A non-partisan journal of the left.

Isle of Wight Festival – an alternative perspective – June 2012

Fri 13th Jul 2012

“Give a man a gun and he'll rob a bank. Give a man a bank and he'll rob the world. Someone just said that to me and I thought it worth repeating” mused Eddie Vedder, frontman with godfathers of grunge,Pearl Jam, during their Saturday night headline set at the Isle of Wight Festival 2012. This year’s festival was preceded by an unseasonal amount of rain that left many people feeling robbed, with the festival site fast becoming a mud bath. Traffic across the island ground to a halt and ferries ceased to allow passengers to disembark due to congestion on the island’s roads. (1)

In 2011 the Isle of Wight Festival won a Greener Festival Award and was just one of five UK festivals to attain outstanding status. This enviable reputation for cleanliness, recycling habits and general environmental awareness took on a new focus this year, as the festival strove to cut down on waste that festival-goers leave on site.

Love Your Tent, a campaign created by Eco Action Partnership – sustainability consultants to Isle of Wight Festival – was designed to “bond people with their portable homes and encourage them to reuse instead of discard.” (2).

It was estimated that at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2011, one in six festival campers left their tents behind, along with other camping equipment such as gazebos. This led to 485 man-hours of dismantling and stacking before the vast majority of tents were land filled – tent components currently cannot be recycled (2). Claire O’Neil, from A Greener Festival, (3) delivers the dirty truth: “We assess festivals all over the world every year, and it is sad to say that the UK audience are the worst at leaving their belongings behind…” As well as the environmental damage and time consuming nature of a post-festival clear up: “…the money spent on cleaning up after the audience could be far better spent on entertaining them.” (2)

A campaign such as Love Your Tent is an admirable notion and has full backing from both the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) (4) and ReTent (5). Isle of Wight Festival was just one of 450 festivals in the UK in 2011, none of which resisted the effects of dumped tents and waste. For contemporary festival organisers, this is undoubtedly one of the biggest environmental issues they must tackle. However, there is an alternative. Why not swap on-site camping for comfort, cleanliness and relative calm – even on a lads’ holiday – and enjoy not only the festival experience but much more of what the Isle of Wight has to offer.

After a thoroughly enjoyable week last year, half a dozen friends and I returned to the island and the same rented house, fully adrenalised for the festival as well as random exploration. With seven days to fill, we had time before and after the festival to jump in the van and set off to destinations (and possibly one or two pubs) unknown. There are many benefits to staying off-site. First and foremost, we didn’t contribute to the waste/pollution caused by on-site campers. As we weren’t limited to the camp site, our use of the island’s amenities, attractions and services also meant that we had some input in to the local economy. Also, if you’re staying off-site, not only does this allow you a greater sense of freedom and adventure, the walk to the site each day rebuilds the excitement and anticipation. To know you have a shower and a bed to go back to isn’t the worst thing either.

Isle of Wight Festival 2012: an alternative week:

Wednesday 20th June

On the road at 9.30am. Excellent time made with a welcome rest stop/caffeine hit at South Mimms services. Hit the road again and got the 2pm ferry crossing from Southampton to East Cowes. The ferry was surprisingly busy but the sun was shining so we sat up on the top deck, caught a few rays and indulged in a drink or two. From the ferry, the 20 minute drive to our rented Canadian wood-built cottage went smoothly and the rest of the day was spent unpacking before going out to eat at our favourite pub of 2011, the Bargeman’s Rest. (6)

Thursday 21st June

Today brought staunch weather warnings before the rain fell that led to problems across the whole island. For all the inconvenience and unpleasantness that many people experienced, it would be a lie to say we didn’t feel a tiny bit smug. Our organisation along with a stroke of luck meant that while others were stranded on ferries or in cars, we were in the popular town of Yarmouth (7) sampling various local ales. The hangover that followed would serve as our karma. We also purchased our group bus pass – unlimited travel all week for £12 each – no complaints there.

