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Just a Stage - One Father's Music Festival Experience with His Kids

Just a Stage - One Father's Music Festival Experience with His Kids

When this dad decides to take his kids to a concert festival, he and his family must face the music together—from standstill traffic to finding water and all the issues inexperienced festival-goers face.


"I will take you to a music festival.”

Perhaps it’s because my children are boys, but when I’m on my own with them in public I’m often conscious of setting either a good or a bad example. I’m worried they’re learning how to be men from me, or worse, that they’re just learning too much about me. I’ve always been gratified by the extent to which my children have not taken after their father—they seem fairly confident, easygoing, and at home in the world—so I try to limit their exposure to the sight of me operating outside my comfort zone. The problem is that most things worth doing lie outside my comfort zone. Back in 2007 a music festival struck me as the sort of managed environment where not too much could go wrong. That’s probably because at that point in my life, I’d never been to one.

It’s already dusk when I arrive with the older two, having squandered valuable daylight hours in standstill traffic a regular festivalgoer would have known to expect. What I had expected was some sort of system for transporting our gear from the distant car park to the festival proper that didn’t involve me just carrying everything. There isn’t. They do have a system for taking my two bottles of red wine off me at the gate, though.

“No glass,” says the gatekeeper. 

“How convenient,” I say.

“You can either drink it here or leave it here,” he says. This is precisely one of those instances where I’m conscious of setting an example. I can’t down two bottles of wine in front of my children. What about one bottle? Half a one?

“Hang on,” I say. I shrug off all my baggage and pull a full 1.5 liter plastic water bottle from my rucksack.

“Drink,” I say to the oldest. “Drink a lot.” I pass it to the middle one and command him to do the same. I take a large swig and pour the rest on the ground. The two bottles of wine fill it to the brim. They’re not the same kind of wine—they’re not even from the same region—but the situation warrants desperate measures.

“I’m pretty sure we can buy more water once we’re in there,” I say. “Let’s go find out.” 

“We need to stay together,” I say. What I mean is: Don’t leave me. The festival has four main stages, a number of smaller tents, a vast array of foodstuffs, even a special children’s area, but it lacks the one thing I am desperate for: a chair. There is no sitting down to be done anywhere; there is only standing up and lying on the hard earth.

We walk the festival from end to end, alternatively listening to music and eating food. My wife’s hostility toward my bad back is nothing compared to my children’s cold indifference. They ignore the sudden, sharp intakes of breath and the quiet swearing. They consult the schedule, then the site map, and then they start pulling my arms.

“Ow!” I say.

“This way!” shouts the middle one. “It’s starting.”

I am jostled by crowds and struggle to cope with uneven grounds. Under the weight of the rucksack that contains our stealables, my twisted frame contorts further; one of my shoulders rises up to touch my ear. By the middle of the afternoon, however, I realize that I’m not going to die of a bad back after all, because I’m going to die of exposure first. We all are.

“We must have hats,” I say. “Find hats.”

After scouring the site for suitable headgear we choose two trilbies and a porkpie hat from an overpriced stall. It makes me smile to see my children in stupid hats, until I remember I am wearing one too.

It is after midnight when we finally get back to the tent and I can lie flat and suck on my giant wine bottle. Both boys are hyped up and in no mood to sleep. They are not the only ones. People are playing drums next to my head.

Life does not fly by when you’re trapped at a festival with a bad back, or stuck in standstill traffic on the M5, or listening to a child play “Moon River” on the violin for the 230th time. But this stage does end abruptly: Before you develop any sort of knack for dealing with it, it’s over.


Author: Tim Dowling is an American-born journalist for The Guardian and writes a weekly column for the newspaper’s Weekend magazine. He lives in London with his wife and three sons. The above essay is adapted from his book How to Be a Husband, with permission of Blue Rider Press. Copyright Tim Dowling 2015. See More

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