I went, I saw, I conquered

Thursday 8th June

The night before leaving for Download Music Festival, I was so tired and anxious beyond belief. I was thinking of all the horrible things that could go wrong; What if I go and it’s overcrowded and I feel claustrophobic? What if the people are horrible? What if the toilets are really bad and I cannot face going and I’m stuck out in a field with no alternative? What if I cannot cope and I want to run, but I’ve got nowhere to go? These thoughts raced and I was thinking up all kinds of scenarios as to how it might be and how I might feel. See the trend, a lot of ‘if’ and ‘might’ going on. I tore myself up really bad that I only got 4 hours sleep, and this only had a knock-on effect with my anxiety for the next day.

Friday 9th June

Today was the day! Even when getting dressed and checking our suitcases, I was worried. Getting in the car, I could feel the dread in my stomach. I couldn’t just get out the car. Think of the money we have spent and the effort we have gone through. I just had to woman up and get on with the drive. It was a long way to Donnington, of which gave me a lot of time to overthink. By the time we got to the hotel, my stomach was in knots. We got checked into our room, quickly changed into something more festival appropriate, and off we went to get our bus. I did the obligatory ‘my life is amazing’ post to facebook, of which was all smiles, but inside I was thinking “Lets just stay in the room. Lets just say we did, and don’t”. I couldn’t do that to my husband, here he was, at a festival he wasn’t all too bothered about, for me. I couldn’t just let him down, and what about the bands I really wanted to see? I would honestly hate myself if I just sat in the room, I had to go.

When we got on the bus and it was packed, I was already regretting leaving the hotel. The journey was only a few minutes, and on the approach, I could see the sheer size of Donnington, it was massive. I started to feel intimidated and scared for how lost I would feel once I was there. I was already anticipating how much I was going to hate it. Getting off the bus we were ushered through the campsite and I couldn’t believe how many tents there were. Seeing this brought home just how many people I was going to have to contend with. I could feel my stomach doing summersaults and my throat getting tight. We then had to stand in queues with security to get our bands checked, and I had to get my bag checked. The queue was quite long and for some reason, despite me having nothing to hide, my palms were now sweaty. I didn’t like this at all. By the time we got into the main arena, I just wanted to run. Why on earth did I not just stay in the hotel? I would at least feel safer there. My husband could see that I was uneasy and was doing everything to reassure me that I’ll be ok, and I was telling him I knew I would be and trying to smile it off.

My husband was getting hungry and offering to get us food, but eating was furthest from my mind. I honestly couldn’t stomach it. I also didn’t want him to go and stand in a queue and leave me, so I went with him, although I wasn’t getting anything. The smell of the food was even making me feel queasy. It was so sunny, noisy, crowded and I wasn’t having any fun at all. Again, why was I not just back in the hotel?

First band up was Five Finger Death Punch, one I really enjoy, but one of my daughters’ favourite. I couldn’t miss them, I’d promised my daughter video’s, pictures and a phone call when they were on. We walked down to the main stage, but not too close, we kept a bit of distance. When the music kicked in, I stood rigid holding my husband’s hand. I just kept telling myself I was going to be OK and to just enjoy the music. I called my daughter, who said that she could barely hear them (probably due to me being quite a bit back), so I focused on taking pictures and video’s. This meant we had to move a little bit closer. Every song they played, I knew, and I started to find myself getting lost in the moment. I was starting to sing along with them and the crowd. By the time they had finished their set, I was smiling, bopping (yes you read right) along with everyone, singing and having fun! I had just seen Five Finger Death Punch! For the whole time they were on stage I hadn’t had one single negative thought, I didn’t feel scared and I’d tuned out to how many people were around me. My anxious feelings hadn’t just magically gone, but I was definitely feeling better.

Next up Prophets of Rage, and my god were they good! My husband and I were chanting along to all their songs, taking a little trip down memory lane with tracks such a ‘Jump Around’ and ‘Insane in the membrane’. By now I was starting to enjoy myself, the music was great, the crowd seemed to be a friendly one and I was now feeling a bit more relaxed.

