So you’re thinking of volunteering at Boomtown Fair, ey? Well, I did that very thing not six months ago. There’s a lot I didn’t know – I went in blind; blinder than a bat after a pint of dodgy vodka. But bad decisions breed wisdom, and I am positively overflowing with the stuff.
If you’re banking on bagging a ‘free’ ticket to Boomtown Fair by volunteering, here’s everything you’re gonna wanna know.
1. Shifts can be garbage…
I know right? You probably thought I was gonna sugar coat this a little – open with something a little more upbeat. Nope. If you volunteer at Boomtown – or any festival, I suppose – there’s a high chance your shift times will be wank. You only find out your times upon arrival, so there’s very little you can do about it.
I was actually one of the lucky ones. My working hours were 8am-4pm on Friday, 11.45pm on Saturday to 8am Sunday, and 4pm – close Monday. Those shifts were, respectively: quite good, horrible, absolute PISS TAKE.
2. …but you can swap them
Find someone to swap with and you’re good to go – just don’t expect many people to be willing to take your Saturday evening shift off your hands. I didn’t swap any of mine because, despite the weird times, I was able to see every act I wanted to.
3. It’s intense
A hundred thousand people mashed off their tits is a rough ride even if you’re joyfully in amongst it all. If you’re sleep deprived and trying to direct traffic while keeping an eye out for people in need of medical aid, it can be frenetic, adrenaline-pumping and exhausting. My Friday shift was spent directly in front of the main stage before a crowd of 60,000 people, with gigantic jets of fire blasting a few feet above my head. My shift supervisor handed me a radio mic at the start and gave me a brief talk on how to use it in case of an emergency, then disappeared for the rest of my shift.
I spent the next 8 hours dancing around a few metres from Ms Dynamite (who has way more bangers than I realised), watching the crowd for anybody who was pinging too hard and needed water. It’s a lot.
4. You can be off your tits…
My Saturday shift started immediately after the Streets headline set ended. I’d consumed the best part of a box of wine and half a dozen pints of warm lager, yet arrived bang on time – which turned out to be on a hilltop in some sort of ‘kids corner’ of the festival, where everything was shut down for the night and all the lights were turned off, and it was totally silent, and there was absolutely nobody around. You can’t sneak off because your supervisor signs you in and out, and if you’re not there your ticket deposit is forfeit.
So I stood there on that bastard solemn hilltop for eight hours, freezing my arse off, listening to nothing but the periodic crackle of my radio – ‘we need backup at gate number 52, we’ve got a naked man wielding a wellington boot’ – horrifically present for every agonising lurch of creeping sobriety. The sky turned grey, then blue, then violet, then red, then orange, then beige, then light blue. I know this because I watched every damn second of it. Never, ever again, by god.
5. …but not really off your tits
A couple of girls dropped acid before their shift and it went about as well as you’d imagine.
6. You get to see behind the scenes
What the festival-goers don’t see is the army of personnel behind every whimsical experience. Buggies ferry performers and stewards to and fro behind the scenes, stout security men bark into radios, and far away in enormous tents, scores of people sit at laptops, tapping away like they’re operating drones from inside the Pentagon.
7. You get nice toilets and fairly decent camping
You do. Not a lot more to say. The toilets are alright. I mean, they’d be classed as criminal anywhere else, and there would be outrage and inquiries. But as far as festivals go: quite nice.
8. Your immersion is kind of shattered
You’re stumbling through Old Town when a lanky pirate beckons to you from an open window.
“Ahoy, me hearty!” he cries out. “What brings ye here, landlubber?”
“I’m looking for the kebab stand,” you reply.
“Kebab stand? I know not of any kebab stand, friend, but I wager I know of a hidden treasure chest, if ye be keen to undertake a bold quest!”
The pirate grins at you, flashes a gold tooth. The twinkle in his eye promises adventure.
Or at least, it would if you didn’t happen to know his name was Liam and he was a 29-year-old recruitment consultant from Norwich, because his tent is two down from yours and he woke you up at 8am arguing with his girlfriend called Sarah because she’d finished all the ket again.
9. Your sleep pattern is fucked
I mean obviously. It’s a festival. The difference being that when you volunteer, you don’t have the luxury of just lying down until you feel emotionally ready to start drinking again.
10. You meet cool people…
On my first night I met these Mancunian brothers and this hard-as-nails rave girl who was about 5 foot nothing. We drank together, sat around and got to know one another. Was nice.
11. …then never see them again
‘Cause all your shifts clash, so nobody is ever back at the campsite/awake at the same time.
12. Getting home is a ball ache
I’d booked a coach back for 4pm on Monday. I didn’t anticipate that my damn shift would start at 4pm. I finished at around 7pm – once almost everybody else in the whole festival had gone home – and had to hitchhike back the 150 miles or so to Bristol. Not what you want after a horrid 5-day bender.
13. It’s not always peace and love
Some supervisors are sound, sure. Some are catastrophic bell-ends. I saw one young steward get yelled at – genuinely, like fucking Full Metal Jacket yelled at – because he was supposed to be checking wristbands for people going into a staff-only area, and he had the gall to sit down. To sit down! On the grass! On Monday afternoon! When the festival was over!
I suppose you get jobsworths anywhere, but they wind me up so much more at a place to which people flock to escape the crap of their daily lives. Boo hiss.
Volunteering at Boomtown Fair: is it worth it?
Fuck no, you idiot. Tickets are like £250. The time it would take you to earn £250 is the same amount of time you would have work at the sodding festival – there is no excuse. Just save up for a couple of months and buy a ticket. Do not volunteer. Don’t do it. Do not.
Do Boomtown properly. Camp with your friends, don a sparkly wig and do as many drugs as you can. Get lost in the magical forest, and have an enjoyable conversation with a short, broad man who later turns out to be a tree stump. Dance the night away, and wake up the next morning face-down on a golf course, thirty miles due west.