Sat in a hotel bar back in August, my Mum caught me smiling into my drink. There’s nothing unusual about me looking lovingly towards a gin and tonic but this time, my smirk was there for a different reason. We had just seen one of our favourite bands, Dawes, play a fantastic gig at Oslo in London and had settled down for a nightcap. I was already reliving the show in my mind and it was written all over my face. “It’s weird to think we wouldn’t be smiling like this if it wasn’t for that man at Hyde Park?”, my Mum chirped in. I hadn’t thought about “that man” in a while but then, when I couldn’t sleep, I thought about how an odd chain of events led me here and it’s been on my mind ever since.
It was July 14th 2012 when I first encountered Dawes. Bruce Springsteen was playing Hard Rock Calling and I’d persuaded my Mum to go. She was desperate to go but was apprehensive of large crowds and was worried it would be ruined by British weather. I convinced her otherwise and then, of course, it poured it down and we were swamped amongst 76,000 people on sodden ground. When she turned to me for advice (I’d professed I was an expert on the basis of one previous festival), I said “The one I went to was the size of a postage stamp but this one has its own postcode”. At that point, my Mum promptly realised I wasn’t as worldly as I made out in my sales pitch.
We trekked through the mud with naïve optimism and made obligatory “Dancing In The Bark” jokes each time we stood on wood-chipped ground. As we got closer to the stage, however, the sea of people became overwhelming. My Mum carried on making the best of things but as I watched Tom Morello while wedged so tightly in the crowd that I could barely move my hands to clap, my enthusiasm began to wane. Once the music had stopped, we realised how little room we had so we weaved to a large open space towards the centre of the crowd. Blocked by people’s sprawling picnic blankets, fold-up chairs and parasols (you’d have thought it was Brighton beach, not Hard Rock Calling), the area was hard to reach but once you got there, the position was hard to beat. We were stood at the back of the first section but the view was still good, albeit long distance.
When Lady Antebellum came on the stage, I finally felt as if I would enjoy the day. Lost in the wholesome sound of their country music, my Mum and I sang and danced along. A couple of women smiled at us, acknowledging that we knew the band’s material already. The weather was still damp and drizzling but the atmosphere had warmed up. I didn’t even mind the picnic eaters ignoring the music. Everything seemed friendly and carefree, and then suddenly things changed. A stranger shouted at me. “Excuse me, my wife was here first and I need to be next to her”. His flailing arms pointed forwards to a woman several paces in front of me, stood on her own with plenty of space around her. And then he knocked me, trying to oust me from the ground in a spot he didn’t want to stand in anyway. He then walked forward towards his wife, took hold of her arm and turned around to give me one last glare. At that point, I began to cry.
I am not one to cry without reason but the shock of this man’s unreasonable and unnecessary aggressive behaviour overwhelmed me. I tried everything I could to keep a stiff upper lip but the women who had smiled at me moments before noticed my eyes reddening. One put her arm around me, rolled her eyes in the man’s direction and told me not to let him spoil my fun. I thanked her but it was easier said than done. I no longer felt comfortable where I was stood so when Lady Antebellum’s set closed, I asked my Mum if we could move somewhere else. The problem was, there was now nowhere else to go with more and more people piling into the park with every minute. So we had to exit the entire crowd. Stood on the sidelines, I started to want to admit defeat for the entire day.
I slumped myself down, away from the main stage area. We ate food and I sat there ranting about the hostility of the crowd while I crossed my arms and huffed, with no sense of irony. As I calmed down, some music from a side stage had started up. We couldn’t make anything out clearly but the background noise sounded good. I mustered up the energy to wander towards it, thanks to my Mum’s encouragement. After all, we had nothing to lose. “We might as well”, we thought. We hovered outside the entrance of the tent and listened to the remainders of the current song. We then threw each other an impressed look and shuffled under the tarpaulin. The unfamiliar music was so captivating that I relaxed again. I forgot about the rain and the mud, and the man who’d made me cry. I didn’t even mind the distinct stench of soggy bark filling up the tent. I didn’t know who the band I was watching were but I knew I had to find out.
The mystery set put a smile back on my face and we braved the main crowd again to watch Bruce Springsteen. It would take until the next day for us to find out whose set had turned our time around. The band, if it wasn’t painfully obvious already, was of course Dawes. One we tracked them down, they picked up their first two albums at Resident Records almost immediately. Three years, two more much-loved albums and six Dawes gigs later, I know that it was only things going wrong that led to me to so many things that have been right. Perhaps it was all out of chance. Perhaps it was down to fate. Either way, I find it odd how an upsetting event led me to such happiness.
I like to think that this shift in events wasn’t a one-off. Maybe sometimes, things are not meant to go according to the plan. Of course, this applies to so many things other than music but my favourite bands have been such a big part of my life that I can’t think of an example that means more. So when I’m next feeling down at a festival, or stood in the rain without an umbrella, or whatever it is that hasn’t quite worked out, I’ll think about what good could come from it. I’ll still moan about it (a lot, probably) because that’s what I do best – I’ll just be a bit more spiritual in doing so.
Dawes latest album ‘All Your Favorite Bands’ is out now.