Paganism with a $16 paella: why my love for festivals takes me way back | Brigid Delaney | Opinion

When I was 15, I told my parents I was staying at a friend’s house after my KFC shift finished but what I really did was hitch a ride 30km down the road and attended the Port Fairy folk festival.

Sadly, my cover was shabby. This was before mobile phones – and I hadn’t told my friend I was pretending to stay over at her house. Dumb! She rang my parents looking for me. “Isn’t she at your house?” they asked.

Everyone who’s been a teenager ever and broken their parents hearts knows the car feeling. The car feeling is when you’ve just been caught doing something TERRIBLE and you are going home in the car with your parents after the fact. I’d rather go home in the back of a divvy van.

The atmosphere is as thick as soup. It’s all there: rage, indignation, shame, disappointment, anxiety. I tried to invoke the Footloose defence: “There’s a time to weep. There’s a time to mourn. And there is a time to dance. And this is our time!”

But – just like a kid in a 1980s teen movie – I was grounded. And folk music never sounded the same. (I still can’t listen to Kev Carmody to this day without a shiver.)

Since pagan time, festivals have exerted an almost spooky lure. Like the mermaids who sing to sailors, we’re drawn to the noise coming from a far-off field. Why else do sensible adults pay hundreds of dollars to pitch a tent in a muddy field and eat $16 paella from a cardboard box? Why would teenagers run away from home, climb under fences and dance with strangers? It’s not because they’re into folk music.

We pretend they’re a cultural experience, at one remove from our essential selves, but festivals are really conduits of joy.

They’re one of those sanctioned spaces where we go all Footloose, at any age. I’m talking about dancing for days, talking to strangers, lying on a blanket in the sun all afternoon listening to some band you’ve never heard of, but whose music you’re going to buy later.

I am writing this from Adelaide,…

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