are pretty steady these days – and the performances come to us.
Except, a lot of the time, they don’t. Sure, we get the lyrics, the flawless harmonies, the beautifully crafted product. But how often do we truly get the original performance? If you’ve heard Britney Spears without the aid of auto-tune, you know that “live” and “produced” can be light-years apart in every way that matters. How good someone is, well, that’s just down to the skill of their producers, their budget and the technology they can apply. Nobody can sound like that live, right? Because they’d have to be really, really amazing. Surely?
Enter festivals – because live performances are where the amazing things happen.
They’re not on the telly, not in a music video, not over there – they’re here. You are a part of their latest performance, you’re where they are for a change, and while thousands, maybe millions of others are listening to recordings in another time and place, you’re where it’s all going down for real. (Or maybe it’s the flip-side: you don’t know who they are because nobody knows who they are yet – but they’re clearly destined for great things, and you’re here at the beginning, before the word got out.)
Sometimes it’s so amazing that performers work it into their standard act. And live performances are the only places where we punters get to see things going wrong like this.
You may know, in some distant, rational part of your brain, that tens of thousands of others are listening to the same album you’re streaming through your headphones right now – and it’s another thing entirely to have those people around you, their faces mirroring how you feel right now.
They really are that good.
I’ve stuck to music because that’s what most people associate with “festival” – but these principles apply to everything we’re covering here at Must Love Festivals. This project is covering a huge range of artistic ventures – films, books, music, food, comics of one kind and comics of another, festivals of lights and festivals of sounds. We’ll be there when stuff goes down, there, in person, live, and we intend to capture and convey as much as our cameras, phones and notebooks can hold…
But that’s not our true aim here. We’re not here just to relentlessly tell you about all the fun we’re having.
(That might be a bit annoying, right?)
Here’s what were really after:
We want to give you enough info and enough of a flavour of these festivals so you can go to the next ones, and have experiences we’ll never be able to truly understand – because we weren’t there, with you, when it all happened.
We want to convey upon you full, universally applicable bragging rights, and we want to feel enormously envious of your exploits – and maybe pout a little when you bring it up, damn your eyes. If that happens – we’ve done our job.
Well? Are you up for that?
The Midnight Sun Film Festival in Lapland
Why Theatre Belongs on the Street: Takeaways from Ana Desetnica Street Theatre Festival in Ljubljana