UK: The Reading Festival & Bucket List Dreams Fulfilled


 

Reading Festival: Every end of UK August bank holiday since 1961 has featured two things: The Reading and Leeds Festival and the Notting Hill Carnival (1966). Festival-goers from all over the country flock to these three places in search of music and a good party. The festivals also get their share of international tourism and are integral to the financial success of their communities. The three-day holiday makes this pre-school year weekend a great time for quick getaways. Except for 2020, when Covid cancelled everything. We missed Carnival for a second year this year, but thumbs crossed for 2022.

 


In the mid 1980's, I had a fab apartment in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, where I am from. It was a roomy studio with two big windows that overlooked the 376, convenient so that I could keep my eye on morning Squirrel Hill Tunnel traffic. My kitchen was what once would have been a coat closet in a bigger apartment. My appliances, the size of those in camper vans. The closet, oddly, was a walk-in, which I muchly coveted. I can't remember where the bathroom was, it was a long time ago. It was a great little place in the coolest neighbourhood of a city that was winning the love/hate war that most people have with the place they come from.



The Morrowfield building behind left of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel

I lived in the Morrowfield, a large, white brick monster on Murray Avenue.


At that time, there were shops on the ground floor, one of which was a record shop. It was rumoured that Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails had once worked there.


He was two years younger than me, infinitely cooler, and making it big with his first album, Pretty Hate Machine. I found no evidence in his bio of him having worked in a record shop in Pittsburgh, but I'm claiming it anyway.


The record shop sold most music paraphernalia including larger-than-average posters. Not 24 x 36 standard size, but 27 x 40 inches. I bought two very large posters for my very small flat. One of the Smiths album cover of The Queen is Dead. The second poster was Robert Smith in silhouette facing an audience, goth threads, hair akimbo a la Boys Don't Cry and read 'The Cure, Live at Reading'. And since everything British is cool, Reading became something that I very much needed to find out about.


Reading is the world's oldest music festival still produced today. Originally known as the National Jazz Festival, it has taken place every August bank holiday (a national public holiday) since 1961, except for 1984-85, when the local conservative government got in the way, and of course 2020.


Time moved on. A steam-radiator explosion in the flat while I was away on vacation was the ruination of the posters. The record shop went out of business because, it was a record shop. Trent Reznor won an Oscar and I grew up and had a family. I never made it to Reading.


But I did make it to England. I learned that the Reading is pronounced Red-ing, and is a town 44 miles from Central London. I also learned that the festival, with an average attendance exceeding 100,00, is a rite of passage for school leavers aged 16-20. When my eldest graduated from high school, I told her she had no choice but to attend. Same for the second and the third.


Most often, a reveller buys a three-day ticket along with a camping ticket (there are some age restrictions). The camp grounds are outside the concert grounds, with unlimited entry/exit rights. Single day tickets are also available, though why would anybody NOT want to camp in the rain and mud of an English summer? There are 8 stages with full programs each day. While the festival is historically rock, it is much more musically diverse than in the past. There are food and beverage stalls, facilities and fairground rides to enjoy as well.



The Beastie Boys had fisticuffs with the Prodigy in 1998. The Stone Roses broke up there and then in 1996. Nirvana was a support act in 1991 and the main act in 1992, when Kurt Cobain came onstage in a wheelchair and medical gown. In 1978, Sham 69 sparked a riot injuring 20 people and in 1988, Meatloaf was pelted in the face with a two-litre bottle of cider thrown from the audience. I too was once hit in the face by a bottle pelted toward stage. It was a Red Hot Cilli Peppers concert in Cape Town. And the warm liquid inside the bottle wasn't cider.



Bringing it back to Trent Reznor, who may or may not have worked in a record shop on the ground floor of the Morrowfield building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Nine Inch Nails have played the Reading Festival twice. In 2013, the Oscar-winning, reformed band got into a spectacular beef with concert promoters. They were to take the stage before Biffy Clyro, a band they had never heard of. And as if a Best Actor recipient were asked to play a cameo role, NIN were not a willing support act.


