UPDATE: Festival Fever

May Week Schmay Week – GEORGE OSBORN provides the indispensible UPDATED guide to all the best music festivals of Summer 2010.

bestival Big Chill Cambridge Folk Festival camping End of the Road festival flaming lips Florence and the Machine Glastonbury Hard Rock Calling Isle of Wight Latitude M.I.A. Reading and Leeds T in the Park V Festival

Exam term is HERE. For most people, May Week is the pay-off for dealing with this hideousness. Not for me. Sure, you could go on a series of decadent nights out, a Ball or two. But the combination of massive expenditure and colossal effort to look presentable isn’t really my cup of tea.

For music fans, mid-June signals the beginning of the best part of the year: the festival season. Traditionally book-ended by the Isle of Wight festival in mid-June and Bestival in mid-September, it’s a feast for any self-respecting music lover. Unfortunately, the choice of festivals is absolutely baffling to the average person, and costs can stack up in the absence of prudent purchasing. What you really need, then, is a guide to help you sift through the various festivals that are jostling for your attention. So without further ado, here is a pretty comprehensive rundown of the quality festivals where you can roll around in mud, and dance like a loon ‘til the early hours.


Isle of Wight Festival

Dates: 11th-13th June
Ticket Price: Camping tickets sold out, but DAY tickets STILL AVAILABLE
Headliners: Jay-Z, The Strokes and Paul McCartney

Revived in 2002 following a 32 year hiatus, the Isle of Wight festival is probably never going to top the glory of its 1970 incarnation, when Miles Davies, The Who and Jimi Hendrix performed. Nonetheless, for a full weekend festival it is competitively priced, and boasts two main performance areas. A wide variety of contemporary indie, dance, urban and rock styles are covered, creating an impressive line up. With a stellar headlining trio and some capable support from Editors, Blondie, Florence and the Machine and the Hold Steady, Isle of Wight could be a good way to begin May week with a bang.

Download Festival

Dates: 11th-13th June
Ticket Price: STILL AVAILABLE, but gone up to £180 from £170 (Weekend Camping 3 Days)
Headliners: AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine and Aerosmith

Download is not for the faint hearted. The music is loud, the atmosphere is raucous and the crowd know what they want: metal and nothing else. That may be a slightly harsh assessment as the festival is clearly branching out – Him and 30 Seconds to Mars play this year. Nevertheless, the presence of Megadeth, Motorhead and the attractively named Five Finger Death Punch shows that this festival knows its target audience. Download is goth heaven (or should that be hell?) and you will probably already know if this appeals.

Glastonbury Festival

Dates: 23rd–27th June
Ticket Price: SOLD OUT
Headliners: U2, Muse and Stevie Wonder

Deservedly named the king of festivals, Glastonbury remains a life-defining experience. With over 20 performance areas, night clubs, cinema tents, circuses, cafes, craft shops and even meditation areas, it packs a hefty bang for your buck. This year marks the 40th anniversary and promises a stellar line up, without neglecting more left-field acts; The National and Laura Marling are sure to please the music critics. If you don’t find something that appeals to you at Glastonbury then you are dead inside – get saving for next year.

Hard Rock Calling

Dates: 25th-27th June
Ticket Price: STILL AVAILABLE, £100 for Saturday and Sunday Ticket, Day Tickets vary per act (you can still get a Paul McCartney VIP ticket including an exclusive 'chill out' area from which to feast your eyes…
Headliners: Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney

An interesting alternative to Glastonbury, Hard Rock Calling is based in Hyde Park and is clearly designed as a festival for those who don’t want to spend time in a tent. Instead of following the traditional festival format, it’s more a series of extended gigs with individual day prices touted per headliner, with Paul McCartney costing nearly £20 more to see than Pearl Jam. The line up is as yet incomplete, but expect the Saturday to be more chilled out. The other days will feature rock to get your dad moshing, which seems to be this festival’s target audience. If you can forgive the Dad Rock, it may be worth a punt.

T in the Park

Dates: 9th-11th July
Ticket Price: SOLD OUT

Headliners: Muse, Eminem and Kasabian

Set in Kinross, T in the Park is one of the more exciting festivals you’ll get to attend. A friendly atmosphere is offset by the slight tension between the Scots and everyone else. This year’s line up is nicely balanced, seeing bands such as Black Eyed Peas, Faithless, Broken Social Scene and Mumford and Sons rubbing shoulders. It is fairly expensive to get hold of a ticket, and travelling there is going to hit your pocket even harder – in spite of this, T in the Park remains one of the best festivals around.

Latitude

Dates: 15th-18th July
Ticket Price: £155 (Weekend Camping) STILL AVAILABLE from Viagogo.
Headliners:  Florence and the Machine, Belle and Sebastian, Vampire Weekend

Latitude is fast becoming a fascinating festival. Set in the beautiful Henham Park, it has garnered a reputation as a mini-Glastonbury, with a friendly ethos and wide variety of performers. The comedy tent is packed with famous names, the presence of Literary and Poetry areas are a welcome addition to the festival format. An appearance from the RSC adds further cultural clout. Most importantly, however, the music is consistently excellent. The presence of Richard Hawley, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and Empire of the Sun on a bill with three excellent headliners ensures that Latitude this year should be a treat. If you are a music fan on a budget, this should be high on the list of priorities.