Finally, the big band of the night was System of a Down. What can I say? They were nothing short of amazing. I knew every song they played, I knew all the words, and I was in my element singing along and moving with the crowd. There were at least 100,000 fellow fans around us, all singing along in unison, and it felt amazing to be a part of it. There was no room for anxious thoughts, no time to be scared, and quite frankly, no f*%^$ given. All I was caring about was watching them absolutely kill it, and having the privilege to be part of it.

On our way back to the bus, I didn’t feel overwhelmed quite like I did when I arrived. The queue to go through security on the way out didn’t seem as bad this time either.

Saturday 10th June

Today’s set list wasn’t as good as Friday’s, and definitely not as awesome as Sunday’s, but I was still happy to go. We got up in the Morning, had breakfast, as I now had an appetite, then headed off for our bus. The queues going in appeared bigger, and the crowd in the main arena too. I could feel my stomach start to flutter, but I was no longer feeling the urge to run. I was happy to let the feeling wash over me and push through. When in the arena we decided to go and see a band we’d never heard before, Raveneye, who were actually really good. Whilst I knew none of their songs, and I couldn’t sing along, I still found myself being completely immersed in the moment. We moved round to the main stage where Alestorm were playing; they’re a good fun folk/pirate/rock band. I’d heard a few of their songs previously, but didn’t know them well enough to sing along, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying them. People in the crowd were dressed as pirates, fists pumping in the air, most chanting along, and everyone was having such a good time. It was just a happy, feel good atmosphere, that I was really thankful to be a part of. During the day I’d not thought about being anxious once. Not even a little bit. I thought nothing of just wandering into the crowds, throwing my hands into the air, cheering, dancing along, I was just really enjoying myself. I had even said before I left, that I wasn’t going to drink when there, as I wanted my wits about me. That got thrown out of the window, and eventually I was sitting with a pint of beer, on my newly purchased camping chair enjoying all of the new/unheard of bands with my husband. It was such a good day, despite not knowing many of the bands playing that well, so surely Sunday was going to kill it?

Sunday 11th June

AEROSMITH!! You never forget your firsts; your first friend, your first kiss, your first love etc. Well my first rock band was Aerosmith and they were Sunday’s main act. I woke up like a kid on Christmas, so excited to see them. I didn’t feel anxious, I didn’t even have the dull ache in the pit of my stomach, I was just thinking about the music. When we got to the site, I didn’t give a hoot about the crowds, the queues, I was too busy smiling and having a good time. We got in, got a pint, and made our way to our first band, Fozzy. We were sat, drinking and head bopping away when my husband points out that the lead singer is Chris Jericho, an ex-wrestler. This would definitely explain his good showmanship and his ability to get the crowd all worked up. Good start to what would be one of the most amazing days of my life, except for the day I become a Mum (obviously).

We killed the day by sitting with fellow rock fans, eating good food, drinking, and singing/bopping along to some fab rock bands. Steel Panther & Clutch were definitely a highlight of the day, although, they were virtually on at the same time, so we had to split our time between the two. This involved us having to be rushed, negate our way through the large crowds and try to find a good spot to see the bands. Did I care? Nope. Not a single bit. The crowds were filled with great people and the bands were worth the effort.

