I had a punter’s ticket to this year’s Boomtown Fair festival, but due to my two friends having to drop out last minute, I decided to work it instead and sell my ticket. Luckily for me I was offered a place working as a Volunteer Supervisor directly for Boomtown. I’ve worked as a supervisor before for Oxfam and MyCause, but I love a challenge and the chance to meet new people, so was excited to work for a different company.
We had our supervisor briefing in the evening on Tuesday, so I arrived on site a few hours early to get pitched and ready. As my big tent had not survived Secret Garden Party (combination of drunk man falling onto porch ripping a hole and extreme wet weather) I was having to take my spare; a small 4 man. For years I’ve had the luxury of walking in and out of my tent, not crawling, so I was a little apprehensive at having to do 6 nights working at a festival, sleeping and getting dressed in such a small space. Especially as when I arrived on Tuesday afternoon it was raining and the ground was already quite muddy. I made friends with my neighbours, Matt and James.
The weather held until after our supervisor briefing where I got to meet my peers and find out my shifts. I would be covering Sector 6, the Psy Forest and Old Town camping, a very large area but at least it was an exciting one! Some of my must-see DJs were playing Sector 6 so I was pleased as punch. That evening we sheltered from the rain in a friend’s caravan and got to know each other.
Waking up on Wednesday to torrential rain was miserable. I checked the weather and saw that it would be raining all day. The main group of (non-supervisor) volunteers would be arriving today, but that was the only excitement. I decided to drive off site to have lunch in the dry with my parents who live nearby and return later in the afternoon.
When I returned the field was filling up with tents, and the rain was still coming down. Some of the volunteers had been queuing for a few hours as they were being very strict at security. I got back to my tent and text our supervisor WhatsApp group asking if anyone could plait my hair, and that’s how I met Abi. She fought with my hair until it succumbed into two braids, and to pay her back I got her to come and meet my friends from working 2016 Boomtown and we all drank G&Ts, my tent-neighbour James came too. That’s one thing I love about working at festivals, you are bound to make new friends, even if you arrive on your own like I did! My friends from the previous year, Todd and Jim, had an excellent tent set up of a bell tent with a large awning, so we all enjoyed our evening in the dry drinking gin, watching the volunteers arrive, and telling festival stories.
I was on the first shift as the festival started, so this meant an early rise for me! Luckily the sun was shining, though the mud meant wellies were still necessary. I was at Volunteer HQ in my high vis and ready to go at 7am after getting an awesome breakfast at Nuts Catering (these guys cater for volunteers at a few festivals and are always incredible). It took a while to locate my volunteers for my area, but once I’d gathered my troops we walked over to Sector 6 & the Psy Forest together. I gave my team a mini brief, walked them round to their locations and put some glitter on their faces. Team Jessi had to have glitter! They were an awesome positive bunch so that made me happy.
And then… we waited. We were in position by 10am and the gates weren’t due to open until midday. The sun was shining, Sector 6 was in the last stages of it’s build, the Psy Forest looked awesome. I spent my time making my rounds between the locations of my volunteers, getting to know them, arranging their breaks and discussing who we were looking forward to seeing.
The gates were delayed in opening because of some safety/logistics issues, and security were extra strict when they did open, which meant some attendees had a long wait to get in. Everyone had big smiles on their face when they got onto site however, and soon Oldtown Camping filled up. Before I knew it, it was 3pm and my shift was over. I had to pit stop at Volunteer HQ to drop off my shift sheets, then went to my tent for a change of clothes, more glitter application, and to wait for a text to say my ticket-holder friends had arrived.
At about 7pm I went to meet my friends at Orange gate to help carry their stuff to their pitch at Reserved Camping. I have to say I’d definitely consider reserved camping next year if I go as a ticket holder as the location is fab; right in the middle of Uptown, and you get a large pitch big enough for 3 tents. It takes the stress out of arriving knowing you have a space waiting for you, and for £80 which you can split between the tents it’s worth it. My friends and I hung out, had a few drinks, then decided to head to the Hidden Forest where I met Abi and her two friends. I love that the Hidden Forest has a “treehouse” and platforms inside which give a great view of the crowd and the stage. We spent a few hours in here, then went to the Crew Bar (one of the best reasons to volunteer!) which is behind Mayfair, before heading to bed about 1am to ensure we had enough sleep to make the most of Friday.
