This Is What Happened When I Went to My First American Festival
Photo by Bryan Mitchell
When you live abroad, it's all too easy to frame your experiences through your most familiar point of reference: how things are done back home. And when that home is the UK, talking about “How we do things in England” puts you at risk of sounding at best like a snob, and at worst like Marlow, the imperialist-leaning narrator in Heart of Darkness.
Going to my first American music festival this past Memorial Day Weekend—Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit—I had to keep stopping myself from comparing it to a UK festival. Still, there was one key difference that I'd be remiss not to bring up: Movement didn't involve camping. All the festivals I've previously been to have involved a tent. In fact, camping is pretty much unavoidable at most UK (and a lot of European) festivals, which isn't really the case in the States.
Don't get me wrong: I don't actually like camping. I wouldn't go on a camping holiday given the choice. But something magical happens when you go to a camping festival. Once you're through the gate and you've pitched your tent, that's it: there's no more interaction with the real world. Your iPhone won't even be working after day one, and normal rules no longer apply. You've entered a parallel universe full of endless, unscripted possibilities—one constructed pretty much entirely for the sake of hedonism. To me, that disconnection from everyday life is the fundamental element that distinguishes a festival from a regular club night or gig.