Friday 22nd June

The band Elbow, led by Guy Garvey, were impressive live and despite their set arguably lacking in upbeat, tempo-fuelled songs, (8) they got the crowd pumped up for the headline act and for us, the highlight of the day, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. A set packed with classics (9) climaxed with American Girl and was a fantastic closing song to the first day of the festival.

Saturday 23rd June

Biffy Clyro raised intensity levels before headliners Pearl Jam blazed through a set with two encores (10) – still it seemed to be over in a flash. Their career spanning in excess of 20 years, Pearl Jam, like all the truly great bands, displayed a level of nigh-on telepathy. Anthems from their seminal debut album Ten included Jeremy, Why Go, and Alive. The band’s final number, the hypnotic Yellow Ledbetter, saw all but lead guitarist Mike McCready leave the stage. McCready concluded the day with his own rendition of Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix – a tasteful tipping of the hat to the Isle of Wight Festival’s prestigious past.

Sunday 24th June

The legendary Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band drew arguably the biggest crowd this year. Performing for almost three hours, our day was somewhat marred by England crashing out of Euro 2012. You’ve not lived until you’ve witnessed England lose a live penalty shootout, while you stand ankle deep in a muddy field with Northern Irish rockers Ash as an audio accompaniment. The amount of people watching made it even more surreal. We definitely needed a pick-me-up, and it arrived in the form of The Darkness. Headlining the Big Top stage, their glam rock antics revitalised us before the three mile walk home. A great end to the festival.

Monday 25th June

Visited The Needles Park at Alum Bay and rode the chairlift (11) - not advised if you don’t have a head for heights or are suffering from a hangover. We survived this and stopped at a supermarket for disposable barbecues and meat, before heading to Chale Bay beach. We found a secluded alcove where we cooked burgers and could enjoy looking out to sea. A rare moment of tranquillity. Before heading home we were coaxed by signposts to the Wight Mouse Inn, another great pub (12). Our evening was relaxing, we cooked food, played music and watched a film.

Tuesday 26th June
Our final full day on the island, we got an early afternoon bus to the town of Ryde. (13) We had a pub lunch before walking along the esplanade with a Minghella ice cream (14) and watched a hovercraft speed off from Ryde to Portsmouth – very nearly getting blown away in the process. Our final evening indulgence was spent back in the Bargeman’s Rest.

Wednesday 27th June

We had to vacate our accommodation by 10am, so after some hasty packing, we began the journey back to the mainland. Tired but happy, we arrived home at 5pm, bringing an end to a brilliant week.

Staying off-site definitely enabled us to see and do more than just enjoy the festival in a way that was environmentally conscious, economically beneficial and exciting. Discussions are already taking place about Isle of Wight Festival 2013. As soon as the line-up is announced, we’ll be ready.

1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jun/22/isle-of-wight-heavy-rain-soaking Heavy rain on Isle of Wight
2) http://www.isleofwightfestival.com/love-your-tent.aspx Love Your Tent
3) http://www.agreenerfestival.com/ A Greener Festival
4) http://www.aiforg.com/ Association of Independent Festivals
5) http://www.retent.co.uk/ ReTent
6) http://www.bargemansrest.com/ Bargeman’s Rest
7) http://www.isleofwight.com/yarmouth.html Yarmouth town
8) http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/elbow/2012/seaclose-park-newport-england-3bdf1494.htm Elbow set list
9) http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/tom-petty-and-the-heartbreakers/2012/seaclose-park-newport-england-33df14e1.html Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers set list
10) http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/pearl-jam/2012/seaclose-park-newport-england-53df1709.html Pearl Jam set list
11) http://www.theneedles.co.uk/chairlift.php The Needles Park chairlift
12) http://wightmouse.co.uk/ The Wight Mouse Inn
13) http://www.iwight.com/just_visiting/towns/ryde.asp Ryde town
14) http://www.minghella.co.uk/ Minghella ice cream
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