I had hoped to head to Download almost as soon as we’d dropped Autumn off at school. However, I hadn’t been able to prepare like I’d wanted to in the run up to the festival weekend. Our home improvements have taken a sudden leap and we had to start getting the house prepared for plastering to begin this week. As such, furniture had to be moved around and it felt like the whole house was upside down. The children had been pretty full on and on Thursday night I went to see Queen + Adam Lambert. It was amazing and I’d been so looking forward to it since it was rescheduled from its original 2020 date (thanks to stupid Covid). As a result, though, I wasn’t at home to start packing things like I really needed to be.
We left home at about half past one and only had to drop Autumn’s things off to my parents’ house on the way. Traffic was so bad that we didn’t make it into the Dartford tunnel until about quarter past 3. It should only take about 15 or 20 minutes to get there, but it had taken almost 2 hours! The trip to Donington Park should take 2 and a half hours from our house but 13 miles had taken nearly as long, I was pretty fed up! I knew at this point that I would definitely be missing some bands I wanted to see.
Having discovered them at Download in 2017, one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was Airbourne. Given the time, my husband dropped Reuben and I off so we could catch most of them while he went to check into the hotel. Unfortunately, it turned out the drop off point was right at the opposite side to the arena. After walking as quickly as I could while pushing a pushchair uphill in the hot sun, I rocked up to Airbourne just in time to hear them saying “goodnight” to the crowd.
Not thinking straight from the heat and stress, I made my way to see the next band I wanted to see. Only, I mixed up the words ‘Doghouse’ and ‘Dogtooth’ . This ended up in me needlessly heading all the way back to the other end where I’d come from, only to realise my mistake when I’d got there. Exhausted, hot and hungry, I decided to refuel with some delicious sounding chips from a Greek food stall. They were meant to have tzatziki, feta and herbs on them. Only they didn’t have feta, so I was offered cheddar. There were also no herbs on it. Of course, I paid through the nose for it too, when it wasn’t even right. Still reeling from my stage faux pas, this didn’t exactly help my mood.
Still, after Reuben and I had finished the chips we walked to meet up with my husband (who had walked from the bottom of the North car park right at the other side and after 35 minutes still wasn’t with us). Things started to improve at this point and we settled down to see Kiss. A lovely guy man spotted us and insisted on giving Reuben some sweetie money! We’d worried how Reuben would be, but he happily watched with us and had a little wander without straying too far.
The second half of the set was definitely more entertaining than the first and I really enjoyed the dramatic visuals of green lights and spewing blood. There were regular bangs and visual effects erupting from the stage throughout too. Once it was over, we trekked to the bottom end of the north car park to find our car. And yes, it really was a trek. A kind man in a car saw us with the pushchair and offered to give us a lift, but we were almost back to our car by then so it would have ended up being more of a hassle.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we walked the 37593 miles from the north car park to the arena on Saturday. Just kidding, it was probably more like 2 miles and took us just over half an hour. It was super windy, but at least the sun was shining after some spots of rain on the motorway!
We took a look at some stalls and I got some patches as I decided to start a battle jacket. I saw so many people with awesome ones and felt inspired to make my own with bands I’d seen live. After some discussion between us, my husband followed suit with loads of other guys at Download and got a kilt! I hadn’t been fussed about seeing Daughtry, but I could hear them as I browsed and their set sounded pretty good. I’ll have to have a proper listen to them and see what I think.
On Friday night we’d found that Reuben didn’t want to keep the ear defenders on, so we made a conscious effort to pick a spot where we could see and hear what was happening without it being too loud for his little ears. Dave had one of the Download-famous huge Yorkshire puddings and I had some delicious hot wok noodles as we watched Mastodon.
Despite some ominous looking clouds appearing from time to time, the weather stayed dry and everyone around us was just living their best lives rocking out! I just about had time to run and get some donuts with salted caramel sauce and crushed Biscoff biscuits before Megadeth started. Things were tense as I tentatively cradled them walking through the crowds…only for Reuben to knock them over as he lunged at me when I got back. Argh! Fortunately, they were edible but most of the Biscoff and salted caramel had come off. Not ideal especially as I’d paid £2 for each topping!
Megadeth were awesome and there was ample time for us to get across to the main stage for Iron Maiden afterwards. Reuben was attracting a lot of attention, as he had all day.
When I’d got my noodles, a Scottish guy congratulated us and shouted “Parenting done right, you’re f***ing legends!” and gave us a fist bump. It felt like everyone was looking out for us and excited to see a new generation being brought up with metal. Imagine my pride when I saw Reuben rocking out to Maiden, clapping along. Other people noticed too and were squeeing over his cuteness!