I had a bit of a lie in on Friday, then had a hot shower (another huge bonus of working a festival!). I started my day with a Nuts Catering breakfast baguette, then went to meet my friends in Wild West. We had a great time exploring and immersing ourselves with the street performers. They even had two cowboys riding horses through the festival at one point! At 1pm we went to the Town Centre to watch Cut Capers who are a great new hip hop act.
I started work at 3pm so walked over to the Psy Forest to start my shift shortly after Cut Capers finished. I knew this would be the busy shift, 3-11pm, so got myself a delicious pie and chips from Barnaby Sykes on the way to fuel me. My team arrived all excited and I glittered them once again.
Being a supervisor gives you one helluva leg workout! I pretty much constantly walk between my stewarding locations checking everyone is happy and having a good time, and I had a large area to cover. It was extra awesome when the Psy Forest and Sector 6 got started; I spent a little while in the pit at Sector 6 with my stewards, giving out water and dancing in our high vis to Ed Solo & Deekline.
The rest of my shift went off without much of a hitch. My stewards and I all had fun either watching the fire performers in the Psy Forest, patrolling the campsites and saying hi to punters, or dancing under the Arch at Sector 6 with a great view over the crowd. 11pm came around quicker than I expected, and I walked back to the Volunteer campsite where I’d arranged to meet Abi and James. We had a few gin and tonics in Abi’s tent, and all admitted we were a bit knackered after our shift! But we powered through and headed Downtown for some hip hop at Poco Loco – Ocean Wisdom, followed by Deadplayers vs Problem Child. When we arrived the queue to get in was huge, but this is where one of the bonuses of working comes in! Because we had crew wristbands, we could go into the backstage area (firstly amazing because there are always nice loos there!) and secondly we could get in the side exit. It was an awesome couple of hours drinking frozen margaritas and Jägerbombs. I even spotted Jay (aka Beans on Toast) in the crowd and asked if James and I could have a photo.
We left Poco Loco at just before 3am, planning to go to Bang Hai Towers. However, as soon as we arrived, the set ended and the stage finished for the night. So we spent a little while in Barrio Loco before trudging back up the hill to our tents.
Once again I had a bit of a lay in, as I needed energy for my overnight shift which would start at 11pm that night through to 7am Sunday morning. This meant I had the whole day to explore the site however! I made sure I got to the Old Mines stage in time to catch the first ten minutes of Heymoonshaker, a French duo I first discovered at Shambala in 2013. They consist of an incredible beatboxer, and a guitarist/singer, and their sound is unique and fantastic. I only left early because I have been desperate to see the Sugarhill Gang for years, and they were playing at the Town Centre shortly after Heymoonshaker started. Seeing Rappers Delight live was definitely one of my highlights! I only wish they did the 14 minute version. I know all the words!
I then met my friends Marie and Chris, and we went to explore Old Town. We visited the Posties and the pirates, and spent a while chatting to two people selling tatt out of a suitcase. These two were fantastic characters; wearing a selection of flowerpot hats, hubcap around the neck, a shower cap, pink umbrellas… and selling some interesting wares. We were offered a road map of Syria, a Rolf Harris book, a glass “sweetie” ornament. The random street acts and performers are the best bits of this festival! I bought a brass windmill bell and a flowerpot hat for Chris to wear, and we got given a free gift of a tiny orange rubber ring which I was informed was a lamb castration ring. Only at Boomtown!
Next up was one of my favourites, Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer at the Ballroom in Mayfair. We met up with the rest of my non-working gang and had a great time dancing to Mr B’s chap-hop delights. If you haven’t heard of him, make sure you check him out on YouTube. Think brilliant, hilarious rap by a cane twirling, ukulele playing public school toff. We drank Hooch and had a good singalong, then explored Mayfair a little. This area was obviously supposed to portray the super rich, and some Boomtown aristocracy had us begging on our knees for money (Boomtown dollars) which they threw from their window. My friend even was selected to be spanked with a cane for their amusement.
