Confessions of a festival apprehensionist

A doubting Thomas reexamines his own agnosticism

Festival campgrounds are my personal hell, but I understand that it’s a “me problem.”

Supplied photo

I have a confession to make. It’s something that I’d find embarrassing to admit in any context. I’m particularly bashful sharing it in the pages of the first Uniter festival guide since 2019. But if I’m going to be writing about festivals, I have to fess up.

I’m something of a festival skeptic. Always have been.

I would never yuck anyone else’s yum when it comes to festivals. I love that most people love them. But ever since I entered my early adulthood, I’ve found them exhausting.

Maybe it’s because I spent my late teens and early twenties playing in bands, so, to some extent, festivals were mandatory. Back then, there were, like now, many DIY music festivals springing up around rural Manitoba, and if you were a local band with any sort of profile, you were invariably going to be invited to play at least one or two of them.

I wasn’t going to let my grumpiness get in the way of my bandmates’ fun. But the whole affair seemed like it was designed to push my buttons. I was the lone “indoor kid” among a cavalcade of outdoorsy happy campers. I was the one sober friend among a clique of beer-drinking, bong-ripping buddies. I was also, as I’d learn later, deeply undermedicated for clinical depression.

But, overall, I was just annoyed to have to drive out to the middle of nowhere, be around a few hundred people having more fun than me, then either sleep in a tent or drive home in the middle of the night.

In retrospect, I can see what any reader can probably tell immediately: I was an insufferable shit. But it was who I was. It was an event where the fun things were camping and live music. But to me, live music was work, and camping was punishment for some sin I’d surely committed in a past life.

Have my tastes changed in the intervening 10 to 15 years? Not exactly. I’m still an indoor kid. I’ve retired from performing live music long enough that it no longer feels like work, though I need to indulge in that type of fun carefully and sparingly to protect my damaged hearing (young musicians, I’m begging you: wear earplugs).

But if there’s something I’ve learned from working on this Summer Festival Guide issue, it’s that when it comes to Manitoba festivals, there really is something for everyone. My youthful preconception of summer festivals as “a long weekend stuck in the wilderness with dozens of inebriated guitar players” is just a fraction of what’s on offer.

Festivals can be cozy. They can be indoors. They can require a much smaller time commitment. A festival can be spending two hours in a community centre for a Folklorama pavilion, experiencing art and eating delicious food from a culture that’s new to me. It can be browsing a marketplace full of handmade knitted goods or small-batch cheeses. It can cater to my eternal inner grandpa.

I guess I might not be a full-blown festival convert yet. But this summer, I’m ready to dip my toes back in the waters. As long as I don’t have to go camping.

Thomas Pashko is the managing editor of The Uniter. If possible, he’d prefer to avoid spending time in any place that lacks air conditioning.

Published in Volume 78, Number 25 of The Uniter (May 30, 2024)

Related Reads