It’s 8pm on a Saturday night and I’m sitting at home in my pyjamas, eating a honeycomb magnum while writing this blog about Download Festival back in 2012.
In some alternate universe I’d be standing in a field at the Domain watching Deftones take the stage. Looking at their most recent festival setlists from 2019, there’s a good chance they could be opening with Rickets or Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away).
But alas, in this last week alone the times have changed and the arts industry remains uncertain. I have flights, tickets and accommodation booked for European festivals this year, so trust me, I know it sucks but at this rate I think things are going to get worse before they get better, but today I’m not here to bitch about it or give you my opinion on COVID-19.
I’m going to tell you some of my memories from the first Download Festival I attended in 2012, at Donington Park in the UK.
It was a Friday morning in London and we were doing a mad dash around the city trying to find gumboots. No one knew what the hell I was asking for, and after a few weird looks and explanations of what we were after, we soon realised we should be asking for wellies instead. At this rate, we were running late for the bus and getting desperate, someone (maybe the taxi driver) suggested we try Primark, which is kind of like Kmart, but the main thing is that it was cheap and they had the goods.
Wellies in tow, we rushed to the train station to catch the festival bus. It had been a few nights raining prior, and aside from the freak rainstorm at Sonisphere I’d never done a festival in the mud. I mean clearly, because I brought a suitcase with me and cheap foam yoga mats to sleep on. I was still a bit of a rookie at this stage when it came to festival camping. While I could set up a tent and tie a few knots, Scouts didn’t really prepare me for this.
It should have taken around 2 hours to get there, but traffic into the festival grounds was mental and a bit of horror set in after we got off the bus. It was cold and cloudy with sloppy and nearly ankle deep mud. I dragged my heavy suitcase all the way through it to try and find a suitable campsite. Looking back I imagine there were a lot of people laughing at me as I struggled through the mud.
Some European summer this was! Setting up the tent was messy, so a change of clothes was in order. By evening it was so cold we had to fork out more pounds than they were worth for beanies and gloves, I was already wearing a few layers of clothes under my pleather jacket and they weren’t helping much.
The Friday lineup didn’t really interest me at the time. I remember we missed a band because the bus took forever to get in and then we still had to wait in the line to get wristbanded, plus the task of finding a campsite, everything took much longer than we’d anticipated, but I can’t remember who it was now.
My main highlight for Friday was Opeth. Looking back now, my only regret was not watching the whole Devin Townsend set and appreciating just how incredible he is (it took me a few years but I got there in the end). I do remember watching him play Ih-Ah and I had tears in my eyes because my sciatica was playing up and I was in so much pain. You can check out the setlist here.
By morning the festival staff had covered the mud with hay to help soak it up, and thank god for that. The night time trips to the portaloo sucked because my wellies would get stuck in the mud as you stepped up into them and you’d lose a shoe. Pretty much every morning began with a hot chocolate and a can of Red Bull and something awful and overpriced for breakfast.
Saturday was definitely the highlight for me, seeing Reckless Love in the main tent, and watching a bit of Trivium and Steel Panther on the headline stages. There was shopping galore and punters dressed up in a variety of costumes, so I kept busy people-watching during the day.
I was ecstatic to see Metallica play the Black album in full that night and finally hear some of the songs I grew up listening to and playing over and over to death on my discman. It wasn’t my first time seeing Metallica though, I was 15 when I saw them for the first time at both Big Day Out shows in 2004. I remember sitting outside the Entertainment Centre lining up for tickets to their sideshow with my parents and being one of the lucky few to get our hands on tickets. I saw them another 3 times in 2010, but this was my first time hearing them play My Friend of Misery live. What can I say, it was worth the wait.
Sunday was the final day of the festival weekend and saw the likes of Sebastian Bach, Ugly Kid Joe, Anthrax, Soundgarden and Black Sabbath. I can’t remember if it was today or the next morning but there were guys wearing old white wedding dresses launching themselves into the mud like it was a slip and slide, competing with each other to see how far they could go.
It was the first sunny day of the festival, so we took the opportunity to chill out, sit on the grass and watch some bands. We saw Megadeth play from afar before Soundgarden came on, who were amazing as always. I remember being shocked at how good Ozzy and Sabbath were. I grew up watching the Osbourne’s so I had just expected he’d lost the plot by this point and it was an easy money grab. But he was fabulous, full of energy (for someone of his age) and managed to keep pitch and stay in time.
The cold and mud aside, it was a great festival. I’d love to go back one day and do it all again.