First of all, let me set the tone for this blog series by telling you that the single most comfortable point of my whole weekend was taking a shit, on Sunday afternoon, while Lamb of God were playing. The Portaloos around the main arena were astonishingly clean, inside was dry and out of the wind, I could hear the music from the Encore stage…and it was the first time I had got to sit down all day. Bliss.
And for those of the TL;DR persuasion – rain, mud like I’d never seen before, shitty Portaloos like I had never seen before, aching feet like I had never felt before, **take a chair if you ever go to Download – seriously**, the most epic of bands IMO were Clutch, Emp!re, Qemists, Evil Scarecrow, Rise Against, Faith No More and In Flames.
I have been excited about Download since I booked my ticket, to the point that I had been little more than a whirlwind of SQUEEEEEEEE for about a week and a half. The weather forecast had been swaying between baking hot sun all weekend, and out-and-out monsoon rains. I did the only sensible thing when packing for any British festival.
As soon as the stage times were released, I sat and put everything into an Excel spreadsheet to work out who I wanted to see, where I wanted to be, and to agonise over any clashes.
I knew that on the Friday, I needed to be at the main stage for 13:45 to see Hell Yeah. What with Donington Park being not much more than an hour’s drive from me, I planned on leaving at some time between 8:00 and 9:00 to give myself plenty of time for setting up the tent and my bed, and to sandwich a few beers into the afternoon.
I actually left at 9:10 which was tardy by my usual standards, but even factoring in the massive expanse of 50mph restrictions on the M1, and not pushing my car over 60mph any way, I still got there by 10:30. Parking was really straightforward, the stewards were friendly, and the sun was shining. I had too much stuff to realistically carry in one trip, so I loaded myself up with the tent and the inflatable mattress et al, and would come back for my clothes/water/sleeping bag/pillows once everything was in place. And yes, I like to be comfortable when I am camping, don’t judge me.
Everything about Download this year was so well organised; there was a cashless payment system implemented throughout the site, there was an app which you could use to set up reminders for your own personalised schedule, to link up with your friends, and there was also a site map linked to GPS so you could always find where you were. The biggest genius feature for me was that it allowed you to put ‘pins’ in the map – really handy for marking where the hell you left your car.
To get from the south carpark to the gates, there was a bridge that went over the A453, and by the time I has reached the top of said bridge, I was beginning to get an idea that I might have made an error of judgement. My tent (about 7kg) does not get the chance to get heavy between my front door and my car. Schlepping it uphill through a grassy field and over a road bridge by decidedly uncomfortable handles however is a very different story.
The last time I was at Download was 2004, and I wasn’t camping – entry had been as simple as walking up to the main gates, through a bit of hairpin queuing and then in. Not so much this time. I joined the back of a mass of people with tents and trolleys and backpacks and cases. I say mass, because there was no suggestion of any sort of system. There was a section of the approach road, maybe 10m wide, which had been separated with metal barriers, where we all stood in the dust and the sunshine and waited. And waited. And then waited some more. I had assumed that the corral would funnel down with people going through and having their tickets exchanged for the cashless wristbands, but there was no indication of any movement.
There was a forward surge of people around 11:30 and then it all stopped again. Just before 12:00 there was another wave of movement and I was close enough to see that they appeared to be letting people through in staggered groups rather than a steady trickle – security were checking all bags and cases, and it was taking quite some time.
By the time I got through security, I was hot, sweaty and dusty. I had CRYSTALS forming on my face. One thing that you don’t get from the map on the app (ha! Map on the App…) is the actual scale of the site. You only truly appreciate that when you’re having to walk it, laden with bags… in the beating sunshine… in trainers that you KNEW you should have thrown away after the last trip to Norway…
To get to the campsite, I had to walk through the camping village just north-east of the circuit… and then over hills and fucking dales. I am not even kidding. Walking downhill between the Gold and Black sites was so steep it was dangerous – there were people falling over, carts tipping stuff all over the ground, and I was struggling to understand the gravity-defying angles that some of the tents were pitched at.
When I turned the corner at the bottom into the Yellow camping site, a lovely, well laid-out space unfolded in front of me. Well laid-out – and also FULL. The place was heaving. There was a metal ridged walkway in place diagonally through to the Quiet camping at the back, were I was booked to be staying.
Which was also full.
I walked around the entire space and there was nowhere to fit anything larger than a one-man pop-up tent. One of the edges of the Quiet camping that I walked up was so steep that I struggled to get up it with the tent and also the general sweaty-tired-my-feet-are-broken-ness I was experiencing. I got to the top corner, as far away from where I started as it was possible to get, and was gutted because there was STILL no space. What the hell was I supposed to do? I had PAID to be here, but there wasn’t a HERE to be at.
