After so many disappointments, I’ve started to not let myself get excited for a social event until it’s literally happening in front of me. The same rule applied last week. While I was packing my bag, getting on the train, changing over to the tube, and even knocking on my best friend’s front door, I felt calm and steely. It was only when we were standing in the queue, the steward counting our heads against the number of tickets we’d purchased, that my heart started to lift ever so slightly.
By the time my friends and I, nine of us in total, walked into All Points East, the excitement was starting to bloom. I was at a festival with my best friends, and it felt unreal. I realised how much I’d expected the event to be cancelled. As we walked towards the centre of the festival, I could hardly process the sheer number of people – people sitting down, people eating food out of tiny boxes, people laughing together, people dancing alone. There were more bodies than it felt like I’d ever seen at once, and they were everywhere. Were there always this many people in the world?
I’ve never really been a huge ‘festival’ kind of person. Even before the pandemic made us all socially estranged, it’s in my nature to feel uneasy in huge crowds, and I am a big fan of sleeping in a bed. But I have always loved live music. When my friends suggested we go to All Points East, with Bombay Bicycle Club as a headliner, I was immediately onboard. ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is an album that is fiercely connected to my youth, and it is completely soaked in nostalgia for me. The anticipation of hearing those songs played live became almost unbearable as the day went on. We were all giddy.
At one point, after the group realised we all needed food, I was split up from everyone. As a rule, I’m good at being on my own, and would usually be more than happy to sit and wait for my friends to call, or text, or find their way back to me. But here, in this field, with groups of ,at this point, fairly drunk, people moving around me, anxiety was starting to crawl up the back of my neck. I must have walked in the same circle for ten minutes before I bumped into one of my pals, and the relief of no longer being alone made me realise how actually, properly scared I’d been. All because of people?
Halfway through Bombay Bicycle Club’s set, my group decided to move out of the centre of the crowd. We wanted to dance – properly – and there just wasn’t enough space in there. As we jumped around to the last half of the show, and could see the audience from the outside, I could finally see the fullness of this place. People held each other. The height of the crowd grew as girls sat high on shoulders. Tens of thousands of voices rang up to the stage, and then echoed back down onto us.
Though being exposed to 30,000+ people made my anxiety go through the roof, I stood in awe as I watched, and let the beauty of it soak in. Even through the chaos of the last 18 months, much of which has made me despair at humanity, it was good to realise that people are all we’ve got. In retrospect, I find myself grateful to have been gently reminded of how small I really am.