2022 has brought festival season back, and it's arrived with a vengeance. A time of year when the energy is unmatched as thousands of music lovers migrate to fields across the country to release their inhibitions and witness some incredible live music. The buzz of a music festival is an unrivalled high, one that can be felt for weeks post-event and is contagious enough to be transferred to the unlucky folks who choose not to partake. The feelings generated and experienced during festival season are ones that I believe can only be measured against one other cultural phenomenon - spiritual events. Knowing my audience, I realise I could be preaching to the choir, but if not, give me a chance before you cry sacrilege, and by the end of this article, I know you'll be converted.
There are, of course, many clear connections between spirituality and music festivals. Iconic music festivals like Woodstock and Glastonbury emerged from counter-cultures with new-age spirituality at their core. Glastonbury festival is even said to be held atop the crossover of two ley lines (electromagnetic lines that connect sacred sites around the world), which, if true, means the entire site is charged with sacred energy. You can't argue with facts like that; the literal ground is holy. It sets a pretty ideal climate for making festival-goers feel a little bit more enlightened than before they went in.
Recognising the climate and intentions behind festivals as spiritual events is a strong start. Still, if we go deeper, we can trace the modern-day music festival to its roots and understand they are the spawn of ancient pagan rituals. If there's one thing we know about the pagans, it's that they loved a good party. They frequently held ritualistic gatherings where participants would embody the excess in the name of the lord. Historians note that attendees would indulge themselves over the course of a few days in fatty food, alcohol, promiscuity and projection of a new self-identity, manifested in the form of masks and costumes - sound familiar?
So now we know that the predecessor to the modern-day music festival is a religious celebration of indulgence, it becomes easier to justify the idea that traces of these intentions linger on today. However, the strongest argument in this case, isn't the festival's heritage but the music itself. We all understand the transgressive power of music and the intense feeling of being a part of a giant crowd chanting lyrics together (side point - church choir, anyone?). Music is often understood as a sixth sense, triggering feelings we can't articulate ourselves. The reason for this is unknown, but the relationship between music and religion is a tale as old as time; music is known for its otherworldly power. It's objectively clear to see how a mass-scale music-focused event can be seen as spiritual when you focus on the music. Watching live music in the midst of a giant crowd is possibly the most unifying experience available to humans. For the duration of the set, the rest of the world slips away and becomes a little lighter as thousands of people share an amazing experience. Although this is not a feeling exclusive to festivals and has been documented at many large-scale gigs (Brighton's own Beach Boutique being a prime example), I would argue that the fact festivals enable you to feel this transgressive feeling for three, sometimes four days straight puts them on another level.
The physical repercussions of a music festival are no joke. Trekking into nature with a backpack twice your size, a tent, a sleeping bag, and thirty-five cans of cider to spend five nights sleeping on the floor does not do wonders for the body. Aching feet and muscles are the symptoms of a weekend well spent, and despite the physical pain, it's not uncommon for people to come back spouting praised fueled stories of their adventures. We all know someone who's been to a festival and comes home telling everyone how their life has changed, much like participants in large-scale spiritual retreats or pilgrimages. They might be exhausting, but they reinvigorate the soul. Perhaps this is because, similarly to excursions based around spirituality, festivals allow participants to express themselves freely under the suspension of day-to-day rules. Running around, chatting openly with strangers, and coating your face in glitter without a care in the world is soul-enriching.
At the end of the day, music festivals are what you make them. Whether or not you feel the highs they produce can be comparable to a spiritual event is up to you. But to me, the proof is abundantly clear. If these reasons are not enough to convince you, check out the Industry Insight playlist curated by the SLS team with some of the most ICONIC festival performances to give you goosebumps! Now go forward and embrace the season with everything you've got.