It's different for many reasons, but mainly because of the people. Everyone's there for the music and nobody is there just to be seen or with the sole intention of getting messily drunk (that lot are at V, which tends to fall on the same weekend). That and the exhilaratingly beautiful backdrop of the black mountains make Green Man the most laid back and enjoyable festival that we have ever been to. It's also amazing for families. It's a comfortable place to take a child, with an unspoken understanding that everyone looks out for each other, especially those with kids. As Rory made one of his many escape attempts through the crowds this year, I noticed a lot of people watching him run, then looking around to check that there was a parent hot on his tail. "Want me to grab him?" asked another dad on a similar mission for his escapee toddler as I dashed past. "No need", I shouted back, putting on a sprint, "I'll catch the little bugger in a minute". This is what brings us back again and again.
Mind you, going to a festival with your small child is an entirely different experience to attending without one. Gone are the days of going through the programme with a highlighter pen, working out how best to see 60 bands over the course of three days. Now we camp out at the main stage most of the time, sometimes venturing into the more child friendly areas (more about them later). There is no more lying on the grass, pleasantly drunk on cider, eyes shut, absorbing in the music. Any attempt at this will result in two stone of toddler jumping squarely on your stomach with a gleeful cry of "PILE ON MUMMY". There will be no drinking of alcohol as smalls love nothing better than filching your food and drink and you will be forced to down a pint in 20 seconds with a whining child hanging off your leg repeating "Rory have a tiny bit. Please Rory have a tiny bit" ad nauseam. Also, you're not going to be able to see any of the headliners because it's well past bedtime. What there will be are a lot of attempts on the small child's part to jump into whichever pond/quagmire is closest, a fair amount of whinging, a trip to the children's area and an awful lot of ice creams. It's also helpful to note that, while children are not exactly quieter outside, they are definitely less concentrated, in that their manic energy and ear splitting shrieks have no walls to bounce off, and therefore they are much less migraine inducing.
As for the actual performances, some will fare better than others against the tyranny of a toddler. This year, the Avett Brothers gave a performance so amazing that even Rory trying to push his father and I in to a big thorny bush throughout failed to mar it. The Burns Unit fared pretty well even though he sang Meet The Veggies from Mr Bloom's Nursery most of the way through their set, and he was lulled into near compliance and quiet by Dry The River. However, The Leisure Society didn't fare so well as he was throwing a paddy about not wanting to eat a pie out of a box throughout most of their set, Robyn Hitchcock might have been brilliant, but I'll never know as I spent the entire time chasing Rory up and down the hill as he made a bid for freedom, and poor Laura Marling's sweet, fragile vocals didn't stand a chance against my son announcing at the top of his voice to all within a 50 metre radius that he had "got BIGGEST POO IN WHOLE WORLD LURKING UP BOTTOM," which was not really getting into the spirit of things, although you have to admire his use of the verb 'to lurk'.
On the bright side, he ate a lot less insects than he did last year and was able to walk for longer periods, which is kinder on your back when you're heaving a pushchair about. He was chuffed with his wrist band, especially after we told him that pressing it makes the music get louder, after which he spent much of his time standing, legs apart, arms aloft Thundercats style, pressing it and shouting "ROCK POWER". Also, he was old enough to appreciate parts of the Future Generations children's area this year and happily plopped himself down on the floor in a tent and looked through a huge selection of books and played with all the action men while Rich and I relaxed for a bit. There is also have the beautiful Einstein's Garden - a large area dedicated to fun sciencey activities with a solar powered stage which features quirky bands playing throughout the day so you don't feel that you've been deprived of your music fix while you play splat the rat with your child. Rory was particularly enamoured with this area, as he was last year, and had lots of fun squishing clay about, swinging on a hammock, conversing with some chickens and impaling other people's dads on construction sticks. He also pulled in the gypsy caravan, which his father found quite commendable. We also managed to take it in turns to babysit, me putting Rory to bed while Rich went back and saw Explosions in the Sky, and Rich taking him up the tree house while I had the pleasure of watching an unexpected performance by John Cooper Clarke in the Literature tent
On the last night, he finally fell asleep mid way through The Low Anthem, which we found rather appropriate as they are one of our bands of choice to listen to on our rare child free evenings (Me: "what are you putting on?" Rich: "The Low Anthem." Me: "Great. There's some of those Gu chocolate pots in the fridge, do you want one?" Rich: "Hell yes. And some wine. There must be wine." Me: "I'm going to eat mine lying on my back on the floor because there's nobody here to jump on me." Rich: "Good call." And so another night is spent lying in silence on the laminate flooring, eyes shut, savouring the very child-free-ness of it all). As he finally succumbed to sleep, we sat on the grass and allowed our bodies to relax after a weekend that, like the occasional child free night after weeks of extreme parenting, was all the better for chasing a little boy up through the crowds, eating too much ice-cream and rolling down the hill over and over again until we hurt from laughing. During the whiney bits, we'd briefly discussed the possibility of going on our own next year so we can have a drink, but I know we'll take him with us because he enjoys it so much, and I'd miss our crazy little mate if he wasn't there.
On the journey back home, Rory was quieter than usual, worn out from a combination of fresh air, sunshine and late nights and humming quietly to himself. "Liked all that rock and roll" he announced happily while kicking the back of my seat. Welcome to the fold little muso baby. I can't wait for you to make me a mix tape.