If this is the end of life as we know it – which it feels like it might be – I like to think that the giant posters of the ‘C2C festival that never happened’ will stay up, as a last reminder of what life was once like; Darius Rucker’s supersized face waiting there to be discovered like the statue of liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes.
Those hunkered down at home in countries like Ireland, where clear steps have been taken to cancel mass public events or close schools and pubs may well ask why so many in the UK took the seeming risk of Keeping Calm and Carrying On with the socialising this past weekend. If C2C, the UK’s biggest country music festival, had been cancelled a bit earlier, or had our government come out of last Thursdays emergency meeting with measures that made this sound more like an emergency, I’m sure many more would’ve headed home.
Instead a confusing message came from no. 10 about ‘herd immunity’ and many of us needing to get corona virus anyway. So here lots of us were, the 60% I guess. Already in a crowded O2 bar when the cancellation was announced, already having braved The Tube (a hazard at the best of times), and already having made the decision that if the O2 events were carrying on as planned as their website reassured us, we were going to be there. Some had travelled from abroad. Some had spent their annual fun budget on tickets, hotels and travel. And now the festival was postponed crucially not because mass gatherings had been banned – that is still for the imminent dystopian future – but because many artists flew home amid uncertainty and fast-changing travel restrictions.
Without an official directive on what to do (apparently it was officially not yet time to self-isolate in the UK) everyone had to make their own call on how extremely to respond.
Just a few years ago, the story of this cancelled weekend would’ve been a different one: deflated loners with sagging Stetsons heading back home (having to go back through crowded London on public transport anyway to get there). But now, there’s a strong UK country music community which has spread beyond official festival schedules. Now, amid the weekend’s disappointing and confusing news, there were country radio stations to listen to and the hope of many more future UK country festivals for those who chose to social distance. For the rest, there were friends to meet with anyway, there were UK country artists willing to play anyway… and there was social media to rally a crowd anyway, right or wrongly.
Some (especially those who knew they’d be in contact with vulnerable people) made the best of quality time at home. My favourite improvisation is the kid who convinced their family to make masks of all the headliners to stage a pretend C2C festival in the living room – and I wish I’d thought of that. Others made the best of being stuck in London with things like Dolly Parton’s 9-5 The Musical on in town. Though that too is now something the public are advised to stay away from, despite theatres not officially being told to close.
Me? I started the weekend somewhere in between caution and carefreeness, deciding to stick to smaller groups for cocktails and bbq, then cocktails and brunch, then cocktails and a show, then cocktails… But by what would’ve been day two of C2C, new speculation came of potential bans and enforced isolation that could last for over a year. So I, who live alone and work as a freelancer, staring down the barrel of unemployment and the temperamental wifi signal in my flat, had an attitude shift and jumped on the bus to Hackney to join those en route to a mass impromptu Buck ‘N’ Bull country music party. I should say, this was not the story for the whole Brits in Boots team. Most of our crew chose solitary entertainment, like Laura who brought out her inner Lindsay Ell on her boyfriend’s guitar.
But while those on the news panic bought loo roll and stockpiled material things I guess some of us – not knowing whether the impending lock down would last for weeks or years – felt the need to stockpile on memories. A final good time before reality caught up; the spirit of Cadillac Three’s Bury Me in My Boots which we were all supposed to be hearing live.
Perhaps there was a bit of mob mentality. The ecstasy of that Buck ‘N’ Bull party – live music, country DJ and a bucking bronco pulled together in just 24 hours at the pleading of stranded fans – reminded me of the high of the very first C2C Festival back in 2013; knowing that you had found your people and that You Were Here. I did not know my own sobering news was around the corner.
Yesterday, the Monday after the Not-C2C Weekend, my dad called to say he’s in hospital and will be having major heart surgery. I am not going to visit the Coronary Care Unit, just in case I am compromised. Making this tough decision to stay away from the hospital I wondered, if I hadn’t indulged in my epic weekend (including a West End musical before the theatres shut down) could I have been at his bedside today?
In reality, no. I would still have been someone who’d travelled an hour each way on two tube lines to work in a cosy meeting room on Monday – yesterday’s advice to work from home coming too late for me. I would still have been someone who’d stood in the busy supermarket queue. And I would’ve still been someone hearing the conflicting government statement yesterday asking us to move to social distancing but telling us that transmission risks at mass gatherings remain low.
So, for now at least, no regrets and, unlike the social media narrative, no malice either. People were not out this weekend guzzling from shared glasses and getting ‘who cares about coronavirus’ tattoos while mocking the puritans. There was an eerie emptiness in the train stations, pensiveness in our conversations and there were certainly more elbow bumps than hugs.
Was one last joyful weekend worth it? Ask me on the other side.