‘It was surreal’: What it was actually like to go to the first festivals since lockdown

‘It felt so exhilarating to let loose after such a long time’

After nearly a year and a half, Covid restrictions have finally been removed. There are no longer limits on how many people can meet or attend events, mask wearing is not compulsory and social distancing is not required.

Last weekend saw the return of some of the UK’s favourite festivals, including Latitude in Suffolk, Tramlines in Sheffield, CarFest North in Cheshire and Summer of Love in Bristol.

Whilst Latitude and Tramlines were both part of the government’s Events Research Programme, allowing a maximum capacity of 40,000 people, all of the festivals had Covid policies in place, requiring attendees to show proof of either double vaccination or a negative Covid test.

The Tab spoke to some of the people lucky enough to attend the first restriction-free festivals of 2021. Here’s what they said it was actually like:

Rosie, Summer of Love: ‘I had missed that sort of environment a lot’

Arriving at the festival, Rosie said “it was initially quite surreal to be back in that environment again” and it was “overwhelming to be in such a packed crowd”. However, she “had missed that sort of environment a lot” and said “it felt normal very quickly. Everyone seemed to be in very good spirits and there was a lot of excitement.

“It was just a day festival so felt similar-ish to the clubbing I had been doing earlier that week and thus wasn’t as overwhelming or stressful as I imagine a camping fest would have been,” she explained.

Although attendees “had to provide proof of a negative lateral flow result upon entry”, after months of restrictions “there didn’t seem to be any obvious Covid measures in place like distancing,” she told The Tab.

“I don’t think I saw a single person wearing a mask except for one or two bartenders. No masks were worn on the bus that took us from the city centre to the festival”.

Having assessed the risks beforehand, Rosie described how she felt that “by attending a festival at this time in the first place I was accepting the fact that I might leave with Covid. I didn’t let myself get too stressed about that element,” she said. “I had such a fun time!”

Ella, TramLines: ‘There’s been nothing I have wanted more than to go and experience that feeling again’

“For me, life before lockdown was made up of seeing live music usually more than weekly and my entire social life from my teenage years came from watching bands gigging and forming friendships through that,” Ella told The Tab. “There’s been nothing I wanted more than to go and experience that feeling again”.

All attendees had to show a ‘Covid pass’ on their phones and renew it every 48 hours to prove that they double vaccinated or had tested negative. Ella said this “really reduced the anxiety and stress about catching Covid” and meant that, even for staff, “no masks were required”.

Despite this, because the government website doesn’t require fans to provide proof of a negative test result when creating a Covid pass and logging lateral flow tests, “all they have is people’s word”. For this reason, she said she felt “you really need to trust people”.

At first, Ella said being so close to people “felt really weird. I hadn’t experienced anything like this in so long”.

However, she said: “Soon enough it literally felt like no time had passed. People seemed a lot more willing to meet new people and spark up a conversation with anyone they had the chance to.

“I suppose that’s what a year and a half in the house does to someone!”

Dan, Summer of Love: ‘Everyone was saying how good it was to be back in crowds’

Dan told The Tab the festival “wasn’t stressful at all” and said it was “well organised and efficient when entering and exiting”.

Whilst he did see some staff members wearing masks, there was “no social distancing at all or masks needed,” he explained. “It was all open air so felt slightly more protected from Covid”.

Although he saw a few people who “had done too much”, he recounted how he “didn’t see a single fight or altercation.

“People were loving it and chatting with strangers. Everyone was saying how good it was to be back in crowds”.

“It was lots of fun,” Dan said.

Evie, Latitude: ‘It felt so exhilarating to let loose after such a long time’

“Everything was efficient and just as normal,” Evie told The Tab. “Everyone seemed to feel safe because people were either double jabbed or had tested negative.

“Everyone was super excited as it was the first big festival in two years so the mosh pits were a bit more crazy and a few more beers got chucked around than normal,” she said.

Whilst Evie did feel safe, she said: “When I was in the mosh pits I did find myself thinking ‘oh god I hope no one has Covid’ because I know lateral flow tests can be unreliable.

“It made me slightly nervous, not so much for myself but for the people I could pass Covid onto if I did get it”.

“However, overall it felt amazing,” Evie said. “Everyone, performers and crowd alike were so eager to make the most of the experience. The energy was incredible. It felt so exhilarating and was so nice to let loose after such a long time”.

Lucy, Summer of Love: ‘It felt like a pandemic hadn’t ruined our lives for over a year’

Lucy said it felt very strange to be attending a restriction-free event. “It was amazing and felt super surreal. It was nice to be amongst close friends just enjoying life again with no cares or worries.

“There wasn’t any social distancing so it felt like a pandemic hadn’t ruined our lives for over a year,” she told The Tab.

“I never felt uncomfortable or like I was at risk of anything,” she explained, something she “didn’t expect considering it was a large gathering with thousands of people.

“It wasn’t stressful at all as I was just happy to have a bit of normality so wasn’t thinking negatively”.

Despite this, Lucy said that she worried that people may have “faked” lateral flow tests. “That’s the only thing that daunts me about this whole thing,” she said.

Sophie, Tramlines: ‘The moshpits were crazy’

Sophie attended Tramlines, another government tested site similar to Download festival, where ‘Covid passes’ were required.

Although she felt “really really safe”, Sophie admitted that “the mosh pits were crazy”.

“I love festivals but at one point I did have to go out of the middle of the mosh pit near the main stage because it did get too much. I think for all the 16 year olds who turned 18 in lockdown, this was their first time going to a festival and going out in general and they could drink so it was very rowdy,” she said.

“It did feel weird to be so close to people in crowds and I think I was slightly on edge about it,” she explained to The Tab, “but also I wasn’t bothered if someone touched me.

“I was more alert about it because I hadn’t been in a close space like that for ages”.

Lucy, CarFest: ‘Somehow it felt illegal to be in such close space after so long social distancing’

Despite not having attended a festival in nearly two years, Lucy said she wasn’t apprehensive to attend. “We had a very relaxed approach to the whole event,” she said.

“It did feel strange and all my friends agreed that somehow it felt illegal to be in such close space after so long social distancing”, even though with the lifting of restrictions it isn’t.

“There were a few people around wearing masks (largely people behind the bars) but the majority of the crowds didn’t care about Covid as far as I could tell,” she told The Tab.

Lucy described the event as “one of my favourite experiences since the first lockdown started in 2020. I even got a shoutout from Danny Jones!

“Overall a really fun experience but I can’t believe it went ahead”, she said.

Georgia, Summer of Love: ‘It was the happiest I’ve seen people in a long time’

After arriving in Bristol, Georgia took pre-organised bus transport to the “secret location” of the Summer of Love festival. “Although Covid is still going around, you had to confirm you had a negative test before getting on the bus and into the festival so I didn’t feel unsafe or like I was doing anything wrong,” she explained.

As one of the first festivals to return, Summer of Love “was quite a small festival compared to Creamfields or Leeds fest, only running for two days with no camping,” she said.

Describing the overall atmosphere, Georgia deemed the event “so much fun.”

She said: “As silly as it sounds, people felt like it was freedom day and we could actually enjoy our lives again. It felt nice being so close to people and just having a laugh with random people and just enjoying ourselves without having to think twice about being too close.

“It wasn’t just people our age, there were people aged 50+ who were absolutely loving it, just dancing and grooving,” Georgia recounted.

“It was the happiest I’ve seen people in the longest time”.

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