Cambridge Folk Festival

Dates: 29thJuly- 1st August
Ticket Price: £108 (Weekend Ticket without Camping, £34 extra) STILL AVAILABLE.
Highlights of Bill: Seasick Steve, Seth Lakeman and Stornoway

After spending the year toiling away in Cambridge, you may fancy coming back in the summer for something a bit more light-hearted. The Cambridge Folk Festival certainly fits the bill. It may not have a stellar line up, but it is steeped in character and favours artists who are genuinely more interested in larking about than lording it. Stornoway will probably be the best “popular” act you’ll see (if people finally notice how brilliant they are) but when you have the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on your festival programme you shouldn’t care that you don’t know everyone on the bill. Charging extra for camping is a tad cheeky though.

The Big Chill

Dates: 5th-8th August
Ticket Price: £155 (Weekend Ticket, £120 for Students with ISIC/NUS cards) STILL AVAILABLE, and they've got Thom York!
Highlights of Bill: Massive Attack, M.I.A. and Roots Manuva

With a selection of acts lying somewhere between coffee shop dance and relaxed acoustic, the ethos of the booking policy is reflected in the name. From Zero 7 to the Leisure Society, the Big Chill offers a lovely selection of artists to while away a weekend in Herefordshire, and it is beginning to garner a great reputation as “the summer’s most sumptuously appointed left-field garden party", according to The Times. Placed firmly at the top of my festival hit list, you may consider the Big Chill the perfect way to spend the first weekend in August.

V Festival

Dates: 20th-22nd August
Ticket Price: SOLD OUT (check Viagogo)
Headliners: Kings of Leon and Kasabian

V Festival is probably the most commercial festival around and as a result it has a slightly odd character. Only two days of music mean that it’s never great value for money and as the ratio of good to crap music is unfortunately set at roughly 1:2, it may feel like you are pissing your money away. However, it has two good things going for it. Firstly, it is an easy festival and very accommodating for people who want to experience the whole camping shebang without too much effort. Secondly, it does always get a few decent bands playing, and this year sees the Pet Shop Boys headline the Arena on Sunday. It’s a mixed bag for those of more discerning taste, but boasts chart toppers for everyone else to enjoy.

Reading and Leeds

Dates:  27th-29th August
Ticket Price: £180 (Weekend Camping SOLD OUT, check Viagogo)
Headliners: Guns n Roses, Arcade Fire and Blink 182

A curious line up this year. After the success of last years’ triple alliance of Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon, Melvyn Benn seems to have lost the quality control a bit. The Friday and Sunday have weak line ups, yet Saturday sees an all conquering selection of the some of the finest names in indie and rock, from the Libertines to Modest Mouse and even Arcade Fire. It’s certainly odd seeing a terrible festival line up overall being redeemed by one of the best days in the entire festival season, but that’s the up and down nature of festival booking for you. Both festival sites remain sacred teenage pilgrimage sites, and as a result Sunday night, without fail, descends into riotous anarchy. So if you fancy setting fire to stuff, clashing with riot police and listening to mediocre emo/indie for a weekend, this is certainly the festival for you. To more seasoned festival-goers, it’s probably too reminiscent of Lord of the Flies to be any fun.

End of the Road

Dates: 10th-12th September
Ticket Price: £130 (Weekend Camping) STILL AVAILABLE.
Headliners: Wilco, The New Pornographers and The Low Anthem

Certainly one from the left-field, End of the Road probably has the most critically acclaimed festival line up, but one that you’ll probably only enjoy if you are into your folk. Wilco and the New Pornographers are excellent bands, while Mountain Goats and the Antlers are evidence of the excellent and capable back-up they’ll have, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the festival is booked by Pitchfork readers. I get the impression that this is a folk version of Download: you’ll either love everything here or hate the lot.

Bestival

Dates: 9th-12th September
Ticket Price: SOLD OUT.
Highlights of Bill: Roxy Music,The Flaming Lips and the XX

Bestival, in case you don’t already know, is nuts. The website is baffling, the video made to announce the line up hilariously odd and the philosophy of the whole place is slightly unhinged. But the magic of the festival is in the escapism of it all. Transported to the Isle of Wight, everyone is encouraged to partake in fancy dress (this year’s theme is Fantasy) and as a result Bestival has emerged as one of the most free-thinking festivals around. The line up is nicely varied and Rob Da Bank has created a festival with genuine character. It’s a fab way to end the summer on a grand note of oddness and comes highly recommended.

Here endeth the festival guide. Obviously, it would be impossible to cover every base, and so I can only recommend giving any festival a chance – it might be a free one held in your town, a smaller one like Summer Sundae or something more decidedly niche. It might even be something exotic, such as Serbia’s EXIT or Spain’s Benicassim. Wherever you go, remember the following – only buy your tickets through official websites such as Ticketmaster or Seetickets, vendors recommended by the festival organisers on their website, or reputable resale sites such as Viagogo. You don’t want to blow your money on a website that looks a bit dodgy, so please be careful. Most importantly – always pack more toilet roll than you think you could use in a weekend.