V Festival Review

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Chris Knight

It was apt that it was the Virgin festival that took my festival virginity.  At the age of 25 I had managed to miss every festival going.  This was in part due to trepidation about the camping and portaloo situation, and partly because it wasn’t the sort of thing my friends and I would ever think of doing, but the festival time of life seemed to have passed by without me realising I was missing out on this rite of passage.

It was with great excitement I discovered that I was being sent by Smashed Music to my very first music festival.  So it was at Weston Park I arrived on Friday night, armed with far too much luggage, a tent I didn’t know how to put together, and a fellow festival virgin.  We hoped optimism would see us through.

Struggling with enough luggage, food and booze to last a month never mind a weekend, (we had been forewarned that prices were high and we should bring our own) we staggered from one campsite to another only to be told they were all full.  It was no room at the inn for this modern day Mary and Joseph, albeit with more alcohol on their person than the original duo.  But as with Mary and Joseph – a miracle did finally occur, when we found a spot and got the tent up, sometime around midnight.

Having erected the tent with a little help from fellow campers around us, we managed to slip into the festival spirit without even realising it.  Random people came and shared food, booze, and horror stories about their journey to this very spot, and soon we were conversing like old friends with people of all ages and walks of life.

Having dozed off around 5am, we woke surprisingly refreshed.  A bit of dry shampoo to the hair, and we were good to go and find out what this festival malarkey was all about.  Nothing could have prepared us for the sheer scale of V Festival, the seemingly endless youngsters, wellies, stands, queues, stages, and an atmosphere of spontaneous excitement that gave you the feeling all rules went out of the window for this event.

The layout at V resembles a music loving billionaire’s birthday party.  In fact with Branson at the helm, that’s perhaps what we are seeing, a replica of a party he wishes’ he had been able to afford at the age of most festival goers.  Now he does have the money he’s turned a fantasy weekend into a lucrative business, cashing in on the hearts and minds of teens (and not forgetting us older crowd who don’t want to miss out and will pretend not to be fazed by the questionable sanitary conditions…)

The first act we saw was Ellie Goulding, her harmonious voice rang out above the huge crowd as we made our way to the main stage.  She set the tone for what was to be a weekend of spectacular talent, and an eclectic mix of musical genres.  Ellie concluded her set with the iconic ‘Your Song’, and proved her version can even top Elton John’s, as thousands swayed in time to the music and sang along to the well known lyrics.

Scouting for Girls followed Ellie, and hiked up the excitement with their fast paced hits.  ‘This ain’t a Love Song’ was met with applause from the crowd and is a clear favourite.  With V having always been a mainstream event, Scouting for Girls seemed like the ultimate crowd pleaser.  The pace and lyrics of their music, coupled with the reaction from girls in the crowd could almost place this trio as the Oasis of the Noughties.  If these three really are scouting for girls they won’t have to look much further than the many thousands screaming for their attention at V.

Eliza Doolittle and The Saturdays made up the rest of our afternoon, as we tried the second largest stage at V, the Arena stage.  The crowd here was made up mostly of teenage girls keen to sample a little pop at this Festival which is seeing increasing numbers of Rock acts take over the main slots.  There was some confusion at this point about what time Rihanna and Eminem would be playing, as no one wanted to miss the main headliners, but similarly didn’t want to pay the £10 V charges for a timetable of acts.  It became a game of Chinese whispers during the acts preceding these two, as everyone tried to ensure they were back at the main stage in plenty of time.  Those lucky few with a £10 timetable hung on a little card around their necks became a prime source of information for others, who would invariably ask to take a photo of this cardboard necklace, to have the coveted information for themselves.

Eventually, having played the timetable information game, we made our way back to the main stage where it seemed all one hundred and thirty thousand festival goers were descending to catch a glimpse of Rihanna.  Arriving twenty five minutes late, the pop sensation was bordering on having irritated the crowd by the time she made an appearance, but she managed to pull them back on side and gave flawless performances of her hits including ‘Don’t Stop The Music’, ‘Only Girl In The World’, ‘Pon De Replay’, ‘Rude Boy’, ‘What’s My Name?’, and of course, ‘Umbrella’.  All the top songs were there, and the iconic red hair, which could be seen emulated by fans across the crowd.

Rihanna sang as the sun set on the first evening at V Festival, and so it was in darkness, and with the full impact of well orchestrated stage lighting that Eminem made his appearance.  Most of the crowd stood dedicated, to see his act, despite cold temperatures once it was dark, but no one who saw him will regret their perseverance, as it really was Eminem who got the party started with his mesmerising performance.  In his first UK appearance since 2003, Eminem set V Festival alight, blasting out 28 brilliant tracks over 90 minutes, from his first hit ‘My Name Is’, to all time favourite ‘Stan’ which the crowd sang along to during the Dido parts.  Even Eminem looked impressed at the reception he received, and when he asked the audience to hold cigarette lighters and mobile phone lights into the air for his hit the aptly named ‘Lighters’, it was a spectacle to be remembered.  The biggest cheer of the night, and probably the entire festival, came when Rihanna joined Eminem on stage for their recent number one ‘Love the way you lie’.  The chemistry on stage between the pair was tangible and as the audience sang along to the infamous lyrics no one wanted the first day at V Festival to come to an end.

Like all good things, it did come to an end however, and just in time, as revellers had about 30 minutes grace to make it back to their tents before an  almighty thunderstorm broke which no one had predicted.  It was listening to the thunder and heavy rain, coupled with Eminem’s lyrics repeating in our heads, that myself and thousands of others fell asleep that night, looking forward to another fun filled day which didn’t disappoint.  My fellow festival virgin will cover the second day’s events here on Smashed Music during our next review instalment to follow soon…

V Festival was my first festival experience but now I’ve caught the bug it certainly won’t be my last.  Festivals seem to bring out the best and worst in people – circumstances drive girls who’ve spent 2 hours applying makeup in a tent, reduced to squatting in full view of everyone to go to the loo.  How did we avoid this fate?  What happens at V Festival stays at V Festival toilet wise, it is an issue best forgotten, but for those who need tips for next year’s event let’s just say there was a bucket in our tent we named Johnson.  If there is anything that could come close to the portaloo situation in terms of shock factor it is the rubbish on the floor at V Festival, which is unbelievable.  At the end of three days the site resembled a fly tipping zone.  Venture anywhere close to the stage and you are certain to get cups of what you will hope is beer thrown over you.  It is one of those rare occasions in life where you sniff your hair to check whether that is wee in it.

However if you can live with these factors for a short time, you will find the amazing side of festival life.  Everyone is carefree and wants to forget their troubles and just enjoy themselves.  Social barriers are removed at these events, where the factor everyone has in common is a love of music.  Festivals are the perfect opportunity to escape for a while.  Although in reality Weston Park was only about 45 minutes away from where I live and work, mentally it was a million miles away, because it was such an extraordinarily different way to spend a weekend.  There were a few goosebump moments during the very best acts, which will stay with me for years to come, and if you embrace the festival atmosphere you can laugh off even the most gross of situations.

I’m eager to experience different festivals now, in particular of course the Godfather of all festivals – Glastonbury.  But bigger isn’t always better, and as with another rite of passage in life, you always remember your first and compare everything that follows to it.  For me, that will always be V.