Wow. What a year.
Festival season in 2021 was quite unlike any other before it… Less than half the length it normally would be but with a much higher concentration jam-packed into those weeks; it was intense!
It’s strange to think how daunting and alien the idea of a summer of festivals felt back in June, when freedom day was pushed back, and we had absolutely no idea what was in store. The build-up was nerve-wracking, with so much uncertainty about whether the rug would be pulled from underneath us at the last minute… paired with an overhanging sense doom of what that might mean for the festival industry as a whole after such a tricky couple of years.
But then… it happened! Against all odds, we made it back into the festival fields and it felt like nothing had ever changed, aside from an increased appreciation of the importance of that space for human connection and self-expression.
Personally, I’ve had a pretty crazy year too. I moved back home and then just as spring arrived and winter lockdown was easing, I broke my ankle in three places skateboarding and couldn’t walk for 3 months! Then when I was finally getting slightly more mobile in my orthopaedic boot and crutches, I caught Covid on my first visit back to Bristol in a year. Just 3 weeks later festival season returned with a bang and I squeezed in a whopping 8 festivals into 3 months. Phew.
I haven’t done one of these posts since back in 2017 but after a truly unique festival season I had to list some of my highlights for posterity…
11 Festival Highlights in 2021
01. The great big That Festival Life rebrand!
Who’s noticed things looking a lot prettier around here? I committed to this big overhaul whilst in bed with a broken leg and lots of time on my hands back in April and then had to rush it out in the middle of a very busy season, whoops! But I am SO pleased with it. Huge thanks to Niketa of Studio Iris who created our lovely new logo and visual identity and in the process helped me to learn a lot more about my goals for the site and the values and purpose of That Festival Life in general.
02. My Birthday
Okay sooooo, not technically a festival at all, but as a Gemini June baby, my little birthday party was the first time I got to see a load of my Bristol pals in like 6 months and the first time that we were able to gather in a field for a very, very long time – and it was so nice. I was still in broken leg mode but we got some amazing weather, ate incredible food and I felt very very lucky.
03: Being back on the job
As some of you might know, my day job is at Boomtown Fair, which as you can probably imagine after two years of cancelling three events has been pretty bloody challenging. However, there have been some really rewarding moments too. Some highlights include getting involved in industry-wide campaigns and putting festivals to the forefront of the government’s agenda, as well as organising an award-winning virtual festival last summer and launching a whole new concept for the festival.
I’ve also had the pleasure of running the socials across five very different festivals this year (with a bit of added crisis comms thrown in) which has been beyond A M A Z I N G and reminded me how much I bloody love my job and how much I’ve missed working on festival sites, in a little cabin for crazy hours. I’ve been meeting lots of wonderful people whilst co-ordinating media teams for feed content but it’s also been super fun to flex my creative muscles whilst creating content for stories, like these for Love Saves the Day and these for Waterworks. Stay tuned for more of that to come next year!
04: Having a big ol’ cry at Standon Calling
I’m a big fan of a cathartic cry during a live set and the conditions were perfectly set for this one. It was the first festival back after 18 months of constantly talking about them and I was watching the Friday night headliner Bastille on my own after a long day at work. Seeing some cute festival babies covered in fairy lights in a little cart and lots of people with their arms around each other acknowledging the enormity of the fact that we hadn’t been able to gather like this in such a long time was pretty overwhelming!
05: DRIVING! My very own VAN!
A really wonderful thing to come out of this year was getting a van and saving up to get it converted whilst living at home. I outsourced that bit to our wonderful friend Mitch aka Stan the Van which was a bloody good job ’cause about a week after we dropped the van off at his I broke my ankle and couldn’t then drive for months… let alone try and convert the van itself with my very limited DIY skills.
I hadn’t driven in nearly 10 years before that so learning to drive this summer and braving the open roads was a big deal for me. I drove all the way to Camp Bestival pretty much as soon as my ankle was healed enough, which was preeeetty hairy I’m not gonna lie, but then honed my skills getting on the road to Boardmasters, Beautiful Days and Shambino.
