John Harris

Journalist & Author

Without festival dads we’d have no festivals | John Harris

So over-30s are too old to rock? Tell Springsteen, the Stone Roses and an industry that relies on their support

A confession: despite my 42 years, I occasionally listen to Radio 1. Usually, it’s a matter of being pushed rather than pulled: a flat in-car iPod battery or an episode of Moral Maze, and I’ll be there. But usually only briefly: some of its evening output aside, the station seems to have long since reverted to the template minted in the days of Dave Lee Travis and the rest, whereby “personality” DJs recite poor anecdotes in between today’s hits, and anyone with A-levels is quickly forced elsewhere. At its worst, I’d rather listen to Heart, which is saying something.

Now, to my relief, I find out that the station doesn’t want me anyway. Just listen to Ben Cooper, Radio 1’s controller – also 42, but set on pursuing some kind of generational warfare by proxy: “We have what I call ‘festival dad’ who refuses to grow up and will now take his family to hear new music at festivals,” he says. Cooper wants rid of such people, which may push the age of Radio 1’s average listener below the current 32, and get the BBC Trust off his case. His big weapon in this crusade is one Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw, who is replacing Chris Moyles as host of Radio 1’s breakfast show, and must apparently purge the programme’s public of up to a million people who are over 45. Imagine that: a DJ job description that involves the obligation to shed listeners! Then again, I think I saw “Grimmy” on TV once, and from what I can recall, he’ll be fine.

Now, the origin of the term “festival dad” may lie in reports from last year of David Cameron’s attendance at the pedestrian, decidedly non-new music Cornbury festival. But never mind that: I think I know what Cooper is driving at, and it deserves a response. First, festival dad has not refused to grow up: he has kids, which usually entails at least some embrace of responsibility. Second, if his children are much under 10, he does not take them to a festival to see “new music”, but to enjoy what’s going on in the kids’ field – face painting, Mr Tumble, Dick and Dom, the usual – in the hope that he may later snatch 20 minutes of me-time to see something he likes: increasingly, nothing resembling “new music”, but something of a more dependable vintage (more of which in a moment).

Moreover, to assume that festival dad is any kind of pejorative concept is to fall for the great delusion on which Radio 1 is still built, and to which Cooper has to subscribe: that true popular culture remains the preserve of the under-30s, and anyone still interested beyond the age of 35 is an embarrassment. But that idea breathed its last around 30 years ago – and just as adolescents now swoon over acts old enough to be their grandparents (there would have been teenagers watching Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney at Hyde Park on Saturday, and booing when the plug was pulled), so parents can maintain a consuming interest in the rock whirl, even with the proverbial pram in the hall.

My generation has grown up: we have the offspring, jaded worldview and bloodshot eyes to prove it. We do indeed take the family to festivals: my own favourites are the Green Man, and the brilliant Camp Bestival, an event seemingly tailor-made for festival dads. Via our dutiful spend on CDs, it is us who keep what remains of the music industry in business; and, moreover, it is musicians of our age – and above! – who now pull in much the biggest crowds.

The Stone Roses are the season’s most celebrated attraction, and they’re all knocking 50. The Reading and Leeds festivals – supposedly the last redoubt of “the kids” – will be headlined by the Cure (whose leader, Robert Smith, is 53) and the Foo Fighters, with an average age of 43.6. Axiomatically, fortysomething Radiohead are much better than the twentysomething Vaccines. In other words, if you don’t like festival dads, ask yourself this: how come dads now top the bills at festivals?

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