"I did a little cry because I was so happy to have it back": What Download Pilot means to the fans

As part of our return to live music, 10,000 rock and metal fans took part in Download Pilot. Here, we find out just how it felt to be back at Donington…

"I did a little cry because I was so happy to have it back": What Download Pilot means to the fans
Nick Ruskell
Nat Wood and Bethan Miller

It doesn’t really matter who’s playing Download, does it? Of course, it’s important, but it’s a smaller part of a bigger selling point: Download rules because it’s Download. And the people who make it that way aren’t just the bands who come round once every few years, but the people who love it and come every year. Onsite at Download Pilot, along with the rush of seeing bands letting out a year of weirdness in all manner of exciting ways, there's a feeling that everyone is just glad to be here.

“Having Download taken away for a year was really weird,” says Matt from Birmingham. “It feels like it’s the thing that marks the start of the summer, so to not have it threw me out of time a bit. Having this, even though it’s smaller, it feels like there’s something normal going on, that’s actually managed to happen when they said it would.”

There’s something about arriving onsite that’s got a comforting, familiar feel to it – like coming home. Weirdly, for the many emotional moments across the weekend as you remember the sheer joy of watching bands and carrying on with your mates, it feels like nothing’s changed.

Michelle from Manchester agrees. “As soon as I arrived, I was like, ‘Yep, I’m at Download,’” she says. “I’ve gone into ‘Download-brain’ almost straight away. When I walked into the arena, it actually felt like any other Download, and that felt amazing. It didn’t feel strange at all. I did a little cry because I was so happy to have it back.”

Having seen how much a world without Download sucks, it’s not surprising how many people say they’re grateful to have it back, and how much they hope the scientific element of the weekend goes well, as proof that it’s possible to open festivals up without, really, having too much hassle. You have to test and play by the rules to get in? Big deal: it’s not really a faff, and a bit of effort on our side means we get festivals back, says John from Nuneaton.

“It took me five minutes to sort out all the testing stuff – I thought it would take ages but it didn’t,” he explains. “Obviously that’s gonna be shit if you’re excited and then you test positive and have to miss it, but it seems like such a simple solution to getting this back it’s like, ‘Why aren’t we running all the shows like this?’ It’s no bother at all to do the test and do what they’re asking. I feel like by doing this we’re genuinely helping out. And it’s fucking awesome to feel like you’re even more of a part of Download than normal because of it.”

What everyone agrees on is that, while everyone’s got their favourites, they’d have come whoever was playing. Again, it’s just Download, innit?

“I loved Enter Shikari and Creeper, but I’ve had loads of fun watching bands I’ve never heard before as well,” smiles Michelle. “Everyone’s had a really positive vibe onstage, they’re all just really happy to be here, it feels like you’re closer to the bands somehow. I think it’s really cool that they’ve got so many newer bands on the bill as well. That’s one of the brilliant things about Download: they give bands an opportunity, and all of them have really gone for it. It’s been awesome.”

Yes it has. And it’s the fans who make Download what it is. Not just because bands wouldn’t have anyone to play to without them, but because there really is no other gathering of people like it on Earth. And having had to go without for a year, it’s truly wonderful to see so many people itching to get back to Donington turf for the sheer sake of it. See you all next year!

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