Imogen Michel, 'Festival Nomad’, The Student (Edinburgh), 13 September 2011
|Weirdigans Café at Knockengorroch Festival 2009. Photo credit: Imogen Michel|
This summer I did the same thing that I’ve been doing for five years – I travelled around the UK festival circuit, earning money to save for my studies and having fun at the same time. I have two main jobs which I do at festivals: working in a festival café and teaching workshops on low-powered LED lighting.
Working at festivals often sounds like a lot of fun (and it can be), but it’s also very hard work. For a three- or four-day festival happening over a weekend, the core crew will usually arrive on the Sunday or Monday beforehand, sometimes straight from a previous festival! We have to set up the large tents which we will be using, which is between one and four depending on the festival. This includes both erecting the tent itself and also constructing the interior furniture and decor.
If it’s a café gig, once the kitchen is set up and meeting food health and safety standards (not always the easiest thing in the middle of a field), we then get to work baking cakes to be ready for when the festival starts. LED workshops are a bit easier for the set-up, but there’s always plenty that needs doing, and often other stall holders will come up asking for lighting rigs to be made for their stalls. As almost everything we do is bespoke and hand-made on request, this can take up a lot of time.
When the festival does start, usually on the Thursday or Friday afternoon, it’s pretty full-on until the Monday morning. At the café, I work on average 8-10 hours out of every 24 (we’re usually open 24 hours a day throughout the festival). At LED gigs, working hours are a bit less at around 6-8 hours a day, and we only work during the daytime so we have no exhausting night shifts. In addition to this, there’s music, workshops and other interesting events happening all across the festival site to go along to and take part in, so this can be the time when least sleep is had!
Finally, once the festival is over, everything needs to be taken down (’tatted down’ in festival speak) and packed away, safe and dry to take to the next festival. If we’re lucky, we get away on the Tuesday lunchtime after the festival, but we have stayed on site until Wednesday at times while waiting for a dry spell to take the tents down, as wet canvas is heavy to carry and goes mouldy very quickly. If we have a festival on the next weekend, we pack down very quickly and leave very early on the Tuesday morning to start setting up all over again!
This year I did less festivals than in past years as I was kept quite busy writing my masters dissertation in between working, but still managed to work at six of them. Glastonbury was a definite highlight, although Knockengorroch festival in Dumfries and Gallloway remains a long-term favourite. It’s a great way to earn a bit of money and have fun over the summer.