Why Losing Download Festival Hurts More Than Most
At the tail end of May 2003, 17-year-old me crammed in the back of my best mate’s older brother’s car, pointed north, and made the 160-mile pilgrimage from West Sussex to Donington Park.
This wasn’t the first time we’d made such a journey – just the year prior, we’d taken our first steps on the turf of the Home Of Metal, buzzing on a syrupy mix of Southern Comfort & Lemonade (why this was our drink of choice, god knows) and the intoxicating atmosphere of a place that carried with it such history and infamy. But that year, the Ozzfest 2002 one-dayer felt like we were arriving as tourists into a world that belonged to others; those that had known the Monsters Of Rock, who had long known Donington as their stomping ground. As kids, it felt like we had landed unannounced into the land of the giants, knocked on its door and let ourselves in to their house party.
2003, though, felt different. Download felt different. Same field, yes; same paths, same tents, same setup, and the same horns-to-the-air spirit. But somehow, this brand new thing, with its cool, futuristic name (that definitely won’t age badly, right, guys? Guys…?) felt like a clean slate. With Download, Donington didn’t feel like it belonged to someone else or another time. It felt like something my mates and I could call our own. This was our festival. It made it feel like home. And it has been ever since.
Save for one particularly cash-strapped university year, that trip north to Donington has been an annual tent-pole in my year. And now, of course, 2020 has conspired to take that away from us. Yesterday’s news of the June event’s cancellation was both sad but sensible, disappointing yet understandable, and unavoidable yet still, in some small way, surprising, if only because like everyone else I clung to some semblance of misplaced hope that the tide might turn and things would be just fine.
It wasn’t until last night, crashed out in front of the TV, that the fact we wouldn’t be communing at Donington once again really hit me: there is no Download this summer. Fuck, how I’ll miss it. Download has of course always been about the music, but for those who go year in, year out, it’s so much more. It’s about the people, and the memories. It’s a place where some of my fondest took shape, where some of my best friendships were forged, where days were lost to heavy metal and nights lost to… well, nights were lost, okay – let’s just leave that there.
It’s the place I watched Audioslave while squeezed up on the barrier, front and centre; the place that I stood sheltering from the elements during Billy Corgan’s Zwan’s performance, side by side with a then perfect stranger who 15 years later would be best man at my wedding; where I saw Metallica from the Snake Pit; where I heard Linkin Park play Hybrid Theory – a life-changing album for me if ever there was one – in its entirety; the place I got so carried away watching Guns N’ Roses, my favourite band of all-time, that I had to visit a chiropractor to sort out whatever the fuck I’d done to my spine.
And now, there will be no new memories. Not this year, anyway. Down the line, when we’re all allowed back in pubs and are laughing our arses off over Download tales of old, trying to piece together that fragile mental timeline of what happened when, we’ll know for certain that none of it took place in 2020.
This summer, I’m going to miss the music. I’m going to miss hanging out with my mates. I’m going to miss the seat-of-our-pants thrill of putting together the Kerrang! Download review issue, a staple part of the festival since its creation, live from a make-shift office tucked just behind the main stage. I’m going to miss the mud, the inevitable rain and the tease of sunshine that follows it, running across the site to not miss a single second, getting my photo with the Download Dog again, the pints in plastic cups, the morning-after regret of the night before and the feeling that, if only for three days, there was nowhere on earth I’d rather be.
Until next year, then, Donington – the long road home just got that little bit longer.
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