Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday... the story, the experience, a near-miss, and a few comparisons with my USA experiences

(Note: where this article reads "USA festivals", insert, "USA festivals that members of the Toon's Tunes team have personally experienced during the past 18 years"--we don't presume to know the nuances of each and every festival held on USA soil since 2000!)

I just arrived home after driving back to Norfolk, England, from Bloodstock Open Air, at Catton Hall in Derbyshire. I was very happy to be able to attend the Saturday of the four-day festival this year: hopefully all the festival, next year. It was my first rock festival on UK soil since moving away from the country in 1988, apart from Cropredy Folk in 2014, (which includes some rock and progressive performers but is rooted firmly in folk). The first true rock festival homecoming (after thirty years... I wish I hadn't counted that!) I was expecting excellent, varied and very-heavy music, I was expecting the possibility of (a little) mud, and I was not at all disappointed!

People having fun at Aftershock
Happy festival attendees, Aftershock 2017
Festival one-day tickets are wonderful things. Even if you have other commitments or constraints that don't allow you to make a weekend of it, a one-day ticket allows you to see a favourite performer and experience all that the festival has to offer. Yes, being able to experience the entire weekend is huge, but don't ever let that put you off going for just a part of a festival. Take advantage of what the one-day ticket provides: go early, see all the bands, hear and see something new, taste the food (and drink) offerings... and see your stars. Festivals on both sides of the Atlantic offer both weekend and one-day options.

I'll get to the music soon, but let's begin with a few of the differences that I noticed between Bloodstock Open Air and the USA festivals.

Families: I saw more families at Bloodstock than at any USA rock and metal festival. While children are definitely allowed and are present at all ages at USA festivals, there are fewer families than at Bloodstock. There are two things that I believe contribute to this, which USA festival organizers might like to think about if they are aiming to become more family-friendly (and I hope they are): the pricing structure, and the ability to take strollers/pushchairs into the event. Bloodstock Open Air has significantly reduced prices for children, and those under four years old go free. That's huge. It's enormous. Taking a family of four or five to a USA festival can be a budget-breaker--and if the only alternative is paid child care, it usually means that the parents won't be there at all. If you have ever carried a couple of tired or sleeping children, and their stuff, around for hours, you'll understand how sensible it is to allow parents to take pushchairs/strollers along with the children. There's something magical about introducing children to live music at an early age (with the necessary ear-protection, of course), whether metal and rock or classical or jazz: removing or reducing the practical barriers, such as price and accessibility, is a huge stride in the right direction.

Belongings: There are fewer restrictions on what can be taken into Bloodstock than into most USA festivals. As well as the strollers/pushchairs: what stood out was the folding chairs. You can take chairs in, and you can buy them inside the festival (about 8 pounds/11 dollars US). People were sensible about where they put their chairs; around the periphery of the crowd for the main stage, towards the back inside the tents for the secondary stages. If you don't want to, or can't stand all day, it sure as heck beats sitting on a blanket on the UK soil when it's been raining (and I'm guessing the Bloodstock folks are really pleased to have brought their chairs today, after an evening and night of rain). I also saw people bring in various other things that they couldn't attend the festival without... a horse's head on a stick (which was, I believe, searched), various inflatables of all shapes and sizes, a giant pull-along rubber duck... (all will be explained in the music review, see the next post).

Comings and goings: I was surprised by the action of the audience after each show on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. While many people moved on to see performances on the Sophie Lancaster stage, the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage, and the little Jaegermeister stage, there was also an exodus, back towards the main gates. After it happened three times early in the day, I just had to follow and find out what was going on: was there another stage that I had missed? Nope... people were going back to their tents, or cars. In-and-out is managed differently at Bloodstock to USA festivals. (What this also meant was that nobody was glued to the barrier from 11 in the morning until the headliners took the stage, which is often seen in the USA. At least during the first half of the day, the barrier crowd changed with each band at Bloodstock. I don't know if this is good, bad, nothing special or just-because a lot of people were still nursing their heads from the night before. It was simply different and surprised me enough to comment on.) (NOTE: If you don't know about S.O.P.H.I.E and why the stage is named after Sophie Lancaster, click here.)

