Talking about music festivals as a 30-something is a surefire way to make the room fill up with the stench of nostalgia.
This past weekend, as my friends and I watched the chaos of Splendour In The Grass unfolding on the news – wet weather and flooding causing massive delays to entry, changes to camping arrangements and all main stage acts cancelled on the Friday – we reflected on our own glory days of festivals.
I went to a lot of music festivals in my 20s, including making the trek up for Splendour in 2011, a very soggy Falls Festival one year and Big Day Out during a Melbourne heatwave. Discomfort, dirt, poor hygiene and terrible dietary choices are part and parcel of the festival experience, and frankly, it’s a rite of passage that I think any socialising young person should enjoy.
Before you come for me, I concede that there is no age limit to enjoying a music festival, many people of all ages love the live music experience, #musicisforeveryone etc.
But festivals are a very particular type of experience.
They’re hedonistic in one way – the music, binge drinking, partying more generally – while being humbling in others, namely in relation to hygiene and sleeping arrangements.
It’s all part of the experience, but it is an experience that’s made better when you’re not dealing with torrential downpours at the same time.
Having on a whim booked in to go to Falls again this year (my first festival in almost a decade), I’m now questioning my life choices.
Watching the scenes at Splendour unfold – images of young men crowded under a small marquee, water falling in sheets around them as one clutched a guitar and the others offered the camera wan smiles; photos of the churned mud that became the majority of the ground surrounding the stages and main paths around the festival site; stories of people queueing for hours and hours in their cars, eventually having to sleep on top of the luggage in the tray of their ute overnight without having made it to the campsite – well, I couldn’t help reflecting that aside from the usual chaos of a festival, we’re contending with another major factor that could spell the end of the music festival in the coming years.
That factor is climate change.
It’s hardly a secret that weather events are getting more extreme on both ends of the spectrum, and between extreme heat, extreme cold, and flood and fire threats, it’s not hard to imagine that major outdoor events like music festivals are going to start being seen as too big a financial risk for organisers.
A bit of sunburn or a soggy night or two has never deterred a festival goer to date. And Australia is definitely not the only country that has extreme weather at times, and if people in the UK didn’t go to events because of rain, well, they’d never leave the house.
But the kind of weather that dogged Splendour, and that has indeed been causing significant turmoil for Aussies in flood-prone areas for months now, is extreme and is growing less and less predictable each year.
At what stage do large outdoor events become unfeasible as the climate worsens? Maybe Falls Festival this year will be the ultimate last hurrah for my group of friends. Festivals might go extinct before we totally age out of them.