Reading Festival 2018 from a geeky guest’s perspective
As the dust settles from a fun-filled bank holiday weekend; the reviews have been flooding in from Reading Festival 2018. Most reviews have a focus on, somewhat unsurprisingly, the music on offer. This review, however, will have an alternative focus; one of crowd management from the perspective of one of Festival Republic’s (geeky) guests. So, welcome to my alternative review of Reading Festival 2018.
Let’s start by taking a look at the Main Stage. When entering the arena from the campsite, one naturally approaches the Main Stage from stage right. This causes an uneven build up at the stage with stage right filling more quickly. Thankfully, there are large video screens supported by a central dot matrix sign which warn later arrivals of this imbalance and advise stage left, which appear to alleviate this.
Another phenomenon that seems to occur at the Main Stage is where the crowds are bizarrely narrow. I noticed this whilst watching the highly popular Kendrick Lamar; the crowd remains dense very far back whereas if you were to move sideways, even near the stage, crowd density decreases rapidly away from the stage. This is visualised in the graphic on the right. Since ingress is mainly from the rear, individuals naturally stop when the crowd becomes dense. Instead, a solution could be a similar dot matrix sign as previous, suggesting people move into open space down the sides of the crowd.
Perpendicular and parallel barriers (to the stage) are used at the Main Stage to segregate the audience, mainly for safety. These appear to work well and preserve a comfortable level of service in the crowd – even in the front segments. They also create artificial ‘eyes of the storm’ at the back of each segment, where individuals can experience a relatively comfort despite being very close to the front. This increases accessibility and is valuable in allowing groups such as families close to the action. One might suppose the barriers that cut the crowd down the middle would prevent natural crowd easing from left to right. However, the evidence shows that this is not the case because people want to be in the centre and will generally not move to the right for the sake of easing the crowd.
I was lucky to have been given guest tickets which protected me from many of the queues, especially the entry queues that cost me 5 hours at V Festival last summer. The queues were well handled over the weekend and it was clear that security checks were the main cause of queues. A good solution may have been to separate queues between those with bags and those without – allowing those without bags into the arena more quickly. Security staff did allow those without bags straight in and past those being checked, however this was not optimal with the single queue.
A reflection on the challenges that festivals offer
Festivals offer challenges in understanding movement due to the variety of people that attend and the different interests and priorities of festival goers. There will be hardcore music fans with a fixed agenda to see a specific line up as well as more laissez-faire visitors who will follow the crowd and their friends. There will also be common band linkages, where bands have largely similar followings such as fans of rock music and fans of the (increasingly prevalent) hip hop artists at the festival.These band linkages cause a great scheduling and operational puzzle for Festival Republic each year – ensuring that similar bands do not overlap; managing pedestrian flows from one stage to another; and attempting to disperse the crowds evenly across the arena site throughout the weekend.
This was evident on the final night, with an exciting line up for both rock and hip hop fans a like. Depending on which camp you were in, Kings of Leon at the Main Stage or AJ Tracey at the Radio 1Xtra Stage was the place to be. The two stages were on opposite sides of the arena, allowing for freer pedestrian flows around the stages and more efficient egress after the performances had finished.
Reading Festival 2018 has been a fantastic experience and one which, in conjunction with the work I’ve done at Movement Strategies, has allowed me to see pedestrian movement in a completely new way. After 10 weeks of working on the mechanics of understanding movement within a large variety of projects, the chance to seethe successful outputs of a Movement Strategies project in real life has been incredibly rewarding.
My 5 top tips for any Reading Festival goer
To conclude, I’ve summarised my 5 top tips for any Reading Festival goer, based on my experiences over the fun-filled weekend:
1. Make sure you have a camping chair. It may sound like a luxury, but within 10 minutes of sitting on the ground you’ll be regretting not bringing one.
2. If you’re camping, get there early. There will be a great range of choice of camping spot on Thursday morning (even better on Wednesday if you splash out the £20 on an early access pass!) and you’ll miss the queues. Additionally, this will spread out the strain on the queues throughout weekend.
3. Take a trip to the Caversham Baptism Church. During the festival weekend, they open their doors and offer free hot and cold food and drink; mobile phone charging and clean toilets to festival goers. It’s a life saver if you’re looking for relief from the hustle and bustle as well as saving you the cost of charging your phone in the arena.
4. Keep an eye out for the secret sets! They are announced last minute on the official festival app and are often the hidden gems of the weekend. For example, in addition to their set on the Main Stage, the Wombats performed a secret throwback set on the BBC Introducing Stage featuring songs exclusively from their debut album.
5. Plan and agree an agenda for the weekend with your group. The set times are announced in advance on the festival app – which is free to download on the Apple Store and Play Store! There are clashes all day and you don’t want to miss your favourite act due to being caught at your friend’s favourite act. If the schedule means you leaving your friends, be sure to agree on a meeting place and time as mobile phone signal is often poor in the arena.