Each camping zone was marked out with white painted lines on the ground that indicated the area inside which everyone was supposed to pitch their tents. However, there was nothing anywhere that said you had to be inside the white lines, so me and three couples in the same position shrugged, said “Fuck it.” and set up camp over the lines. I tried not to be an arsehole to the people who already had their tents up, but it had reached the point where I was so pissed off and grumpy that I would have fought someone if they challenged me. AND I STILL HAD ANOTHER LOAD OF STUFF TO BRING FROM THE CAR.
By this point, it was just gone 13:00. I knew I wanted to be in the main arena in 45 minutes, so I decided to down tools, grab a beer, and get the rest of the stuff later.
Again, I didn’t really understand the layout of the festival, and to get to the arena I had to walk all the way back to the main gates and then walk parallel to the race circuit itself. I know from experience that when walking across different gradients, I can cover 3.3 miles in 57 minutes. It took me 40 minutes from tent to arena, which I worked out to be about 2 miles. It was about the same distance to the car. Holy fuck.
I eventually got to the arena at 14:10 so I had pretty much missed all of Hell Yeah.
I didn’t really know any of their music, but I did know that it was Vinnie Paul on drums so that marked them as a band I wanted to check out. Watching them, I was scratching my head and thinking that I knew the singer. A quick Google search proved that it was in fact Chad Gray from Mudvayne. Definitely one to add to The List, and probably wouldn’t have appeared on my radar if I hadn’t seen them on the bill here.
I had been quite keen to check out At The Gates (14:35 – 15:05 Main Stage) and Blues Pills (14:50 – 15:25 Encore Stage) but I knew that I still had to get another load of stuff to the tent and Friday was all about Clutch (16:40 – 17:25 Main Stage) and so I needed to get there and back before that time.
And so I began the whole round trip again. It was even more hard work the second time, but I knew that once it was done I could settle in and not worry about it… OR SO I THOUGHT. As I reached the top of the epic slope in Quiet camping, I could see two officials in high visibility vests talking to one of the other people who had pitched their tents outside the lines earlier. I could hear them saying that basically they weren’t supposed to be there, and they would need to move a few guy ropes… I opened the front of my tent, threw the rest of my stuff in, closed up and walked off the other direction as quickly as I could. If I needed to move the damned thing later I would, but I refused to miss Clutch, so didn’t have the time to deal with it right then.
This time, I got back to the arena sufficiently early to grab a beer and get to the stage before Clutch started. I didn’t get any pictures of my own, so you’ll just have to accept this far superior image instead.
Clutch were amazing, and one of my favourite acts of the whole weekend. There was some impressive Cowbell work going on, and I was taking tips due to this…
Moose and JRock (TeamRock DJ’s) had started a crowdfunding campaign to get a load of cowbells at Download. Long story, but I was always going to be a part of that, let’s be honest. I collected my very own instrument and was mightily pleased about it. There was a planned cowbell-off for Saturday afternoon, and it was bound to be both epic, and ridiculous.
I had wanted to see Modestep (16:50 – 17:30 Encore Stage) but HELLO Clutch – I am sure I will get the opportunity to catch up with them in the future. I had my first true clash of bands that I was struggling to decide between with Sylosis (17:45 – 18:25 Maverick Stage) and Corrosion of Conformity (17:55 – 18:35 Encore Stage)… however by that point, I was so worried about getting back and finding my tent had been moved, that I decided it was better to go back and deal with the situation then rather than later in the evening, and didn’t end out seeing either of them.
Back I went to the campsite…to find my tent exactly where I had left it, and no officials to be seen. Fuck. Also good. But still, fuck.
So, once more headed back to the arena, and my feet were throbbing. I had taken a handful of painkillers but I very obviously had a massive blister on the ball of my left foot, and I’d be lucky if I hadn’t got one on the right as well. I got back in time to see the start of Judas Priest (19:20 – 20:20 Main Stage) and they were brilliant. I have caught up with a few old school metal bands in the last year or so and I am consistently surprised by how good they still are.
By this time, it had started to rain reasonably heavily, so the phone (therefore also the camera) was staying firmly in the pocket. As good as Priest were, I was cold, wet and grumpy; I had a plastic emergency raincoat and wellies that I had brought with me, but I had been seduced by the hot and sunny weather. All of my appropriate gear was consequently still in my tent. I ended out – along with half of the arena – flocking to the stalls and buying another plastic poncho.
My trainers were soaked, my hoodie was wet, my hair was dripping. The hood of my poncho kept falling off my head so I had to hold it in place with one wet, cold hand. I worked out that I had walked in the region of 16 miles that afternoon. I had an hour to wait for Slipknot to start.
Fuck. That. Shit.
I had seen Slipknot in February, and I was so over the day that there was no way I was standing around for another two hours before then having a 40 minute walk to get back to the tent. I fucked off early and bought some beers from the off-licence stall. I never ended out drinking them, but it’s nice to have a comfort blanket.
I did however hear Thunder doing Love Walked In on the walk back, which is the only track of theirs I can name, so that was nice.