 

My kids grew up with my Reading story. The mythical Cure poster and the sorrow of lost opportunities. Searching for a cessation of rumination about my festival fail, my daughter, though convinced of my decrepitude, bought four, one-day Reading 2021 tickets as my Christmas gift. A long time ago in 2020, I was an inappropriately-aged Post Malone super-fan, and he was a headline act. I've cooled on him a bit, owing to his uncomfortable gun ownership comments, loud suits and hints of misogyny. But its the thought that counts and I was finally going to a British festival.


2021 has been worse that 2020 in a lot of ways. We have learned that pandemics take a very long time to go away, if they ever do.

Job security is never very secure, and yes, you can run out of things to watch on Netflix.


But enduring 8 months of stress concerning the fate of expensive tickets for an event that may or may not happen is too much! How do you apply for a refund? Should the risk of Covid outweigh the joy of freedom? Am I too old for all this? What is playing on Netflix that day? Can you get a refund for impetuously purchased tickets if the headline act pulls out and you no longer want to go? So many things to stay on top of!

As the August bank holiday approached, we waited with baited breath for news of the festival. Alas, it was going ahead albeit without two headline acts from the USA. But not Postie, he would make the trip. I felt a mixture of joy de vivre, fear, embarrassment, exhaustion and mostly fear. We had day tickets, which meant that we could go in when we wanted, remain confined to the concert grounds until the headline act at 10pm, then return to a cosy hotel at the end of the night. It was all very civilised.



We arrived around 3pm, went directly to the bar, order pints of wine then went directly to the Alternative tent where we could sit in the shade and listen to comedians. SO rock and roll. The day progressed pretty much in that fashion: Bathroom, pint of wine, see a band, fairground ride. Until finally it was 10 and the big man took the stage. Of course we were a million miles away, trying and failing to stay clear of the 100,000 unvaccinated drunk teenagers. Thank goodness for good sound and Jumbotrons! Post Malone played his hits and the crowd sang along. There were fireworks and it was great fun.



 

WHAT HAPPENED AT READING:



Though I am no where near the target audience for this festival or any of the bands, there were enough of 'my tribe' in the crowd that I felt comfortable. My girls took good care of me and never once complained about being at Reading with their 'mummy'.


If parents knew what their kids were wearing at this festival, they would never let them go. Not to judge, but I saw body parts of people that shouldn't be shared with strangers.


Drunk teenagers do not fear infectious diseases. I, on the other hand, have a growing fear of drunk teenagers carrying infectious diseases.


I never want to find myself in a tent surrounded by drunk teenagers harbouring infectious diseases. ROOM KEY!!


Post Malone, the 26 year-old, tattoo-faced king of mumble rap must have sensed the presence of an over-aged, super-fan-ish in the audience.


On the bottom right of his Hell in Cell white T-shirt there was a small logo that read Pittsburgh, 1998, King of the Ring. He was clearly trying to communicate with me. I'll try to forgive the denim Dirty Dancing shorts.


Stormzy headlined on Friday and Liam Gallagher on Sunday, both to pretty good reviews. Biffy Clyro, though they are no Nine Inch Nails, filled in for Queens of the Stone Age. Two-Door Cinema club and Disclosure were big draws.


 

This ride was the worst. Time to call it a night!



WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN AT READING:



The Cure at Reading, 1979

While doing as little possible research for this post, I discovered an anomaly in my life's history. The Cure played Reading in 1979, long before Robert Smith's hair grew wild. Or dressed in black.



My poster showed a traditional Medusa-haired, black-clad Robert Smith holding a guitar and facing an unseen audience. This photo was the cover of the re-released single of Boys Don't Cry in 1986.



The Cure didn't play Reading again until 2012, ironically when my eldest daughter fulfilled my life's dream of attending the festival. My The Cure at Reading poster was a lie, a mock-up. I don't know how to feel about this.


What also didn't happen at Reading was that, against all odds, we didn't get sick. We all remain Covid-free. Thanks to the scientists, vaccine facilitators and concert organisers for giving us back the freedom to pursue our bucket list dreams!


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