Back in February this year, as soon as they were released, I secured myself a ticket to go to the third edition of Houghton Festival. Having attended its inaugural event, I knew what I was letting myself in for: an impeccable lineup of underground dance music, playing non-stop from the Friday afternoon until the Monday morning, set in an idyllic, leafy country estate. Definitely a recipe for wall to wall (tree to tree?) good times.
After months of festival envy as Gottwood and Glasto passed me by, hooray! My weekend had finally arrived! On Wednesday night, as I packed my rucksack full of baby wipes, biodegradable glitter, and my most outrageous prints, I got a text from my sister asking what festival I was going to? She'd heard on the news that morning that Boardmasters had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Bad weather conditions on the west coast, at a festival that basically doubles as a boozy surfers retreat? Makes sense that they would have to cancel for the bad weather, but such a blow to have to cancel only one day before the event begins. How gutting for them, I said, as I smugly told my sister that the festival I was going to was literally on the other side of the country, and was still going ahead.
Fast forward 12 hours, and my Whatsapp’s popping off with cries of outrage and disbelief, as the news circulates that Houghton 2019 has been cancelled due to hazardous weather conditions, that render the site unsafe. A flurry of messages are exchanged about what to do instead. What do we do now? What next? What is life? A few ideas are bandied about, ranging from finding another field to camp in (which was quickly dismissed as the weather would be just as miserable somewhere else), a weekend raving in an Airbnb, or heading to Boomtown which had just kicked off that day. The decision was overwhelmingly pro-Boomtown, as everyone who wasn’t driving had already cracked open a tinny, and had painstakingly packed their pills into tampons the night before, and did not want their efforts wasted.
I, on the other hand, already had a contingency plan in place without even meaning to have one. Every winter, as the summer’s festival line ups are revealed, I get excitedly impulsive and buy tickets to everything I’m keen to go to, and then try to formulate a plan later. Unsurprisingly, this rarely goes to plan. My penchant for imprudent ticket buying means that over the years, I have resold tickets to Dimensions festival (twice), Secret Garden Party, and Love International to name a few. This year’s spontaneous purchase was for We Out Here, the new festival by Giles Peterson showcasing some of the UK’s best jazz, hip hop, dance, and everything else in between. It’s the new, UK-based twin sister of Peterson’s already established Worldwide Festival; a two week long knees up hosted in sunny Sète, France. Annoyingly, I had literally just sold my ticket the week before (purchased at early-bird price, and resold at face without the booking fee, might I add. Ever the philanthropist). After getting the all clear from my boss to change my holiday, I purchased a new (more expensive) ticket, and was very pleased to have my rucksack already ready to go for the following weekend.
Now that the dust had settled and I had a new plan, I thought I would have a read of the official press release, and find out what prompted the final decision to cancel. After all, we had all checked the weather in the days before, and it seemed a bit drizzly, but basically okay? The official announcement was made exclusively on social media as opposed to by email, with a screenshot of the weather forecast. It explained that it wasn’t the rain that was the issue, but the 50mph wind that would mean that all the temporary structures (stages, decorations, rigging) could potentially blow over and onto a crowd of unsuspecting ravers. At best, a few bumped heads, at worst, a fatality. With that in mind, I completely understand their final decision, and I assumed that general consensus would be the same. I was therefore shocked to read the reams of angry and unempathetic comments, feeling betrayed by the organisers and demanding immediate refunds. The lack of consideration is astounding. For everyone that bought a ticket, yes it was a shame to have plans change so suddenly, and especially for those who were planning on travelling from far away. But for the organisers, this has literally been their livelihood for the past 12 months. All their hard work and planning, blown away in an ill-fated weather forecast - I’m sure there must have been some tears shed when they made the decision to axe the show.
I don’t mean to sound like an overly cautious fun sponge when I say this, especially in hindsight now that the festival has passed and without major incident (thank god), but I do think it was incredibly irresponsible for Boomtown to still go ahead, knowing the potential risks. For me, it seems like an act of childish bravado; they were willing to chance it, just to play the cool guys that declared The Party Must Go On. But at what cost? In checking their social media updates over the weekend, I came across this video on reddit. It shows a plank-like piece of a stage blowing off and into the crowd, hitting several people. To be fair, I’d like verification that this was actually at this year’s Boomtown, but the point remains the same. This could have happened, and the fact that in this case the plank didn’t land edgeways and into someone’s skull is nothing more than, to quote the first Harry Potter film, sheer dumb luck.
And anyway, the party did go on. With a series of grassroots popup parties across London, Houghton supporters pulled it out of the bag in a heart warming display of glass half-full camaraderie.
I look forward to being in the dance surrounded by all the love at Houghton Festival 2020.