I can look back on each summer and there’s always a theme, something I was into or a place I visited that really caught my attention. Last year it was festivals and I managed to get myself to six from May through to September, volunteering at five and attending one like the majority of others with a public ticket (Slam Dunk South – too much fun).
This July I’m planning a trip where I’ll be checking out new countries like Belgium, Germany, Austria and others we’ve not yet decided on (although I wouldn’t mind going back to Amsterdam and I’ve been eyeing up Croatia…), so naturally I was expecting this to cost a fortune and I thought I’d have to give up on the idea of festivals for another year. We’ll be using a 22 day interrail pass to get around and I’ve realised that as long as I buy this and my flights in advance, as well as have enough money for food while I’m out there, I can make do with whatever money I get a chance to save up and bring with me and still have a great time.
This alongside the great lesson that I learnt last year about how volunteering at festivals is such a cheap and unpredictably fun way to experience the weekend, I literally couldn’t help myself when I saw that The Great Escape had opened their volunteer registration, it looks like this year I’ll be doing both.
The Great Escape is my favourite festival, easily. I’ve been asked to supervise the wristband exchange crew again alongside the merchandise volunteers which will keep me fairly busy throughout the festival, but outside of looking after volunteers I’ll be able to explore the venues across Brighton and drop in on all sorts of new and exciting music. This sounds like a massive cliché but The Great Escape really is a great place to learn about new local and international artists, as well as catch bands in the smaller club venues before they head off to play the major festivals in June/ July/ August (I found this with Slaves, Royal Blood, Sketpa, Gnarwolves (house show!!) etc.) .
For those who aren’t familiar with The Great Escape, it’s a multi venue festival that uses the majority of Brighton’s music spaces to host over 450 artists across three days, it’s often compared to South By South West in Austin Texas and brings with it an incredible atmosphere of union between music lovers in Brighton. You can plan your weekend down to the minute (not forgetting to check out the ‘alternative escape’ shows hosted by pubs on the same days, and keep an eye out for secret shows too) or drop in on the nearest venue as you make your way around the city listening to bands you’ve never heard of and have an equally great time (my plan – although it’s worth checking out the TGE16 Spotify playlist ahead of time if you want the best of both).
When you volunteer at these festivals throughout the summer the general idea is the same wherever you find yourself, whether it’s The Great Escape, Reading Festival, Bestival (I did these both with Oxfam), or at smaller Festivals like Forgotten Fields or Shakedown where you contact the festival directly for a place. You’re trading your time as a steward, venue rep, charity campaigner, wristband staff, gate staff etc. for a free wristband to use outside of your shifts, essentially a ‘free’ ticket to the festival alongside a few other perks you’ll find along the way. Again, it varies from festival to festival but these can include showers/ meals/ phone charging/ separate campsites/ better access (less queues)/ boat rides (Reading!)/staff parties, all on top of the already free ticket, which are especially welcome on the full weekends away.
A few of these won’t apply to all festivals and could change year to year of course, but based on last year at The Great Escape you wouldn’t have the free showers/ meals/ separate camping that you would find at Reading/ Bestival etc. because it’s based in a city, but in return you’ll generally have shorter shifts than the 8 hour (occasionally overnight) shifts that you’d be expected to do at the major festivals. You’ll also enjoy a post festival staff party, and be able to work your shifts around exploring the city and anything around Brighton that interests you, rather than being trapped far out in the countryside.
The Great Escape is a great place to start as it’s early on in the season in mid May, but I’d suggest you take it further and spend time at some of the other festivals through summer too. I’d recommend going through Oxfam because they’ve been doing it for over 20 years and pretty much have it down, you’ll have training and as well as enjoying the festival you’ll be raising money for real causes. They raise £1,000,000 yearly for their projects at festivals, it works because the festivals pay Oxfam for the time of their stewards based on a wage and the hours worked, but because we volunteer they’re able to keep this money and use it in their campaigns. There’s a real sense of community and you’ll be able to chat with literally anyone wearing the purple Oxfam lanyard, there’s also a really useful Facebook group that can help you with your planning, travel, and if you’re heading there by yourself so you can get some names and numbers for the weekend so you’re not wandering around alone.
The experience of the ‘away’ festivals is different to city festivals and you definitely need to experience both (although I’m assuming most people have already), you get such a great chance to meet great people in these weekends around fires, in front of your favourite bands and on shift. I’m planning to volunteer for both Reading and Bestival again (as well as The Great Escape), because they’re great but also because if you do two with Oxfam you’ll get priority applications the following year for Glastonbury, so you don’t have to stress about getting a ticket, try it!
P.S. don’t forget your disposable cameras.