Maddie Rigby graduated from the University last month with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies, alongside which she played clarinet in the Orchestra and Concert Band, as well as singing with Chorus and the Cecilian Choir. Here, she reflects on experiencing this year’s Latitude Festival whilst volunteering with Dash Arts Theatre, a welcome return to live music and accidentally attending a secret gig by one of the 80’s biggest stars…
I only found out I was going to be working at Latitude a week and a half before it began! I signed up to volunteer with Dash Arts Theatre as part of their performance event ‘Forum’ throughout the festival, and when I wasn’t on shift, I could see as much as I wanted. Being so last-minute and worrying way too much about camping for the first time, I put hardly any thought into the fact that I would be surrounded by live music and about 40,000 people for the first time since lockdown began.
As a COVID Test Event, every attendee had to show proof of a negative test before arriving and answer a health screening questionnaire each morning. As a performer, we also had to take an additional test two days into the festival to be allowed access back onto the main site. The detailed and regular checks made the whole event feel safe and for the first time in a year and a half I didn’t wear a mask for four days in a row.
Latitude is a festival that has something for everyone and is extremely family-orientated. Walking through the festival you can see the variety of performances and experiences on offer from the Theatre Arena in the forest, to the Zen Den which led meditations and yoga and onto the Comedy Arena, before finally reaching the main music stages. The variety available made Latitude feel more like a celebration of the Arts than a music festival. The relaxed atmosphere made it so easy to wander around and discover new artists creating music, theatre and art.
Over the weekend I saw such a range of performances that it’s hard to sum the whole festival up. The very first thing I saw was a collaboration of Brass Bands playing mostly Beyoncé and the last, a psychedelic R’n’B singer, Greentea Peng. Over the whole festival I saw pop artists like Maisie Peters and Mabel, headliners the Kaiser Chiefs, Wolf Alice and Bombay Bicycle Club and even Bill Bailey. On the final day Latitude announced a surprise performance from The Vaccines, an appropriate choice seeing as COVID jabs were being offered at the festival! The band had one of the largest audiences I saw and the crowd spilled out of the BBC Sounds Stage, groups of friends and families sat down outside just to listen to the band. The enjoyment of listening to live music and seeing people’s favourite bands was contagious. It was an incredible feeling to be in the middle of a huge crowd, singing and dancing along again.
On the Saturday night, whilst searching for the last live music before every stage turned to DJ sets, a friend and I stumbled across a small seven-piece band playing covers at the Trailor Park Stage. The two female backup singers were so much better than the male lead, but we decided to stay because a huge crowd had gathered behind us. It wasn’t until our work group chat messaged about a ‘secret gig’ at the Trailor Park and we googled his name to check his face against the man who was currently in front of us, did we realise we had been listening to Rick Astley (The guy who sang ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ in the 80s). Not really our fault when he refused to sing any of his own songs that evening. It was definitely one of the strangest performances I saw the entire weekend.
One of the main reasons I went to Latitude was to see Arlo Parks, who I’ve already talked about on an episode of Vinyl Countdown (see below). Unfortunately, she was unable to perform because she had tested positive for COVID earlier in the week. I was disappointed but there were a few music discoveries I made which made up for it. If I could recommend a few artists I found and loved it would have to be Lucia & The Best Boys, Ellie Dixon and my favourite of the entire weekend, Greentea Peng. Like most of the music I listen to, they are all pretty chilled out so if that’s your vibe, definitely check them out!
The overriding feeling at Latitude was one of relief and excitement from every performer for the opportunity to be in front of a live audience again. At the start of every set there was always a genuine and heartfelt recognition from the performer for how amazing being at a festival and with other people was. Being in the crowd, it really felt as though the artists were just as excited to play as we were to hear them. Witnessing the return of live music and celebrating it with complete strangers was worth waiting for.
Although I had to sleep in a tent and my feet are killing me from doing nearly 46,000 steps each day (genuinely reached 46, 133 on the Saturday) I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be there. Latitude has made it clear that we should all take the chance to have as many new experiences and make new memories now that we can.
Maddie Rigby (Drama & Theatre Studies, 2017 – 2021)