When it got to 20:30, we made our way to the main stage as Aerosmith were starting at 20:50. I knew I wanted to be at the front, but I get claustrophobic in crowds. What was I to do? My husband suggested that we at least try and get to the front, as I would be gutted to not be close to them. So, we made our way to the front right of the stage, near the portaloo’s. My rationale for this was; no-one would want to stand too close to them, meaning I would have an out if I was freaking out. When we got there, there was already a good bit of a crowd. We made our way as far forward as we could, meaning I was about 4/5 rows back. The closer it got to 20:50, the bigger the crowd got, and I kept looking over my shoulder for my way out. This was getting more and more packed, and becoming less and less of an out. My husband could see I was starting to get worked up, and that I looked like I wanted to run. He held my hand and told me I was fine, but if I really wanted to go, he’d get me out. I chose to stay, and I waited patiently for them to start. It got to 20:55, and there was no show and I now had a group of girls smoking to my right. So now, here I am, stood in a cloud of their smoke, feeling like I’m starting to get anxious at my lack of an out, and no Aerosmith. I then looked up to my left, and my god. There was just a sea of expectant faces. I reckon that all 300,000 were now there and from the main stage, right back to the Dog Tooth stage was filled. At this moment, I felt incredibly small and I started to feel bigger pangs of anxiety, then BOOM, the lights kicked in and the crowd started cheering. They were here! I’m not even going to lie, I cried. Nope, correction, I sobbed. My anxiety about being in a crowd, had been replaced with feelings of being utterly overwhelmed. Aerosmith went on to play all of their classics, and Joe Perry even did a blues cover, of which he rocked out of the park. I sobbed, sang and cheered with the masses. It was such an amazing feeling, that left no room what so ever for feeling scared. I no longer looked at the crowd as daunting, I looked at them as people who were just like me, who were just excited to be there and chanting along to some of the most iconic rock songs in rock history.

In the lead up to Aerosmith playing, I’d said that they would definitely have to play ‘Dream On’. This is their farewell tour, and Dream On to Aerosmith is like Bohemian Rhapsody (must mosh to this every time I’m in the car and it comes on. Thanks Wayne’s World) to Queen. It’s a must! Well, they finished  ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ and just left the stage. Lights were out, and nothing was said. I was gutted. Where did they go? Were we not even going to get a thanks for turning up? I started to feel gutted. The crowd was now chanting ‘Aero-smith’ & ‘one-more-song’, but the lights were still out. Some of the crowd had started to walk away. Just as I was starting to lose hope of them coming back, the lights came back on and my husband leaned in with “He’s got his Piano!”, it was then I just knew it was going to be Dream On. Needless to say, I was a wreck for this song. They finished up with Walk This Way, and the crowd was jumping. I was singing along, fist in the air and not a care in the world. When they finished it was quite late and the crowds going back to the bus were huge. We were completely crammed and bottle knecked at the security gates, and you know what? Not a single f*%£ given once again. I was completely elated from what had been an awesome weekend and an utterly outstanding performance from my favourite band.

Conclusion

I have faced many of my fears this weekend, all in the name of music. As some will know, if you know me in person or have read my earlier blogs, music is my vice. I use it as a coping tool, and it really does work. There is nothing like getting lost in the moment of a song, or being taken back to a happy time/moment with the nostalgia due to a song that you’re listening to. So far this weekend I have:

  • Driven for 6 hours, over 300 miles, away from my comfort zone
  • Stood in multiple queues
  • Felt at ease in large crowds – biggest being 300,000 people. Say what now?
  • Drank beer out of a plastic cup I know wasn’t put through a dishwasher and one I’ve not been able to rinse 3 times. I also got a fly in my drink, used my finger to fish it out, and carried on. Yup, one badass mofo up in here.
  • I have eaten food from a stall, that I’m sure probably wasn’t up to my unrealistic standards, given it was in the middle of a field. Not only this, I tried Ostrich!

Nothing can/will ever top being able to see my favourite band for the first time, on their final tour within an amazing atmosphere. I am so very glad I didn’t give into my initial flight response, and that I stayed. Had I gone back to the hotel, I would hate myself right now. I have achieved so much and I have had the best weekend of my life. We’re now debating taking the kids, not next year as we have a holiday booked, but the year after. I have had such a good time, that I’m dying for my kids to experience it.

If you’re like me, and the thought of doing something like this fills you with dread, I say this; Do it anyway! Just push on through your stomach doing summersaults and keep going until you realise that you’re OK and you can enjoy yourself.

 

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