It was my first time staying in my own van at festivals too – what a game changer! I think this summer a lot of people levelled up their camping skills – it feels like we’re all graduating into adult level festival goers.
06: Holiday-ing to Newquay for Boardmasters
My first time being able to go to one of the biggest festivals in the country – with no Boomtown or Houghton and the fact that I was living in Devon this summer I thought it would be rude if I didn’t give it a go! And I was pleasantly surprised, thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my old pal Charlotte and her wonderful mum (a Newquay resident!) I got the full Boardmasters experience and felt like I’d also been on a seaside holiday.
07: Gentleman’s Dub Club in the rain at Beautiful Days
Or just generally Beautiful Days to be honest! This one was a full on blast from the past and a reuniting of all my old friends from home as well as my parents and their pals. Despite the slight ever present feeling of existential dread as I realised it was already 10 years since one of my most formative festival weekends at Beautiful Days with the same friends watching the same band aged 18, it was bloody glorious.
08: Freedom Friday at Shambino
Maybe one of the best days of my whole entire life. You know when you just get into the festival flow and everything goes right? And you bump into all the right people, see everyone ever and just have a great day? Freedom Friday was a day like that – even though it started with an outrageous Thursday night wine hangover, I bloody loved it.
09: Miss Come Bye
At a tiny little festival on a permaculture farm in South Wales, my pal Tamsyn produced the second installment of ‘Miss Come Bye’ an outrageous beauty pageant and two hours of absolutely ridiculous energy and fun. This year I stepped in as glamourous assistant and the talent on show was next level!
10: A little trip to Ibiza!
A very last minute trip to Ibiza booked with some pals at the pub was the perfect pallette cleanser after a very busy season. Though the clubs were shut we still got a little taste of festivals when we went for a swanky dinner as part of Beat Hotel‘s balaeric events series and again as we watched my pal Anna painting a mural at Pikes as part of the festival-esque event Cosmic Pineapple.
The trip proved to be a good chance for a recce too – I’ll be spending a couple of months there at the start of 2022!
11. Last Minute Party on Top of the World at Rise Festival
This one was just the absolute cherry on the top of the cake. I was booked in to run the socials 2 days before I flew out… a ski-ing holiday and a festival in one?! The dream. The weather and conditions were literally once in a lifetime level amazing and the Saturday after the festival, travel from UK to France was stopped so we were so lucky to have squeezed out there just in time. The only time I’ve been to a ski festival before was back in 2016 at Horizon; what have I been doing with myself? Sign me up for all of them please. Check out what we got up to at Rise here.
My Festival Season Essentials
My little pink Kodak film camera. I used to love bringing disposables to festivals, so I thought why not get myself an actual old school film camera instead to minimise waste? The results so far have been verrrry interesting!
Will I ever stop yammering on about my Blundstone boots? Probably not. They’re my festival essential for all time really! Not just this season, but every season since 2016.
I’m usually quite skeptical about things like this but I had one of these After Party Energy Shots before one of the best days of my life (as mentioned above) and after a horrendous hangover, so maybe the magic is real!?
Check out more essentials over in my ultimate festival packing guide.
What were your 2021 Festival Highlights?
Let me know in the comments below! A bonus highlight for me is definitely the community we’ve begun to grow online over the past year – I love hearing from you all on Instagram and back in the Spring it was great keeping in touch via Clubhouse and of course our UK Festivals facebook group!
I’m so excited to see what’s in store for next summer, I feel like it’s an significant time for the industry… hopefully there is a positive shift ahead of us and plenty of intriguing grassroots events popping up. I think if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that human connection is so important, the freedom to gather is sacred and we can’t take anything for granted! I certainly feel more grateful for the festival landscape that we are blessed with in the UK.
Disclaimer: Some links in this post are affiliate links which means that I get a very small percentage if you choose to buy something – at no extra cost to you!! This is what helps to fund this blog, as ever, all opinions are my own. Thank you!