“Where do we pick up our bedding?”
The question, shouted to me over the cacanophy of funfair music by a middle-aged lady in pressed jeans and a spotless crêpe shirt, took a few seconds to fully register. I leaned in closer, and she yelled again in my ear.
“Where – is – Pamper – The – Camper? We – need – our – bedding.”
Slightly confused, I pointed her and her party – a similarly dressed woman and two young children – in the direction of the stall selling small tents, sleeping bags, and little necessities, and waited till we were further away from the blaring music to turn to my friend Orla and say “so people actually do just buy their tents when they arrive?”
“Chances that they’re the same people who leave them behind when they’re done?”
It was only a few hours into our first shift at Electric Picnic, and already we were both feeling rather disenchanted about the festival at large. Our first day, from arriving without knowing where to go, to finally falling asleep, had been a rather haphazard mess. We had seemed to be the first of the Irish Girl Guide contingent to arrive, and were told to set up camp and wait for the others to arrive before we could register. Eventually, we found the rest of our group, and were given our hi-vis and wristbands – both of which drunken attendees would soon be offering to buy from us. We headed to the main arena in search of food, only to find that the food trucks were closed. Some campers had already arrived, however, and many of the stages and stalls were lit up and pretty against the sunset. We watched Hozier’s soundcheck for a bit, before heading into Stradbally town in search of hot, fatty fast food. Rows of headlights stretched in every direction, and Gardaí had taken over from traffic lights. This weekend, all roads led to Stradbally. Due to the crowds in the chip shop (one person making a €76 order), the food took nearly an hour, and was eaten in record time. I’d never been happier to see curry chips in my life.
Our role for the next three days would be simple: to walk around the various campsites, and look friendly in the hopes someone would ask us for help. We managed a step-count of over 63,00 on those three days. On the first day, we managed to help out with the pitching of a few tents: a fellow UCC student asked for help with her 6-man just as it began to lash, and we directed a gang of Carlow lads who were erecting a shaky marquee, which had disappeared by the time we made our next round. We gave campers directions to campsites, gates and blow-drys, and managed to collect a fair bit of coin for our charity partners, Womens Aid and Focus Ireland. I also got catcalled more that weekend than in my entire life (must’ve been the alcohol flowing, I doubt the baggy pink hi-viz had much to do with it).
One thing that struck me walking around the site was the litter. Even on day one, the grass around each clump of tents was strewn with cans, and a few tents lay smashed in skips and against trees. I had seen the pictures of previous events, sure, but seeing it myself was quite the shock. For a while now, I’ve surrounded myself with climate activists and environmentalists in a nice little bubble, and seeing piles of trash only feet away from the bins confused me more than anything else. Where were the echoes of protests, the green mantras I knew we’d all grown up with? Young and old people alike sprawled out in a sea of litter like none I’d ever seen at any camp before, and I couldn’t help but feel sickened.
I don’t drink much to start with, and as I was working I stayed sober for the weekend. I had expected to see lots of drunken gangs and antics, but I wasn’t prepared to see every second person with a can in hand at 11am. Maybe the festival’s allowed limit of 48 cans wasn’t so difficult to get through after all. We had drunks by 3pm, and by 5pm on Day Two we had to fetch the Red Cross for a girl who could barely even sit up. Her friends told us that she’d drank nearly a litre of vodka.
And so, tipsy teens mixed with young families, the contrast growing ever clearer as our shifts went on. With bruised feet at the end of each one, we hurried to see bands and talks and spend time at Global Green and Mindfield. We saw Hozier and Metronomy and Pillow Queens and Billie Eilish and more, we danced and yelled and signed petitions and took photos, and ate the cheapest veggie meals sold in the food trucks. It was an incredible (and incredibly tiring) weekend, but I couldn’t help but worry for those stumbling around in the dark. I couldn’t help but think of the animals who graze on those fields swallowing tent pegs. I couldn’t help but wish that the children weren’t there, so they wouldn’t see the drunken fights, that every girl would make it back to her tent safely, that the whole thing could be run the same way the Greta campsite was. I couldn’t help but wish that it was a different type of festivity. Maybe then it’d be better for everyone involved.