Ahead of the Download Pilot Festival this weekend, Jamie Giberti takes a look at just what it is that makes Download hold such a special place in so many people’s hearts.
I first went to the Download Festival in 2004 as a very naive, 19 year old kid. Having been told the wonders of Donington by a Uni friend who had attended Download 2003 and Ozzfest, we embarked in a mini bus with another friend who I’d gone to school with and a whole bunch of new people – friends we hadn’t made yet, for the-then 2 days of music plus camping and drinking time. I’d never camped before, and my tastes in metal were still driven mostly by Kerrang, although by this point I’d start to discover bands like In Flames and Devildriver too. I picked a helluva festival to start on; Machine Head’s performance on the main stage that year is still legendary, as was Slayer ending up in the tent due to travel issues and Metallica’s revolving cast of guest drummers from “the Lars incident”. Memories you make that stay with you for life. But it was also the start of building a Download Festival family.
Since 2004, I have attended 16 Downloads (all of them, and all for full weekends except 2011 when I was moving house and could only make the Friday). The 2020 Download being cancelled due to COVID-19 left a big hole for me, as I’m sure it did for thousands and thousands of others. Losing out on seeing the bands was one thing, and yeah, it sucked, but the worst bit, was not seeing the people.
My Download family has changed a lot over the years. A couple of my best friends have been there since the beginning, occasionally missing a year here or there (mainly due to us all getting older and having kids and families). Others have come along as the years have gone on and become permanent fixtures, while others still join the group for a year or two and have then moved on. You never know who you might meet at Donington; your next close friend could literally be pitched up in the tent next to you. With some of the people in my Download family, and I know this is true for many other people I’ve spoken to about this, Download is the only time of year I’m likely to see them. It’s certainly the only time of year we are likely to have all, or the majority of us, all in the same place at the same time in any given year.
It doesn’t matter how big your Download Festival family is; For some people it could be dozens, while for others it might just be you and one other person, and Download is THE thing you do with that person, or the thing you look forward to most. The stories of couples forming at Download over the years is now countless (I can count one such couple who’ve been together for 13 years having met at Download 2008 among my best friends). Ditto the amount of children who have probably been conceived on the hallowed grounds of Donington, a fair few in conditions one would imagine were not exactly the most sanitary – but its all part of the story, the legends and the experience around the festival. There is a community and a sense of family around this festival that doesn’t seem to have anything that matches it to quite the same level anywhere else.
This weekend, 10,000 very lucky ticketholders and a few hundred working people – bands, crew, press and staff get a chance none of us thought was going to be possible a few months ago, thanks to the Download Pilot. We get to see live music, THREE WHOLE DAYS OF IT, and for most in attendance, it’ll be the first live music they’ve seen since COVID first hit 16 months ago. But more importantly, some of us are going to get to see members of our Download family, who in many cases, we would not have seen until June next year.
I’m very privileged to be allowed to cover part of the Download Pilot; It’s going to be a one day trip for me on the Saturday due to other commitments on the other days. But as much as I want to see While She Sleeps get that massive bump up the line up, and Creeper show everyone how they are the UK’s next huge rock band (and they are), there are things even more important that I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to seeing one of my fellow Rock Sins editors, who has totally helped us keep the show on the road with all we do during the COVID times (Jemma, you’re a superstar). If I’m lucky enough to see them, I want to give a COVID safe fistbump to Andy Copping and Kam Haq, who have worked literal miracles to put on the Download Pilot with a month’s notice. I’m looking forward to seeing so many of the other journalists and band PR people who we might only see 3 or 4 times a year at various shows and events, but they’re still people you become good friends with after five, ten, fifteen years of all doing it together. More than anything, I’m looking forward to giving four of my best friends big hugs, as I haven’t seen any of them since COVID hit our shores – two of them not since Download 2019 – and just getting a small taste of the Download experience with them again.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge and appreciate what we are being part of. Hundreds and thousands of those people who make up Download family members for so many of us won’t be there this time. Whether they couldn’t get a ticket, didn’t feel safe getting a ticket for an event at this point in the pandemic, couldn’t make it because of the timings around the event or other reasons. We must also not forget that for many who may be coming this weekend, they may have lost members of their Download family as a result of the awful events of the last year plus.
This weekend, we’re all one big family. We’re acting not just for ourselves, and those who couldn’t make it this weekend, but for the whole of the UK live music scene. We have all been granted the opportunity to have this time together to prove to the Government that events like Download can take place at their normal scale with appropriate health and safety measures. So please, have fun, enjoy this time with your family and friends, go crazy (to a certain degree), but lets not act like total dickheads. Please be grateful and show respect to those who are running the festival. The rest of the UK live music scene this Summer (and beyond) may depend on it. Health and safety warning over; Horns up, and get ready to mosh in the name of science!