Lifelines – Download Festival Diary 2019

If I think of my experience at Download Festival 2019 the very first thing that comes to my mind is booking for Download Festival 2020. Everything started on June 13th on my departure day…

JUNE 13th – THE DAY BEFORE THE FESTIVAL

There is something that you should know about me and that is the childish mood that affects me every time I have to travel. I suddenly look impatient, foot stomping and I sing random lines of random songs. And if you were at the train station with me you would have spotted me immediately. Another thing I feel the urge to notice is if there’s anyone else who might be heading where I am heading, so basically every human being waiting for the train to Rome and with a rock band t-shirt was perfectly eligible to be a travel buddy to Download Festival. I know this all sounds crazy, but believe me, it can get a lot crazier than this!

What goes beyond any stage of madness though, is our beloved Italian train company which still think they can say the train is late “due to issues on the line between (insert city/town of your choice – ex. “Jerusalem”) and (insert city/town of your choice – ex. “Oslo”)”. But I will have plenty of time to outline my love for Trenitalia while talking about our journey back, stay tuned, it’s going to involve interesting words.

When you usually arrive in Rome and you have about 6 hours before your flight and don’t want to wait all the time at the airport you try to split the waiting time, so we decided to stay a couple of hours at Rome Termini. I will be honest and say that I will never thank enough whoever had the idea to build the “Terrace” there. Why? Well, imagine a free access lounge room with air conditioning and a bunch of restaurants and cafés where no thieves nor pickpocketers will bother you. Such a dream.

Another 3 hours at the airport just to find out that the flight has been delayed, but what are you going to do? It’s nobody’s fault if you decided to fly with Ryanair once again after you swore the last time would have been the last. Something funny happened in the shuttle bus to get from the gate to the plane: husband and wife talking with a deep Roman accent, then looked at me, smiled and started whispering to one another. This is usually the situation where the Britishness inside me takes control and I just quietly listen without giving the impression I’m listening to them talking about me. 

Husband: “Is she Italian or British?”

Wife: “I don’t know, but I think she’s British”

Husband: “Valhallalahla? [looking at my Viking badass passport cover] What does it mean? Definitely, she’s British”

Wife: “Yeah, why don’t you say something in English just to see if she turns around?”

Husband: “I am an English killing machine honey, check it out: I ENGLISH SPEAK, I HERE TO VISIT, VACATION!!” 

For the very first time in my life, I had no idea of how I should have reacted so I just kept staring at the window, with my eyes popping out of my orbs asking myself how long before I finally end up in jail for language murder. Thankfully, my seat on the plane was next to an elderly British couple who didn’t talk, smiled only and didn’t even have to use the bathroom. 

Finally, we landed and got to our hotel in Derby which was beyond our dreams and which was bound to be the perfect shelter for the carnage that was waiting for us from the day after.

JUNE 14th – FESTIVAL DAY 1

Alarm clock at 7:20 am. Top of the morning to ya! After a rich British style breakfast, we decided that the pictures everyone camping at Download were sending were scary enough to convince us that taking our boots had been completely useless and it was time to let shame go and buy a pair of wellies. Let me just tell you that if you have never been at Download you cannot know what mud is. You may think you have seen it, but really you would be so wrong. While collecting the tickets we were slowly sinking, a bit slower than a stone and a bit faster than the Titanic, but still not in a good place. Then you could see in two minutes why that is a wonderfully managed event: people giving you directions even if you don’t need it because it’s always obvious where you should go and fast efficient bag controls which I’ve never seen in my life. 

As we entered the arena we let ourselves go by running and shouting “Fuck yeah, we’re in!”. I know, it’s a bit theatrical, but just allow these sort of things to yourselves once in a while. The place is huge, like something really enormous but not dispersive, mud, people and people covered in mud. Tesla were playing on the main stage as we approached and I almost cried because the song they were playing was “Love Song”, a tune which I wanted to listen to live since I was 13. Utterly confused and filled with adrenaline we roamed through the arena for half an hour before getting the chance to listen to Those Damn Crows from the outside of the Dogtooth Stage because it was so packed inside nobody could get in. We then headed to the Zippo Stage for Skid Row, who were just finishing up, and then the wonderful Delain. 

Then it was time for Deadland Ritual. My goodness, that is a band of legendary musicians who will knock your socks off! For me personally, Geezer Butler should be nominated to join archangels or to replace God itself. It’s this great mixture of incredible talent, knowledge of what he’s doing and amazing equipment which made me think: “What do I play bass for?” And it’s not just him: Steve Stevens was out of this world as well as Matt Sorum and Franky Perez. We had the chance to meet them later in the day during the BBC signing sessions and I must say they are a delight to talk to either. My right hand is still seeking therapy because it doesn’t realise whose hands it shook. 

