“I was worried about my first festival, but I’ve loved every minute of it”

03 July 2019
Sally sat on the grass at a music festival.

Sally Watt was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) when she was just 11 years old. It's had a massive impact on her life, including long periods when she hasn't been able to walk, wash or dress herself.

Despite the physical and emotional impact of her condition, Sally is an avid festival go-er and hasn’t let arthritis stop her rocking out to her favourite bands over the years. Here, she shares her experience with us, along with some great festival top tips and advice.

When did you first decide you wanted to go to a festival?

Some of my friends talked me into going to my first festival. It was Download 2010 and I saw Rage Against the Machine, who were amazing. Download has been awarded for their accessibility, so it was a great one to start with.

I've been going ever since with the exception of one year when I wasn't able to go due to a hip replacement. I did actually make it to Glastonbury that year as it was a few weeks later, but I went in a caravan and missed a lot of the festival. I don’t think my surgeon was very happy about it!

Was it daunting attending your first one?

I was definitely worried about going for the first time, I've been going camping since I was really little so that bit didn't bother me, it was more getting around the site I was anxious about.

I didn't know what to expect or what facilities they’d have for disabled people. I was quite poorly at the time, so it wasn't easy, but the campsite was quite close to the arena at that point, so I watched some bands from there.

How long have you been going to festivals for now? Have you enjoyed them?

I’ve been going for 10 years now and I've loved every minute of it. I wouldn't go back if I didn't enjoy it. 

That’s not to say it’s always been smooth sailing; the first time I went to Glastonbury I was so worried. I phoned home and asked my parents to come and pick me up, but they reassured me and talked me into staying and I'm so glad they did, I had the time of my life, and then went back a couple of years later.

What tips and advice would you give to other people with arthritis who are thinking about attending a festival?

My advice would be to get organised – read up on the festival’s access options and make sure you apply well in advance so you've got everything you need. I apply for everything; accessible campsite, disabled parking, viewing platforms, accessible toilets, but this is all done about 4 months in advance.

The accessible campsites are very well equipped. There are fridges to store medication, charging points for wheelchairs, minibuses to take you round the site and at some festivals you can hire off-road scooters, which can be great when the mud sets in! There are always volunteers around to help you if you need anything too.

Disabled people can also drive onto the campsite, so you don't have to worry about carrying everything.

To make sure I’m as comfortable as possible at night and to ensure I get a good sleep, I use a raised camp bed as I can't get down on the floor. I take loads of blankets, thick winter pyjamas and a spare hoodie to sleep in.

I would advise someone with arthritis to speak to their consultant or rheumatology nurse beforehand because they might be able to help. I double up on some medication about a week before to make sure I can get through the weekend. And keep on top of painkillers while you're there.

Definitely pace yourself and keep reminding yourself that you're not going to see everything, save your energy for the bands you really want to see. I've missed many bands that are lower down the bill by having a little sleep in the afternoon, I don't know how I slept though the noise, but I did!

Make sure you take lots of layers and stuff that will dry quickly if you get wet. Invest in some decent waterproofs and some good wellies! Oh, and get a funky bum bag, it helps with shoulder pain! In my opinion, you don’t need to buy into all these festival fashion items they do on the TV because it's not all practical. Remember you're in a field, it gets cold at night and you're probably going to get wet. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best!

My friends are always with me. Most festivals do a free PA ticket scheme and I can take another two people into the campsite, although that depends on the festival. They push my wheelchair and help keep me topped up with food and drinks throughout. Make sure you eat; you will need the energy!

Make sure you don't drink too much! I don't drink very often anyway because of my medication. I might have a couple while I'm there but I'm careful about how much.

And finally, give yourself plenty of time to recover afterwards, it's a massive weekend and takes me weeks to get over it. Lots of rest and recuperation is needed.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with people?

Enjoy yourself, you're only there once and it's a great experience.

Keep in touch

If like Sally, you’d like to share your experience or have any tips and advice for attending festivals or events over the summer, please email us at mystory@versusarthritis.org. If you’re looking for support with anything else we’re here to help.