I needed to pop back to my tent and Volunteer HQ to make sure I was prepared for my overnight shift, then came back to watch half of Newton Falkner at the Old Mines before meeting my gang at the Town Centre for the headliners; Skindred. Of course I’d reapplied my glitter and popped on my pom pom headband that I made in Lewisham. Skindred were awesome, just the headbanging rock hit I needed to wake me up before my night shift. I left Skindred a little early in order to catch some of The Specials at the Lions Den, who were great but for such a large stage, the sound is quite quiet at the top of the bowl. You really have to get down and in to hear properly, which I didn’t have time to do before work. I got myself my favourite, a Happy Maki vegan sushi wrap on my way to my final shift.
The nightshift is never easy, but it was a good thing that I was supervising a busy area that had stages open til the early hours. It meant the time went quicker and my stewards weren’t bored. This shift was particularly eventful for me, running around like a “blue-arsed fly” covering the entirety of my area answering radio calls. It meant my step count for the whole of Sunday was off the chart! But it also meant the shift went quickly and that I was knackered when I finished at 7am, meaning it would be easier to sleep in the daytime. I had a shower when I got back to the Volunteer campsite then collapsed into my tent for a good 5 hours of sleep.
I woke up around 1pm and was excited to start the day as I’d finished all my shifts and my favourite bands were playing that day. We caught the end of the parade through Mayfair, got some food (I went for pizza), and mooched to the Town Centre to get a good view for the Wurzels. Everyone sort of converged at the same place, and soon I was surrounded by Oxfam friends, my ticket holder friends, and other working friends. It made singing “Combine Harvester Ooo Arhh Ooo Arhh” and farmer dancing even more fun.
It was my friend Marie’s birthday on the Sunday, so we met up at the Wurzels, threw glitter on each other then went to see my absolute favourite Frank Turner at the Old Mines. I’ve seen Frank countless times but each time feels unique. He appeared solo rather than with his band The Sleeping Souls, he sung all my favourites, and I made sure I sung (read: screamed) all the words.
After Frank, I split with Ana to go and bounce to Dub FX at the Windmill in Williams Green. It was my first venture up to this area of the site, and the views on the way were fantastic. The Windmill stage itself was a lot bigger than in previous years, and the whole area had been rearranged to make the most of the space and the views. After Dub FX, Ana had her fortune read by a wonderful lady in the healing area, while I stayed outside and took photos of the sunset.
I then reunited with Marie, Harriet and friends so we could see Sublime together at the Town Centre. I debated seeing Gentleman’s Dub Club and MIA, but I fancied a hit of nostalgia and so did the rest of my group. With Rome Ramirez having stepped into Bradley Nowell’s shoes after his tragic death in the 90s, they played a fantastic set of classic Sublime songs and newer ones from the two Sublime with Rome albums. Finishing with What I Got followed by Santeria was perfect; my friends and I had our arms around each other’s shoulders and drank it all in.
The rest of the evening was a little hazy! We stumbled down the hill to catch the closing of Bang Hai Towers in all its glory with Black Sun Empire. Bang Hai was so impressive this year, I could have sworn it was at least two storeys higher than 2016, and the visuals were spectacular with lasers, pyrotechnics, and giant screens. After the stage closed, I got the munchies and my dreams came true at Le Rac Shack – melted French cheese over sausage, chips and gravy. The perfect drunk food!
My friends and I took a moment to chat and chill on a bench nearby and tell stories from the weekend while I ate my food. The site was starting to wind down as they have an earlier license on the Sunday, but it’s really nice sometimes to just drink in the moment and laugh with your gang. We knew there was one place still open however, and hiked up the hill for the last time to the Crew Bar. It was here I ran into Abi, and Todd and Jim from the first night, and we all grabbed some shots, made even more new friends and carried on until long after sunrise.
I do absolutely love working festivals, but this being my 5th Boomtown as a worker, I’m really hoping next year I can go as a ticket holder, only because I’d love to get more involved in the storyline and have more time to explore the small venues which really make this festival one of a kind. I’d have to get used to not having access to the crew bar and crew toilets however, so I may be back working again once I weigh up the pros and cons! 😉
I have to say a huge thanks to Rob who invited me to work with Boomtown Volunteers, you’re amazing!
Also a massive thanks to my epic stewards on Sector 6/Psy Forest/Oldtown Camping. You made my job so much fun!
I can’t wait for next year’s festival!