It was finally time to meet a couple of Internet friends who I virtually met 5 years ago thanks to Heaven’s Basement and I couldn’t believe after all this time I was actually talking to them face to face. Right on time to gather for Whitesnake who absolutely killed it while making me wonder how cute I was when I was 14 and I was listening to their music all the time. Next, it was Slash’s turn. An ongoing guarantee for a successful event with the thundering voice of Myles Kennedy, who for some reason never seems to get old. 

The first day was already finished, but the best had yet to come with the legendary Def Leppard. I really would like to know how they do it, I mean, how can they be that old and play like they’re still in their twenties. My boyfriend just made a simple question that pretty much sums up the whole matter: “How much pussy do you think they’ve seen in their whole life?” and I just replied, “I don’t think we can’t even imagine that”. Then we both kept staring at these uncommon rocking grandpas while drinking beer and headbanging. 

Turned out we walked a whole 25km during the day, so we thought we’d deserve a couple of noodle pots and a Family Guy episode before dropping dead on the bed.

JUNE 15th – FESTIVAL DAY 2

Holy cow, what can 25km in a day can do to you, especially on the morning after. Every single part of my body hurt and I felt so sleepy that I was hoping that the bus ride would last a bit longer than the day before. It didn’t. Our Saturday schedule looked very busy and we were determined to make the best of it. First band of the day: Bad Wolves. Those guys really have it and it is no wonder why they’re being big on the radio lately. We were just standing in the middle when a mosh pit happened. Without even having the time to say: “What the f..” I suddenly found myself in the second row. Well, I’ve never been in a mosh pit before but I kinda liked it, it felt so spontaneous and unexpected that I found it genuinely appropriate. 

After that, it was time to meet a dear friend who was working at the bar just in time before the Three Days Grace signing session. I must say they were the band I was most looking forward to seeing because I fell in love with their latest album “Outsider”. I bought the album, took the booklet with me and crossed my fingers they would do the signing sessions. So there I was, with my answered prayers and the booklet in my hand queuing like a 12-year-old girl for an autograph. The band is absolutely lovely, even if I will never know where Matt’s red leather jacket comes from because he doesn’t know himself… However, the ladies supervising the session were so kind as to let us wait inside for the ink to dry since outside was pouring!

Three Days Grace may be lovely to meet but they definitely give their best on stage. They played some of their pillars but it made me sad they only played one song from “Outsider” but I guess it has been because of the short time they had available. It was Stone Temple Pilots next and I needed a more quiet place than the second row so we went a bit more uphill. I wish I could say I enjoyed them immensely, but I was hoping to get something more from them. Also, the fact that the only thing I could think about was a chair didn’t really help. It took me one hour to get over my “stand up crisis” when I eventually just leaned against a barrier at the NXT tent and stopped thinking about it. And no, sitting on the ground was not even a possible option. That was being an incredibly rainy and muddy day, the ground was so slippery that if you sat on top of the hill you would have been sliding towards the main stage until you would’ve ended up in Corey Taylor’s arms and having your hair brushed by a scream of his.

But before Slipknot, I need to mention the band who’s led by the illegitimate child of God and Joan Jett, and that would be Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. I saw them live in 2013 and they were absolutely great, but then I kind of lost interest in them until I was left in awe by the sheer adrenaline that girl has and by, let’s be honest, her skill to jump and switching guitar pedals with her six-inch heels without killing herself. I loved every minute of their show, fuckin’ bravo.

Everyone was now waiting for the sole headliner of the day: Slipknot. Well, yeah, everyone but me. I don’t mean to be the black sheep and don’t get me wrong, I think they’re great but they’re just not my cup of tea. It was so beautiful to see all the people in front of the main stage, they looked like an ocean with many many waves and you could feel the sense of loyalty that the fans have towards this band. I just stood quietly on the left side of the stage listening and learning that even if a band’s not for you that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. Then we headed back while I was thinking that another day like that and I would have died.

JUNE 16th – FESTIVAL DAY 3

You bet your sweet ass that another day was right there ready for me to live it. It’s just that at 7:10 am, with less than 6 hours of sleep and 21km on my shoulders, I wasn’t really ready for it. I barely ate my breakfast, went back to the room and dropped on the bed while begging my boyfriend to let me sleep another hour because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. He did show that bit of pity and let me hibernate like a bear. You may think that only one hour of sleep can’t make that much difference but in ten minutes I was up and ready to go, yeah this time, ready for real!

Because of my change of plans, I missed a part of the set of I Prevail who I really wanted to see. I’m sorry but I put my health in the first place and I still listened to the second half of their show! They did not disappoint people. You need to like some metalcore but they’re likely to be appreciated by a wider audience for sure. 

