Why you should stop being a punter and start getting paid to attend festivals instead

Having worked at live music festivals for several years, Nina Phillips encourages others to do the same (Image Source: James Bradley)

By Nina Phillips 

A sticky concoction of Red Bull and water splatters onto my already cider-stained, denim jacket as I plunge my wrinkled, prune-like hands into a large tub of ice.

Across the counter from me, two bearded men wearing matching fluro-pink bucket hats have opted to sink cans of Coopers Pale in silence, and frantically fiddle with their iPhone Xs over having a boogie to It’s Nice To Be Alive by Ball Park Music.

One of the men squawks angrily about the lack of cell phone reception and begins to wave his phone above his head.

His mate copies him and soon a sea of frowning punters are waving their phones high in the air as though they are a classroom of reception students in desperate need of a toilet.

It seems, since the invention of Snapchat and tap-and-go bank apps, the practice of shouting obscenities at inanimate cellular devices, and waving them around to combat poor cell-reception is becoming routine for many music festivals attendees.

Thankfully for me, I do not have to deal with this stress-inducing technological dance when getting paid to serve them drinks.

Fellow event bartender Tate-Narija Milner is similarly conscious of the unspoken downsides of attending events as a paying customer.

“People generally remember just the good parts of festivals,” Tate said.

“You forget how much of it is wandering around needing to pee and looking for a bathroom…[or] waiting in line for drinks and trying to track down your friends without phone reception.”

Tate and Nina having a blast on the bar at the Taking Back Saturday Halloween Ball 2018 (Image Source: Taking Back Saturday’s Facebook page).

Last month, one of Australia’s largest and most well-known music festivals, Splendour in the Grass, boasted a crowd of 42,500 attendees.

Considering it was a three-day camping festival, and when you’ve got to go you’ve got to go, I am certain that every single one of those attendees were faced with the first issue listed by Tate (and likely number two as well).

From frustrating iPhone-based conundrums to grotty port-a-loos, punters have to deal with a lot.

“The more I [work on the bar], the less I miss being in the crowd at festivals,” Tate said.

“You realise you can dance and have just as much fun behind the bar.”

Tate and I both began working part time at music festivals after volunteering for WOMADelaide several years ago.

Since early 2017, I have attended approximately 20 different festivals across the country for free.

Meeting Felix Riebl from The Cat Empire while working at Adelaide Festival 2018 (Image Source: Tate-Narija Milner).

Most recently at Spin Off, after capping off an eight-hour shift with a couple of knock-off drinks, I raced into the crowd with my bar staff mates to boogie along to the melodic voice of Childish Gambino.

It cannot be denied that working at music festivals certainly comes with its perks.

“At Laneway…towards the end of the night, [our bar] was pretty dead so everyone but the bar manager headed backstage to watch Gang of Youths,” Tate said.

Although the hours do tend to be long, the shift times are flexible and bar mangers will structure breaks around which bands you want to see.

At long weekend camping festivals like the Byron Bay Bluesfest or The Hills Are Alive in Gippsland, by working during the morning you can spend the afternoons and nights sinking shoeys and belting out the lyrics to your favourite songs.

The picturesque volunteer HQ of Rhythm and Alps 2018 in Wanaka, New Zealand (Image Source: Nina Phillips’ Instagram @ninaphillips27).

Of course, bar work isn’t always sunshine and lollipops.

Customers can get quite angry if their go-to drink is sold out, and have a tendency to unload their frustrations over a festival’s organisational flaws onto unsuspecting bartenders.

For myself, incidents of this nature are all a part of the festival experience, and make me appreciate the positives of every event I attend a little more.

“If you have the temperament to deal with stressful situations…definitely give it a go,” Tate said.

Rather than focusing on the negatives of a festival and getting frustrated by a lack of internet connection, bar work allows you to enjoy the music and the overall vibe of an event.

Although it’s cliché, time truly flies by when you’re having fun.


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