The first half of Iron Maiden was a bit hit and miss, so I went to look around some of the stalls. One of my favourites was S.O.P.H.I.E. I remember the death of Sophie Lancaster in the news very well. It was just so awful. I found it incredibly disturbing that people would attack someone physically just for the way they chose to dress, let alone to that level. As a teenager that dressed alternatively it worried me on a personal level too. I’d already had people shouting things across the road at me as I walked around. What if one day it turned violent? As such, I was more than happy to visit the stall and make my contribution to her charity.
It was while I was at the stall that the tides began to turn and Iron Maiden played some of their better tracks. You could feel the crowd picking up more as The Trooper’s flag waved on the stage! It was so awesome that we stayed right until the end, although we probably shouldn’t have as Reuben got overtired.
On our way in on Sunday, there was a tannoy telling people which lanes they had to go through. I had to grin as they said “And Lane 4, for pirate families with their adorable blue buggy”. That was us!
There had already been a couple of clashes of bands I wanted to see over the weekend, but Sunday had some of the clashes I was most bothered about. I really wanted to see Bimini, but I love Alestorm and didn’t want to miss out on them! Bimini was so popular that people were bursting out the sides of the tent. Still, I managed to catch a bit of them and their amazing stage presence before going to find a spot to watch Alestorm from. We found two other families with babies for Reuben to rock out with (although actually, he was tired and couldn’t care less about the other babies). Alestorm were without a doubt one of my highlights of the weekend. Of course, nobody could tell we went to see them that day! Ahem.
My husband hadn’t been to The Village, so we headed there once Alestorm had finished being awesome and playing favourites such as F***ed With An Anchor, P.A.R.T.Y. and Mexico. (On a side note, you really have to check them out if you haven’t already. We’ve even had my Nan laughing and singing along to F***ed With An Anchor). In The Village, there was a workout class going on. Even security and all the staff at the food stalls were joining in! We had some lunch and experienced the Download Co Op. Why can’t all Co Ops blast metal from speakers in each aisle? The outside was metal too – if I had my way, all Co Ops would be like this!
I went into a ‘normal’ one a couple of days after coming home from Download and was horrified at how normal it was. No dancing in the aisle. Boring!
Unfortunately, after going back to the arena for Skillet, I realised I had the start of a migraine. Bad timing when I still had more bands to see and really needed to seize every last moment of my last few hours at Download! We watched the beginning of Skillet and they were SO GOOD. I’m gutted to have missed the rest of their set, because we trekked all the way back to The Village to get paracetamol and Red Bull from the Co Op in a bid to fix my poor head.
We just about got back in time for The Darkness. I’ve loved The Darkness since I was about 12 and was excited to finally see them live! Justin Hawkins put on just as enigmatic a performance as I expected. It was also great that they didn’t put a little thing like it being June in the way of performing Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End), complete with red and green pyrotechnics! However, sometimes it was a bit difficult to hear them over Korn who were on the main stage (another clash that I was mad about). It did give me the advantage of being able to hear some of my favourite Korn songs from time to time though, to run over to the main stage to listen to them instead!
By the time Steel Panther came on, the Red Bull and paracetamol had done the trick and I was feeling a lot better. Perhaps needless to say, they were very popular! My husband had not seen them before and I think he was a bit…surprised! Haha. With their energetic songs and hilarious antics and presence, they definitely brought me out of the tiredness I was feeling at the end of the weekend. As for the Ozzy Osbourne impression to Crazy Train, well…it was so spot on, I couldn’t stop laughing.
I was so sad that the weekend had finally almost come to an end as we made our way over to watch Biffy Clyro. Now, there has been a lot of complaining online about Biffy being the Sunday headliner. I’m not sure that they should have been the headliner, I’ll agree, but we do like Biffy so we stayed to watch. They put on a really good show and I enjoyed them as the end to the long weekend.
There was a really nice vibe as we sang along to their songs. It probably also helped that I had one of the yummiest mojitos I’ve ever had from the cocktail bar. I was happily pretending to be a pirate with my rum, singing along as we walked back to the car park. We had a long drive ahead and Reuben was tired, so we didn’t stay until the end. However, we could hear Many of Horror as we got to the last part of the race track and saw the fireworks behind us. A great end to an amazing weekend!
Having not been to Download for 5 years, I had forgotten just how much I loved it. Of course it’s about the music, but it isn’t just about the music. It’s the sense of family and belonging. The vast majority of people there are amazing and I had so many conversations with complete strangers also just living their best lives. I felt like I could just be completely myself there and it was apparent so many others felt the same too. It was a celebration for my 30th birthday, but I would go every year if it wasn’t so expensive! I just so badly want to do it all over again. Roll on the next time. I already can’t wait!