Ever wondered what it’s like to actually work at a music festival, rather than just partying the entire time?
Danielle Millea – who once attended 15 events in one year – regularly works and volunteers at festivals around the UK, securing that all-important pass in the process, but also helping to keep things ticking along for all you revelers.
Here, she shares some insights into what it’s like to deal with dirty loos and over-excited Slipknot fans at the nation’s favourite music gatherings.
1. There are a lot of different ways to get involved
Danielle started going to festivals as an ordinary punter back in 1997, but soon found (as long-suffering music lovers will no doubt sympathise) that the desire to attend lots and lots of festivals is somewhat curtailed by high ticket prices.
So Danielle got creative.
“I worked on the recycling team at Glastonbury 2002, and have worked on that for 5 years now. I dragged my boyfriend into working too. I started reviewing and photographing gigs in 2005, and this lead to contributing to a few festival review websites.
“I also started working for a security and stewarding company…and we covered the pit at Download Festival. I worked on the gates with the same company putting on wristbands…and we’ve worked in many volunteer posts.”
2. Not all festival jobs are created equal
As you might expect, some tasks at music fests are greeted with more enthusiasm than others.
“Recycling is great but a messy job. We have also done bar work for one day events – you smell of beer by the end but the free beer is worth it! And if you’re lucky you may have a good view of the stage.”
More grueling is being a security steward, spending 18-hour days carrying crowdsurfers out.
“1800 people over the barrier during one Slipknot set gives you an idea of the numbers,” recalls Danielle, of her time on the thin luminous line at Download.
3. The toilets aren’t as bad as they used to be
Anyone who’s ever spent a long weekend in a crowded field knows how bad the portaloos can get.
So it’s little wonder that a certain dreaded job has even seasoned veterans cowering in fear.
“Nobody wants to clean the toilets,” confirms Danielle.
“However, these days the toilets are very clean considering, as these brave folks do a great job. There’s even toilet roll in some!
“I think festivals now know punters demand certain standards for the high prices, whereas Reading 1997… well, I will not say. But if any loo was still upright, it would be piled high with you know what…”
4. There are some definite perks
Rather than roughing it with the rest of the riff-raff, being a worker entitles you to some pretty nice upsides.
“You can test out a festival to see if next year is worth a ticket, and with volunteering you still have loads of time off. With staff camping you don’t have to fight for a space, and you may even be lucky enough to have showers in your field. Plus the free grub is pretty tasty.”
But it’s important to remember that you’re still there to work, and while partying all-night like a regular festival-goer may be tempting, there’ll be a heavy price to pay.
“You still have to be fit and ready for your shifts,” notes Danielle. “Having a hangover on an 8-hour shift is horrible.”
5. It can get weird
Attend a festival or two each year, and there’s a good chance you’ll see something bizarre.
Rock up at dozens over the course of a decade or more, and the strange-ness levels go through the room.
“I’ve seen Grandmas DJing at Boomtown, been driven around an assault course in a Suzuki Jimny at Lowlands, and been interviewed by the BBC while dressed as a bee at Glasto.
“You have to go to these events to get your own experiences.”
6. The superstars don’t hang out backstage
If you’ve got dreams of chilling with the stars while working at a big fest, we’ve got some bad news for you.
“Backstage is all loading cases of kit and crew,” says Danielle. “The real stars hang in trailers and do not venture out much unless it’s their time to shine.
“The closest I get is photographing them in the pit, maybe 2 metres closer than the punters. Maybe some smaller stars will wonder the site and you may happen to see them, but the big guns decide to avoid the mobbing and stay in their trailers, sadly.”
7. Glastonbury is great – but it never forgets
Glasto is by far Danielle’s favourite fest. But it’s tough to get into there as a worker, and you’ll have to be on the ball if you do.
“It’s the daddy of all fests isn’t it? So hard to get a place at though. We have tried many ways. If you go for a volunteer job and sack it off, or don’t turn up, you will not be allowed to work again.”
8. It’s all about the people
If you focus on the downsides of the work itself, you’ll fail. But focus on the people, and the things that make festivals great in general, and you’ll go far.
“I love all festivals I go to for different reasons. Some have the odd bad thing like not enough loos…but it’s the people who make a festival. If they are all sound then it can never be a bad event.
“The weather of course can be crap and make or break a festival experience – sticky mud is the worst type as your legs do not thank you after four days – but this is the UK and we should all know this weather by now. Bursting from your tent at 7am after 2 hours sleep because the sun’s out is just as bad!
“I have always made friends with most people I volunteer and work with. We are a bunch of people loving the festival life – who else would give up a weekend to work for nothing around 33% of the time?”
Main image: Flickr CC / Smoobs