To me, the concept of the festival was always good in theory but never in practice. Yeah, paying a flat fee to have literally dozens (sometimes hundreds) of acts at your fingertips sounds like a great time but while all my friends in high school and college took part, I was that person who went, “I’m good. I’ll just pay $20 to see The Shins in this tiny theater instead. More intimate.” As someone who loves live music, you would think the festival would be my jam but it never was. The best analogy someone told me was that festivals were like a buffet; an à la carte of music consumption, where you could stay for as little or as long as you wanted for a set and in a way are doing a disservice to that artist. How are you suppose to properly form an opinion on something when you’re not even seeing it the way it’s supposed to be? Almost like seeing Lawrence of Arabia in fullscreen. I shudder at the thought.
In 2016, the opportunity to cover festivals fell into my lap and I took it because hello, free passes. With only 2 festivals under my belt (Outside Lands in 2014 where I comfortably stayed in a house 5 minutes away and FYF in 2015 where I could go back to my own bed at night), I went in somewhat prepared but mostly blind. By the time Festival No. 6 rolled around, it was very fittingly my sixth festival of the year and my first UK festival period. Needless to say, when you’re traveling to a different country entirely to a remote village somewhere in Wales, no matter what, you’re going to be slightly unprepared. To say our weekend at Festival No. 6 was unforgettable is a massive understatement.
It had been fairly hot and sunny for the few days we were in London so arriving into Bangor late afternoon with wind and gray skies was already a bleak look into our future, at least weather wise. We grabbed our press passes and camping wristbands (eek) and got onto the shuttle to add yet another hour to our journey into Portmeirion. The moment we got to the festival site, a moment of pure awe rushed over me. This place was real. A place like this actually exists somewhere in world. It was utterly breathtaking.
After unsuccessfully pitching our tent, we went and explored before the festival went underway. Again, I can’t believe a place like this exists. That beauty was quickly washed away by, well, rain…lots and lots of rain. The last time I camped was maybe about 20 years ago. And that was definitely in a proper tent, not one that was purchased for $30 at Argos. Before we went to sleep, I texted my friend who was meeting us the next day with “See you tomorrow, if our tent survives the night.” He replied with the very unhelpful, “Yeah, good luck with that.” We picked a hill, which was stupid, because we slid down it. And our tent collapsed. I slept in a pool of water. Did I mention it had been 20 YEARS SINCE I WENT CAMPING? Either way, we survived. Barely. We set out into the first proper day of the festival and this is when everything started ~happening~.
There are two things that Festival No. 6 taught me: timing is everything and community exists.
I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason. While I’m an anxious organizer who loves having a set itinerary, I’m also a firm of believer of things working out the way they’re supposed to and nothing cemented my ideology more than Festival No. 6. Because we were in a village somewhere in Wales with storms coming and going as they please, cell phone reception was…shit. So plans to meet people were thrown out the window, everything in a sense was left up to chance. On the second day of the festival, while we were waiting for Blossoms to go on, we went into the village to kill time and also get out of the mud. Within 30 seconds we spotted Oscar, whom we had just interviewed in his van backstage minutes earlier, waiting in line for grilled cheese. 10,000 people in attendance, yet we ran into him…again. 20 minutes pushing through crowds, I was about over it and ready to head back into the festival when we spotted our friends who we’d been trying to get ahold of the past couple of days. Joyous hugs were exchanged as well of stories of our tent collapsing and them being stuck in traffic for 8 hours. A sense of relief washed over me (though that also probably could’ve been rain): serendipity had won out again.
At most festivals, I’m there for the lineup — I’m a rare breed nowadays I know. But as someone who doesn’t partake that much in drinking or drug use (I’m more of spectator in that sense), my favorite thing to do at festivals is to, you know, watch bands. Festival No. 6 was something else. It wasn’t just about the music, though there was plenty of it; it was about the community of people around you and the experiences you have with them. Admittedly, the people we met up with I knew but didn’t know well. It was one of those situations where you’ve known each other for years but only spent time together in small spurts and in between, you keep up with them based on their social media accounts. We went back to the house they were staying at (indoor bathroom, bless) to a room full of even more people we didn’t know and thinking about it now, I still get overwhelmed by how welcomed we were.
It’s a funny thing traveling to a foreign place. As someone who is naturally introverted, it’s hard to be in situations that are new and out of your comfort zone. So to receive any kind of genuine connection and conversation with people you just met is overwhelmingly wonderful and extremely rare. The other refreshing thing was that the break-the-ice question wasn’t, “What do you do?” in typical LA fashion but rather, “So who do you know here?” That question helped piece together how we formed our own little community within the gigantic one that surrounded us. This person knows this person from school or through work or oddly enough, through the internet. The thing we all had in common was that nobody knew everyone. In the end, we were all connected in some capacity and it was strengthened because we all gathered in this village in Wales for a festival.
That community could be seen past the confines of that house in the middle of the village. It was everywhere. Strangers literally helped us pitch our tent. We watched people rally around a marching band that was decked out in lights. People came together to learn line dancing just because why the hell not. Even children entertained themselves and used the rain as a means for playtime instead of running away from it. And again, a band’s random impromptu session overlooking the water brought us together with our friends unexpectedly. “We always seem to find each other,” was something that was said continuously throughout the weekend. Whether that be in some cosmic reflection on the universe or just as a throw away statement, it definitely was the overall theme of Festival No. 6 and something I continue to hold on to long after it was over.
There’s a banner that read “A festival unlike any other” as you entered Portmeirion and Festival No. 6 deserves to boast that sentiment. We never did make it to Blossoms’ set, or many other sets actually. But it didn’t matter because of the people we were with. I may still not be a festival person but Festival No. 6 is more than a festival; it’s an adventure of a lifetime.