Reading Festival offers many musical highlights, but is still let down on Sunday night

Reading Festival 2009 review

published: Thu 3rd Sep 2009

around the festival site

Friday 28th to Sunday 30th August 2009
Little Johns Farm, Richfield Avenue, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 8EQ, England MAP
£175 for a weekend ticket, £70 a day ticket - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 55000
last updated: Tue 18th Aug 2009

Another three days at Little Johns Farm, in the middle of Reading passed by without the rain hitting that threatened to engulf the festival on the first day, despite heavy winds meaning the screens on the main stage could not be lifted at first, the weather cleared and we had a nice weekend in the end. I came away from Reading Festival in 2009 having highlighted four main things I'd noticed over the festival.

Firstly it attracted a much bigger female audience than any previous year, with girls packing out the NME/Radio 1 tent for Jack Penate, Little Boots, and Florence & The Machine and over the three days at that same tent the number pulled out from the pit were of a ratio of 4 to 1, and that wasn't just because they had been broken, over half of them ran straight around to dive back into the throng.

around the festival site
Secondly the majority of main stage acts had no great appeal. Don't get me wrong there were still dust cloud inducing circle pits at the core of the crowd, but the crowd rapidly diminished from that epicentre. It would seem that this year more than any other the festival audience voted with their feet. With Reading having a policy of showing the same acts year on year as they move up through popularity, the Reading regulars had already seen many of the acts showcased on the big stage before. This led to the other stages getting much bigger crowds, and the main stage being left primarily to groups of lads happy to knock back the beer in front of the stage, very few bands who stepped away from the indie/rock mould were presented on the main stage until Sunday, when there were more people in front of the main stage to watch.

The demographic the audience had also changed, gone were the denim clad rock fans, replaced with more youthful dayglo freaks. The rock heavy main stage didn't appeal to the vast majority of the music fans who went instead in search of the next big thing, or to sample some more diverse music styles. The indication of how much fans preferred something else to guitar driven rock was how well Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, and the biggest draw of the weekend The Prodigy packed out the area in front of the main stage. The exception being the Lock Up which kept a pretty much constant crowd of those there to see high energy punk rock bands on both Friday and Saturday.

around the festival site
It would seem that guitar based rock and indie bands were much less appealing to the masses this year, Florence & The Machine, Jamie T, Lethal Bizzle, La Roux, Gossip, Patrick Wolf, and even comedian Tim Minchin drew big numbers of fans in search of something else. There were also decent turn outs for Deadmau5, many acts on the BBC Introducing stage. Considering the size of the stage special guests Enter Shikari playing acoustic, and Frank Turner drew impressive crowds. I wonder if Reading Festival will play it so safe with regard to the programming next year, or whether it will showcase an even less guitar/indie line-up.

Florence And The Machine
Thirdly an improved layout to the arena site led to less crushing, queues for food were down, bars easier to get a beer, and the general feel of the festival felt better. There were less people out to cause trouble (I'd like to make clear this is the arena I am talking about), toilet queues shorter, crowds friendlier and more prepared to dance then the image conscious indie kids of the last few years.

Food choices were more varied then ever and thanks to the organisers' handy star award system the best places were easy to find. Prices didn't seem to have increased from last year, and there was always the option of nipping into Reading for a real ale, or a supermarket/restaurant/pub run for food.

At night there were much less fires in the arena and the famed thick pall of black smoke, and Reading Festival cough never materialised this year.

Fourthly in direct contrast to this feel good factor there's the matter of the campsite craziness of Sunday night. Now a regular feature of the festival for nearly a decade, the traditional 'let's go crazy and burn stuff' has become an institution and I've no idea how the organisers stop it happening, but it needs to stop. Having said that, some campsites were completely unaffected, and in particularly those based on the other side of the river. Despite the changing male/female demographic there are still gangs of male youths intent on destruction. It's a curse to the festival and something that needs addressing.

So there you have it more girlies, more dance fans, more space despite the increase in numbers, a nice atmosphere in the arena, and a nightmare scenario on Sunday night in the campsite.

Kaiser Chiefs
This year there seemed to be a more interesting line-up for discerning music fans on the smaller stages, with a bit of a dud line-up on the main stage, filled with old Reading stalwarts, and indie/rockers who are wheeled out at us again. This year had some patchy headliners so much so sunset slots by The Prodigy, and Kaiser Chiefs get the biggest audiences of the weekend, whilst Radiohead, and Arctic Monkeys appealed to fans, their sets were not particularly upbeat. Kings Of Leon were probably the most accessible of the bunch but clashed with legends Faith No More, and Biffy Clyro side project Marmaduke Duke. Headliners Kings Of Leon complained about noise levels but we left before the end and could hear them in Reading itself.

For me personally 2009 was nothing if not full of opposites, and actually offered a good diverse line-up of acts for a change, with Sunday proving to be the most interesting day for main stage acts, as well as offering the most new to Reading acts. Friday on paper had the most acts I wanted to see of the weekend, however this proved impossible. Too many times there were clashes for me between acts on the Festival Republic and NME/Radio 1 stage, with the increased distance between them making it harder for me to see both acts which I've been able to accomplish in previous years, a situation worsened by sliding stage times.

Them Crooked Vultures
For me the highlights of the weekend were the surprise guests Them Crooked Vultures, as well as Gallows, Frank Turner, Fight Like Apes, The Maccabees, Jamie T, Faith No More, Kaiser Chiefs, Florence & The Machine, Tim Minchin, Radiohead who delivered a stunning set of fan favourites, Dananananaykroyd, Noah And the Whale, Vampire Weekend, The Qemists, Deadmau5, Kinch, Kasms, The Prodigy, Bloc Party, and Lethal Bizzle.

Whilst Reading has cleaned up its act as a pleasant festival for those watching the bands, my only gripe being the vandalised men's urinals, it's sorely let down by the behaviour of some campers on the Sunday night, it's this that Reading Festival organisers have to finally address. With it being the final night it leaves a lasting impression on those whose night was effected by the noise, and behaviour.

That said I'd like to thank everybody behind the scenes, and working at the festival who made our weekend so enjoyable, my 14 year old daughter in particular loved it, and it was a chance for her to see many of the current crop of her favourite bands. She was delighted to see Dave Grohl popping up everywhere on the Saturday.
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams / Zelah Williams

Friday 28th to Sunday 30th August 2009
Little Johns Farm, Richfield Avenue, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 8EQ, England MAP
£175 for a weekend ticket, £70 a day ticket - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 55000
last updated: Tue 18th Aug 2009


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