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2011 Reading and Leeds Festival - Guide, Preview, Hints, Tips and Advice

Despite some newer upstarts we always see the Reading and Leeds weekend as the last big party of the summer!  Looking back, despite what the occasional mud in the photos tells us, we always remember it as a hazy, band packed, exiting last blow-out before we all have to settle down and wait for Glastonbury Festival to roll around again. We've been working with the Reading Festival for over 20 years and the Leeds Festival since its conception so hopefully our PAAM event staff Reading and Leeds Guide will help you to get the most out of the August Bank Holiday weekend!

History of the Reading and Leeds Festivals

2011 Reading Festival and Leeds Festival Guide, Preview, Hints, Tips and Advice - Reading Festival Main StageThe Offspring describe Reading as the ‘grand old dame’ of the festival circuit and they’re pretty bang on the money. Reading Festival can trace its roots back to a festival in Richmond in the early 60s, giving it nearly ten years on Glastonbury, though the festival didn’t settle in Reading until 1971. Then in 1999 someone at Festival Republic (then Mean Fiddler) decided it was unfair to keep all the action down south and opened up a northern leg in Leeds...

The Reading and Leeds Festival Crowd

The Reading and Leeds crowd is quite a bit younger than most other festival crowds; this is what gives the shows their insatiable energy. Even in the (infrequent) wet years the crowd buzzes with enthusiasm, be that for the headliners in the arena or chasing a mop around the campsite. Yes the campsites can get a little odd after the bands finish – we’ll go into that in a while! For many of the crowd at Reading and Leeds the headliners are only a small draw. Despite their younger age we generally think the crowd at Reading and Leads have a deeper musical knowledge than the other big festivals. We used to play a drinking game related to obscure band t-shirts seen around the campsite – though we had to give up as it started becoming dangerous to our health...

The Reading and Leeds Arenas

The sites are a bit different but both have ‘no nonsense’ arenas. Latitude Festival has the tag line of ‘more than a music festival’; well Reading and Leeds are pure music festivals for music fans. 2011 Reading Festival and Leeds Festival Guide, Preview, Hints, Tips and Advice - Leeds Festival ArenaThe arenas are fairly compact which means you can dash between stages quickly, catch bits of one set, then nip off to another. This works really well and means you generally don’t find yourself seeing the end of one band only to face a half hour walk to get over to another stage where the band playing have just finished playing the songs you really wanted to see! The downside of this is there isn’t much space to relax. Though you can always sit at the back of the main stage crowd or pop into the alternative stage and catch some of the non-musical entertainment. That crowd energy we mentioned is very present in the arena. The huge mosh pits at the front of the bigger stages are very fun but certainly not for the faint hearted. Similarly, watching people literally jumping with excitement outside the Radio 1/NME (second) stage as the band they’re running to catch comes on never fails to make us smile.

The Reading and Leeds Campsites

As we mentioned earlier the campsites at the Reading and Leeds Festivals have a distinct feel to them; they’re not quite like anywhere you’ll have ever been before! Once the bands stop all that energy gets put into some really odd ventures; mass pillow fights, flash mobs, Dave raves (raves with small portable stereos where everyone claims to be called Dave), multiple limbo competitions and more than a few full on games of cricket! 2011 Reading Festival and Leeds Festival Guide, Preview, Hints, Tips and Advice - Reading Festival Campsite Mud DragonAlongside the homemade entertainment there is some officially laid on entertainment too. At Leeds there are campsite DJs and the Piccadilly Party playing music well into the night. At Reading there is the ActionAid Tent where you can dance till the small hours and two silent discos (setup due to the festival site’s proximity to Reading town centre), where you can carry on even later... Its’ worth noting that the campsites at the Reading and Leeds Festivals are significantly louder, and people stay up far later, than at most other festivals. As you get further away from the arena and deeper into the campsite they calm down a bit and if a good night’s sleep is your cup of tea (seriously?!) then each site has a dedicated quiet campsite.

Reading or Leeds Festival, which is the best?

2011 Reading Festival and Leeds Festival Guide, Preview, Hints, Tips and Advice - Leeds Festival CampsiteThis is an on-going discussion with the Reading loyalists sticking to the ‘it’s the original and still the best’ argument and the Leeds converts arguing that Leeds is the new and improved version. As they share a line-up it often boils down to the site. Reading’s site is in the middle of town, a short walk from the station and all the amenities which is equally a blessing and a curse. You can pop into town to get a cold beer, pick up some shopping and use the conveniences. But it restricts late night noise. Leeds is out in the country. This means the festival has more space to expand so it doesn’t feel as cramped and the late night entertainment can be louder. Although it also means you can’t just pop down to a pub on Sunday afternoon for a roast if you fancy it. We’ll probably never agree on which is better but it’s always fun to have a bit of a row about whether the new upstart can compare with the old master. Leeds copying Reading since 1999, or Leeds being everything Reading wished it was since 1999...

Who to see at Reading and Leeds...

Below we’ve listed our top 5 picks of this year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals. Generally we’ve ignored the big bands as chances are you will already know about them, instead we’ve picked out some of the smaller acts we think you might like...

Fight Like Apes on The Festival Republic Stage

As we mentioned in our Big Chill preview they are our band of the moment. Combining excitement, anger, synths, guitars and a voice to equal Florence from Florence and the Machine. Despite their small crowd at The Big Chill they blew us away and we will definitely be making a beeline for them again at Reading and Leeds.

Foster The People on the Festival Republic Stage

If you like MGMT you’ll love them. Pumped up Kicks has been one of the theme tunes of our summer.

Flogging Molly on the Lock Up Stage

They’re a folk punk band who will play a brilliantly raucous and sweaty set. One of the most fun bands to monkey dance to, ever!

Frank Turner on the Main Stage

This generations Bob Dylan? Perhaps not, although when it comes to man and an acoustic guitar you have to go a long way to find someone better than Frank. His lyrics have an honest, passionate edge that brings his songs to life and he’s also normally very good for a sing-along.

The Offspring on the Main Stage

Okay we said we’d steer clear of the big bands but seriously, The Offspring are more or less Reading and Leeds’ house band. Every time they play, which is more or less every other year, they go down a storm and we have a brilliant time. Also we quoted them in this post, so it’s only fair really isn’t it...