Photos: Nina van der Bent

Fieldlab festival: ‘It looked like we were celebrating the end of Covid'

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How about finally being able to attend a festival again? Former UU student Nina van der Bent was one of the lucky ones who could experience that as a scientific test subject. She shared her experience with DUB: “I would rather queue up for the toilets at a festival a hundred times over than for a disinfected basket at the supermarket".

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Last weekend, 3,000 people had the chance to pretend the coronavirus doesn't exist. Half of them attended a dance festival on Saturday, and the other half a pop festival on Sunday. The beer flowed in abundance and the bass drummed across the famous festival grounds of Biddinghuizen. In the name of science and journalism, I unabashedly went crazy, with total disregard for the Covid rules. All of this to be able to answer the all-embracing question: have we forgotten how to do this?

The run-up to this festival was by no means "normal". On Friday, a coronavirus test awaited me as it was one of the requirements to get in, besides my ticket. Only after a negative result, the real preparations could begin: after all, what do you take to a festival? Normally, when you go out with me, you can rest assured we're prepared for everything. I always bring an extra disposable poncho, tissues, or earplugs. That wasn't the case this time, though. All my festival knowledge had been watered down over the past year, so I went there with a backpack full of thermal clothing, which ended up sitting untouched in the locker throughout the entire festival.

I was tested one more time upon arrival. It was an antigen test, which means (in addition to the cotton swab being pushed into your brain for a longer time) that you get a result within 15 minutes. The result is mailed to you in a waiting room where the atmosphere is pretty tense, similar to the waiting room at the Central Bureau of Motor Vehicles, after you've taken a driving exam. Testing positive at this point means dropping out right before the finish line. Fortunately, that was not the case for me and my fellow festival-goer. Before the entrance, we went through another temperature check and were given a tag that would register our movements. That was it. We were finally inside.

And what's that like, a festival, after so many months of sitting inside with the same four people every day? Perhaps you're thinking people might feel a little uncomfortable to be around each other, but it wasn't that bad. Only in the beginning did people seem a bit uneasy. They made sure to keep their distance from each other while queuing up for the toilet and the front rows were not as tightly packed as they usually are. People were actually supposed to wear a face mask, but of course none of them did. Singing, drinking beer or shouting in someone's ear is hard to do with a face mask, and we visitors were looking forward to doing all that without one.

This burning desire was evidenced by the overwhelming enthusiasm of the audience. Froukje, who has stayed on top of all the music charts during the pandemic, said that “she never stood in front of such a large audience before”. She enjoyed each track as if she had just watched the winning goal in a World Cup final. The first moshpit of the festival happened during the second act, Gotu Jim, and when Maan began playing a ballad, the audience opted for a sit-down, which usually means a lot of jumping and cheering afterwards. In short: it seemed as though the end of the Covid era was already being celebrated on Sunday, the 21st of March.

I was no exception. Whereas in the supermarket I am usually annoyed by people getting too close to me and my aura, during the festival the opposite was true. I could smell other people's sweat mixed with their last vestiges of perfume and that didn't annoy me at all. The tolerance towards each other was exceptionally high. At one point I was so busy dancing that I knocked a beer out of someone's hand, who then enthusiastically drank from my cup. Such unsanitary practices are almost unthinkable now, a day later.

On other fronts, too, the festival went on as usual. Towards the end, two people were kissing in a secluded corner, and all through the festival I spotted people whose pupils were so dilated I was pretty sure they could see the northern lights. The not so attractive part of festivals was there, too: paying a small fortune for tokens and queueing up for the toilets. “I haven't missed this at all”, people around me sighed. But I disagree: I would rather queue up for the toilet at a festival a hundred times over than for a disinfected basket at the supermarket.

As far as I'm concerned, terms such as "the new normal" should be thrown in the bin. Corona is a bitter pill we have to swallow but, fortunately, it is only temporary, as I learned last weekend. The sooner we can return to the old normal, the better. If you look at the strict organization and the lack of infections, that doesn't seem far away at all. At least the Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, was able to see it with her own eyes, since she was also present at Maan's concert. I raised my glass to her in the hope that she will soon make this possible for all students. After all, my report is as hopeful as it is disappointing: the new normal is just the old normal, only we have to wait a little longer for it.

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