Next on the line: Starset. I had already seen Starset in Milan opening for Shinedown and I loved every minute of their set so it was really good to see them again. This time with no space suits but with a very cool post-nuclear outfit which seems to frame just perfectly their sick songs. I watched the show from a bit behind and sang every tune I knew, and honestly, I can’t wait to see them again!

A big fantastic surprise was to see Our Last Night, a what looks like a high school band but that kicks arses instead of sucking as most do. I knew some of their songs (I especially love their cover of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons) and I was happy to sing along, but it was hard not to be distracted by what stage animals they are! A big, huge wow for them.

Beartooth also put on a great set, even if I had to eat something while they were playing and didn’t pay full attention at that moment, I think I’ve heard enough to say they know what they’re doing and that they’re doing it well. I am indeed curious to see them again sometimes.

After resting under the NXT tent for about an hour and realising how fake wrestling is when you’re watching it live, it was time for The Smashing Pumpkins. People can say whatever they want, they’re getting old and it’s not the same as they were before, blah, blah, fuckin’ blah. I’ll tell you what, they were amazing and they brought me in that music limbo which is not that easy to reach without weed. A big shoutout for the stage as well, which I found really beautiful.

“Sorry, but not sorry” was my attitude for Tool instead. I’ve listened to them in my life, I made the effort to do it more intensely before the festival and I think they are technically impeccable, but didn’t give me a hint of emotion during their whole show. Not to mention that if you came all over just for them and you were not in front of the stage you might have as well put the cd in your car and spare yourselves the ride. I tried to figure out why a middle-aged man, fully aware of the fact that all those 80.000 people in front of him paid a ticket to SEE him, would have all sorts of paranoias to be shown on a big screen in order to let everyone watch the show, but I really couldn’t. I personally find it disrespectful towards all the big fans that waited 13 years for that moment, just to see flowing water on a screen. I have heard all kind of justifications in this regard but people should really know there is a limit to acting primadonna. If you want to be a part of the entertainment business, you really can’t afford to avoid showing your precious little face. Lots will disagree on this and will tell me that I’m saying this only because I didn’t like them. I used to like some people who acted like that until I saw how little they cared about the origin of their incomes. Nobody is indestructible and respect should be the real rewarded thing. 

My comments aside, it was time to go. I turned back several times just to watch the stage, the lights, the people with a nostalgic face because even if it was tiring as hell I would’ve done it forever since. 

 

JUNE 17th – THE DAY AFTER THE FESTIVAL

The day I hate most is always the day I have to come back home after a trip. We did plan our way back to the airport perfectly in order to be at the departures a couple of hours before the flight. We stepped into the bus at Derby station and the driver asked: “are you catching a flight?”, I said yes and he said “what time is it leaving? Traffic is kicking ass because of Download”, it was 10:10 am and the flight was departing at 12:45 pm “ok, you should be fine, let’s hurry!”. Usually, I don’t get nervous when people use words like “should” but this time I was. The East Midlands Airport is right behind Donington Park where Download takes place and of course, all the people who were camping were now getting out of there. A 30-minutes journey became a 2-hours journey and everything would have been ok if they didn’t stop my boyfriend at the controls. The gate was closing in that minute and I asked security how long would have been taken to get to our gate: “Oh, Ryanair gates are always at the end, should take you 10-15 minutes walking”. Of course, their gates are at the bottom of the fucking airport, which by the way really seemed smaller before we started to run through endless corridors and up and down escalators like in a Warner Bros cartoon. We made it and we boarded. The flight was so awful that if that was someone’s first flight I seriously doubt they’ll ever fly again. The landing was to die for. Literally. 

When we finally got into Treviso airport we decided to switch our shoes to Converse as it was hot as hell. Suddenly, a drug-sniffing dog (definitely still on training since she was confused by all the people and wanted cuddles) approaches, sticks her head into my suitcase and steals my clean socks! God, if I have something to tell my grandchildren…The officer just laughed and gave me back my stuff. We jumped on a train to Venice where we had about an hour before taking a high-speed train to Florence. Just the time to step outside the train station for a smoke, look at the canal and here we go! A big seagull decides to make his business land on my suitcase. Not angry enough? Don’t worry, we are changing your train carriage because the air conditioning doesn’t work and we are running 30 minutes late for, you know, those same “issues on the line between “Asshole” and “Cunt”. The train connection we had in Florence was obviously another high-speed train coming from Milan which was right behind us and that brought us back to our hometown with a 60 minutes delay. If you think it’s a joke, I’m afraid it’s not, but at least I got a partial refund for the tickets. You know us Italians, always looking on the bright side! But be careful if you wish to attend Download 2020, there might be some train line issues between “Patience” and “Fuck off”.

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