Having finally recovered from Reading Festival, it’s time to talk about it. I’ve now experienced three different levels of experience of this event, which takes place over August bank holiday weekend.
The first was back in 2005, a friend invited me along and we camped amongst the general population. This was also the time I got my first credit card so spent a ridiculous amount of time at the local shopping centre buying clothes and Warhammer figures. I had to crowd surf my way to security to get out of a thousands of Green Day fans as it was the only was to escape the ridiculous amount of crushing I was dealing with. It was also a new level of queuing. There was queues to get in, out, food, drinks, toilets, home. It was a weekend of waiting. I did have a great time for my first festival and dealt with the traditional weather, which resulted in the area around my tent becoming a small river and a particular low point was seeing a poo float along it. It was time to leave.
My next visit was five years later. Another friend had asked if I wanted to get Guest tickets. I agreed and didn’t really know what it meant. Fortunately it meant I had gone up in the world and was camping in VIP – which basically meant a lot of those in media or the music industry walking / strutting around with self-importance. We hung around in the Guest bar for a bit, I tried to celeb watch but as most musicians are scruffy messes at this place, I recognised no one. The access to the Arena was great – no long treks around the various pits of disgusting teenagers. I liked it. The campsite was less cramped too so there was less chance of getting kicked in the head by some drunk passers by. I didn’t venture as far forward this time round due to the panic that ensued during the previous attempt. I did think it was worth the extra money as it took away a lot of the stress. There was also a lot less queuing as previously experienced. By the end of it, I was also walking into the Guest area with an air of “I’m better than you” to the youngsters hanging around to catch a glimpse of some rock star; unluckily they had to deal with me and my crap hair.
For my third and most recent trip, I was volunteering. It is my year of the volunteer and saw a post on Facebook for a charity that needed some staff to work the information tent. Fortunately I was accepted. I did some research into the charity, Attitude is Everything, and thought it would be a great chance to help them work towards an accessible future in events. Due to my hearing, I was able to camp in the accessible campsite and as I was staff, I was able to get access to the same privileges as the Guests. It was a great weekend. I met some incredible people and was able to understand more about what the charity does to improve things for them. I was also allowed access onto the viewing platform. I spent my entire time on the platforms, as I wanted to be able to enjoy the performances without the fear or anxiety that large crowds currently do to me. A lot of people felt the same and it was a safe haven for most of us. They also had toilets next to them that were just for us so it saved us from battling through everyone to then be stuck in an excessive queue.
I hadn’t realised that I would be able to get tickets in the accessible campsite due to my hearing loss so it was fantastic to not only be able to do so but to also see huge groups of young adults with hearing aids and CI’s participating too. This was also the first year that the organisers had arranged for signing during the more popular performances. The team of three were led by a man named Simon, who explained to me that he had been recruited as during his previous visits he would drunkenly interpret for others on the platform. They were incredible to watch, especially as I don’t know BSL, other festival goers were also watching them more than the performances and seemed to be intrigued and impressed by it. It was an incredible effort on their part as some songs were particularly fast. Part of the charter that the charity created asks that participating artists provide lyrics and set lists so they can sign more efficiently and it definitely paid off.
I also spent a bit of time practising my lip-reading to which I saw a few conversations along the lines of “if they’re deaf, how do they hear the music?” and “It’s an area for disabled people, Aww, how sweet”. It does sometimes feel like you are on display for the entire festival to observe you as monkeys in a zoo, as some did, it does however, also give you a feeling of smugness when you see people walking through puddles of vomit or people shoving into each other.
Now I have a better understanding of the accessibility within festivals that I can access, I shall definitely be returning whether it’s further work with the charity or as an individual.
Attitude Is Everything improves Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry. You can find out more about them and keep up to date using the following links:
By Kimberley Lucas.