The United Kingdom’s twin rock festivals, Reading and Leeds, are held simultaneously on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday of the August Bank holiday weekend each year, sharing the same musician bill. Artists roar up and down the M1 to play at both, and the collective festival atmosphere involves big crowd energy, mosh pits for days and a sense of lawlessness that transpires when both the talent and festival goers play by the motto “go big or go home”. Past bills have included Queens of the Stone Age, The Libertines, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kendrick Lamar (yes, they like a bit of hip hop too), Arctic Monkeys, Metallica and Die Antwoord. Some bands play sets that’ll be remembered for a lifetime here, like Nirvana, whose 1992 set at Reading has gone down as one of the greatest performances in rock history.
Of course, there are differences between the two. Reading festival is older, oddly a descendent of the National Jazz Festival which first began in 1961. It’s also easily accessed from London by train, and happens to be close to the town centre, serving as a place of escape should anyone need a bout of calm amid the formidable spread of punk, hard rock, metal and indie acts. It’s also the more tightly packed of the sites, and it’s flat fields guarantee a mud bath if any rain should arrive.
The younger Leeds festival came about in 1999 to take on the intense crowds of Reading, which was threatening to outgrow the Little John’s Farm location. There’s more room to cavort at Leeds, being further into the countryside in Bramham Park, near Wetherby. Crowds tend to get a little more wild here, with less community complaints, and a mostly Northern crowd . Both however, are destinations to promise that inimitable British-rock defiance. Bring a brave face and a hardy pair of gumboots.
WORDS OF WISDOM
- Laugh it off. The crowd intensity can be huge at both festivals, especially Leeds. If it threatens to dampen good times, pay a visit to some of the comedy acts and talks elsewhere in the grounds.
- Leave the children at home. Both festival websites stress this bluntly, maintaining that the festivals are not set up to be child nor family friendly. There are restrictions placed on those under 16 years of age, and not a diaper changing area in site.
- Choose a campsite wisely. In recent years the White Campsite at Leeds and Reading has had the lowest volume.
- Want to be right in front of the stage for a headliner? It pays to worm one’s way up, asking nicely, two to three acts in advance.
Visit Reading Festival
Visit Leeds Festival