I went to Leeds festival for the first time last year and, for some reason, decided to take my 54 year-old dad. We went backstage and on-stage, in press pits and mosh pits, and I soon learned that taking my dad to a festival was the best decision I could’ve made.
“Who’s Royal Blood?” my dad asks, pondering over the programme for Leeds festival. He’s struggling to identify about 90% of the line-up and the bands he does recognise are only because I don’t shut up about them. When he asks: “What’s a Mumford and Sons?” I’m about to give up and invite someone else along for the bank holiday weekend.
I’ve been bouncing around the music industry for years; going to gigs, promoting bands and generally being a nuisance to everyone on the circuit. Taking my family to gigs and festivals isn’t new, either, as my siblings have enjoyed a whole range of live music since I started my mad quest to make friends with the best bands in town.
But my dad? If it’s not the folk band down his local pub, he hasn’t been to a gig in years. Leeds festival was going to be one hell of a re-introduction to the music scene and I was there to chaperon him.
We arrived at the festival at Saturday lunchtime. We’re getting old now (I’m 24) and Friday’s lineup wasn’t enough to encourage me or my father to spend an extra night in a tent. That and we’re grown-ups with real responsibilities, like full-time jobs and watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix.
A battle with a tent is a ritual of any music festival, where you attempt to build your home with nothing more than wishful thinking and a warm can of cider. I’ve spent most of my childhood camping; two family holidays a year to some remote part of Wales and the odd trip with the cub scouts has reassured me enough to think I’m good at this camping thing. How hard can it be?
Impossibly hard, I found. It turns out that we brought the most complicated two-man tent in history and one of the tent poles was broken. After half an hour and only two swear words we had something that resembled shelter and I was happy, but my dad wouldn’t rest until it was done “properly.” He made friends with our festival neighbours to borrow a hammer and he bashed the tent pegs into the ground to make sure we wouldn’t fly away in a storm that has only ever been seen in the Wizard of Oz. (This is when I promptly gave up and sat down with that warm can of cider.)
I then took my dad to the arena; the vast field of fairground rides, performance stages, and overpriced food that is either cold or stale (usually both.) This is when I started to notice the ‘Dad Code’. The Dad Code is a pattern of behaviour that only dads seem to acquire; greeting everyone they meet with enthusiasm and breaking out into terrible dancing at any opportunity. That’s the Dad Code, and at Leeds festival it becomes your ticket to everything.
On the way into the arena everyone gets searched; no alcohol, glass or drugs allowed in here, thank you very much. Groups of teenagers would be downing their cheap lager at a rapid pace, looking a bit shifty and trying to pass security with their dignity intact. This process is as boring as hell and entering the pearly white gates of heaven is probably easier; I bet St. Peter wouldn’t kick you out for an open bottle of Pepsi Max.
As a girl in her early twenties, I was told to open my bag so they could rummage through the contents of fruit pastilles, lipstick, and maps of the campsite. They stared me down, wondering if I could possibly be hiding a bottle of vodka in my shorts, making me feel guilty even when I knew I had nothing they could confiscate.
My dad approached these members of security with his trusted Dad Code, not realising how effective it would be. “Hey! How are you doing? Great day for it, isn’t it?” my Dad would bellow, waving wildly and doing a little jig. The usually impassive security guards looked startled and immediately waved him through; anything to get him away from them. Rowdy 20-somethings are easy but cheery dads in their 50’s was obviously something they weren’t trained for.
Dad 1 – Leeds festival 0.
Things didn’t improve for Yorkshire’s biggest music event. I was at Leeds festival to interview a mid-level band and I was given a backstage pass so I could go and find them. My dad didn’t receive a pass but he needn’t have worried: he had his Dad Code.
I walked with confidence through the barrier and down the side of the Festival Republic stage, the venue where the band were due to play in about four hours time. Security had clocked me and checked my pass; something I was prepared for. I was not prepared for my dad following me to the backstage area, getting through security with nothing more than an “alright mate” and a little wave to the burly bouncers.
Dad 2 – Leeds festival 0.
Once backstage I got my interview with the band and everything was back to normal; it wasn’t even weird when my dad listened in on the chat and poked fun at the guitarist for his ridiculous hat. No, things didn’t get weird until the band manager asked us if we wanted to watch the show from the side of the stage. “Bring your dad, too. You’ll get the best view in the entire tent.” So he gave us both Official Stage Passes and before I knew it we were both on stage, watching one of my favourite bands play to a boisterous festival crowd.
Dad 3 – Leeds festival 0.
In a single afternoon my dad had sussed the festival out without even realising it. He had built a tent that could withstand hurricanes, avoided the frisking at the main gate, and got himself backstage and on-stage. For a man who doesn’t know the difference between Twin Atlantic and Twin Peaks he navigated the festival like a seasoned member of the stage crew, using nothing more than his trusted fatherly instincts. It’s taken me years to understand the music industry the way I do, learning what I can get away with and what I can’t, but Leeds festival taught me my most valuable lesson of all time: going out with my dad will always be cool.