Sophie Lancaster stage
Food and drink: They let you keep the top on your water bottle at Bloodstock. You have no idea how happy that makes me, unless you are used to running from one end of a festival to another in 100 degrees F with 15lb+ of equipment and a topless water bottle. THEY LET YOU KEEP THE TOP ON YOUR WATER BOTTLE! The variety of food on offer was yummy and included quite a few vegetarian and gluten-free options (I sampled loads), while there was plenty for the carnivores too. I was a little surprised that more people were not queuing to buy food: the service was good and fast and that's part of it, but maybe this is the downside (to the festival and vendor accounts) of people returning to their tents and campers so often?

New friends and old: I went on my own. Don't ever be afraid to go to a festival on your own. (Don't be afraid to go anywhere on your own, for that matter, unless your spidey senses say it's not safe.) There are new friends there, just waiting to meet you. We all meet up in music! And you always, always bump into an old friend. Mine? How random is this. I was directed to park in the overflow parking, as the main lot was full. I pulled in two cars away from my pal Thomas, who I know from my coverage of USA festivals and who runs AntiHero Magazine. He was over from the USA to cover Bloodstock. I'd driven from Cromer, Norfolk, by way of a family event and a funeral; he'd flown in a few days earlier from the USA, and we end up one car apart in the distant parking field. Check out and bookmark AntiHero because they will have photos, interviews and reviews from the entire Bloodstock Open Air weekend, very soon!

Tented stages: While Bloodstock's main stage is out in the open, the three other stages are inside tents, and by "tent" I mean "circus big top" size and construction tents. Of course, this is practically a requirement given the changeability of the British weather, but what it also meant was that early in the day, the Sophie Lancaster stage had the best light show. The drawback was that because of the change from the bright sunlight outside to the darkness of the tent, you had to be careful to avoid falling over the dead pirate who was lying behind the sound desk. Yes, a dead pirate. He might have been a Comatose Pirate. I hope he was Comatose Pirate. What-shall-we-do-with-the-drunken sailor type comatose, or just-having-a-nap comatose? There were pirates everywhere. More about them later, when we get to the music.

A near-miss. I nearly washed my hands.  OK, everyone's favourite question: "what were the toilets like?" At Bloodstock, as at USA festivals, there were lines of portapotties, and they were all kept very clean, stocked with loo paper and with hand sanitizer. The first time I checked them out, as you do, I saw that the sinks, for washing your hands were all at the end of the line of portapotties. But as there was hand sanitizer aplenty, I used that instead. As I left the loo, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a dude peeing in the sink. Too much beer too early in the day, I thought, but goodness... a couple of hours later there was a whole line of men, peeing in the sinks. Then the penny dropped... they were not sinks, they were urinals. The urinals at Bloodstock looked just like the hand sinks at USA festivals, I am so glad I realised before I barged in to wash my hands!

Conclusion: Wonderful festival! Bloodstock is not so enormous as to be overwhelming, but it's a serious-festival-goer's event with a big attendence and long history. The music is on the heavier side of the metal/rock spectrum, with something for everyone's ears and with performers from around the world. It takes place within beautiful settings in the middle of England, not far from the birthplace of heavy metal in the West Midlands. There are lots of camping and ticket options, the pricing is family-friendly, and if it rains, which you know it will at some point, there's a big top or two complete with music. Put Bloodstock on your calendar, in your diary, for next year. If you are bringing your own tent? Bring a waterproof one, not a beach shelter! (My gem of wisdom for today, based on a couple of conversations after the rain began. Yes, people do that.)

Anyone who has been to one or more of the USA metal and rock festivals would feel at home at Bloodstock Open Air, and vice-versa: if you love Bloodstock, why not experience a festival on the other side of the pond, too? There are several happening soon over there: Louder Than Life (September 28-30),   Rock Allegience (October 6th), Aftershock (October 13-14) to name but a few. Just... guys please don't be confused by the sinks by the portapotties, OK? The ones at USA festivals are for washing your hands.

A few thoughts on the Saturday music at Bloodstock Open Air are here.

If you are visiting Toon's Tunes/Cameras and Cargos for the first time, you can bookmark the site here. Photo galleries from many festivals and concerts worldwide, including Aftershock (California), Chicago Open Air, Louder Than Life (Louisville, Kentucky), Houston Open Air, TBD and City of Trees  (Sacramento, California), Cropredy and Cromer Folk (UK) and Marillion (Poland, Netherlands, UK and USA) can be found here. Follow @alisontoonphotographer on IG, @alisontoon on Twitter, and @therealtoonstunes on Facebook.

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