Heavy metal festivals and pregnancy: recipe for disaster?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: all types of no, why would you even ask that question?

The tales of my adventures in heavy metal could probably fill a book. At least one. I had a good few years of touring drunkenly around Europe: getting into trouble and generally having a fine old time. Gradually, after meeting my husband, I grew out of it – the causing-trouble parts at any rate – but I’ve never stopped loving the music, the sheer atmosphere of a live show. When it comes to my favourite six or seven bands, I’ll still try to get to at least one show on every tour. So when the opportunity arose to go and see Sonata Arctica at RockHarz festival in Germany this summer, I jumped at the chance.

IMG_20160708_083037

Literally a month after I booked my flights, I found out I was pregnant.

Cancelling the trip never even crossed my mind. I did some calculations – I’d be just on six months pregnant by the time July rolled around. Still early enough to fly without a doctor’s note (just); late enough that the morning sickness should have passed. The glorious, glowing second trimester, that’s what everyone says, right? People still seemed surprised, however. I had so many people telling me I should just cancel, that it would be ‘safer’. That I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself.

I’m very glad to say that I proved them wrong. I did have the occasional challenging moment that I wouldn’t have encountered pre-pregnancy, but the bands I went to see were as excellent as always and I had a marvellous time.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my ultimate festival tips for the pregnant people among us – pointing out more than anything that you don’t have to stop doing the things you love just because you’re having a baby!

1) Don’t camp.

Honestly. I know for many people, camping is part of the joy of a music festival. I am not one of those people. I’ve done it: back in 2009 my best friend and I determinedly did the ‘full festival experience’ at Greenfield, Switzerland, neon green pop-up tent and all. It was uncomfortable, but doable.

For somewhat convoluted reasons, this tent was known as 'The Sandal'.

Dearly remembered. Ish.

This time around, my friend and I stayed in a charming little spa hotel about 10km from the festival grounds. My already achy back rejoiced in a comfy bed rather than a dodgy inflatable on solid ground; my battered bladder was very happy with a clean, private toilet with reams of loo roll; my screwed-up sleep pattern would have been toast with hordes of drunken revellers staggering around at four in the morning. This might be a sign of age, but I’d recommend the hotel route for anyone heading to a festival nowadays. Give me a bed and hot water over ‘campground atmosphere’ any day of the week.

2) Do get hold of VIP passes if you possibly can.

At most festivals, you can pay a bit extra for access to special VIP areas. You can also get these if you’re an officially registered photographer, or if you have an in with a band. If you’re pregnant, do this any way you possibly can. At RockHarz, our passes came courtesy of Sonata Arctica (cheers guys!) and honestly, for this alone, keyboardist Henkka Klingenberg is worth his weight in gold.

IMG_20160716_220354

Wristbands of usefulness.

At RockHarz, there was only a small VIP area, cordoned off with a fence and containing a couple of shacks for food and drink, but it had the most important amenity I needed at six months pregnant: proper seating! Not just a patch of questionable grass to call my own when my back started to hurt; actual deckchairs, some in the shade, and some on a sunny platform where we could watch the stages. Honestly, it sounds like such a simple thing, but just having a decent place to sit on and off saved my back and pelvis so much pain. Also, the VIP area actually had working WiFi – luxury indeed in the valley of poor phone signal!

IMG_20160709_132926

Two very happy (aka smug) not-campers in our deckchairs.

3) Don’t put yourself in harm’s way.

This should go without saying really, but when you’re pregnant it’s extra important. Being at a heavy metal festival, obviously you’re always going to encounter mosh pits and headbangers. It’s very true that metal fans are generally a considerate bunch, and will only mosh with clearly willing participants; they’re well-known for practically beating one another up in a pit then helping one another up when they get knocked down. But when you’re pregnant, don’t take any chances: stay away from the pit! For that matter, definitely duck out of the way of crowd surfers too. They’re irritating at the best of the times but when you’re six months pregnant, trust me, you could do without a New Rock boot to the head.

I was lucky during Avantasia when a pit broke out to be standing right behind an absolute tank of  a man, who was utterly immovable and determined to keep his girlfriend out of harm’s way. He was like a walking city wall: useful to have around if you can loiter around a similar specimen.

If things do get a bit much, don’t be a martyr for your friends: you’re going to spoil their fun a lot more by passing out or getting yourself hurt. If you start to feel bad, leave your friends and get out of the stage area to find somewhere to sit (preferably in the nice shiny VIP area). And for the love of god, don’t try sitting down in the middle of the concert area: I encountered someone who did this at a Nightwish gig last December, and honestly, it’s not a good plan if you don’t want to be accidentally booted in the face.

4) Do pick your festival carefully.

This is of course a matter of personal choice, depending on your favourite bands, the weather, the location – many things. I feel that RockHarz really was the perfect festival for me at this stage of pregnancy. It wasn’t huge; we could walk from the car to the stage in ten minutes, and could pootle merrily to the front row without even turning a hair. If I had been at somewhere like Wacken or Download, I would have had to spend most of the day traipsing across potentially muddy fields, and I would have been far more exhausted and achy than I actually ended up.

Equally, being six months pregnant means being hot. Not sexy-hot (though I totally am, obviously), but overheating. It’s just a fact that carrying this extra weight in the middle of summer leads to one big sweaty mess; plus, of course, it’s not healthy to totally overheat while pregnant. A festival in Germany was the ideal choice rather than say, Italy or France: it was sunny enough for me to get a tan (OK, to get my pasty British legs thoroughly burnt, but that was my own fault) but not so hot that I reached dangerous levels of dehydration.

5) Don’t use public transport.

As a non-driver, most of my gig trips have, by necessity, involved getting intimately acquainted with local public transport. I’ve become quite good at it, but it does still sometimes end up with stress: a certain incident in a flooded Czech Republic middle-of-nowhere at 2am springs to mind, trying to call a taxi with a dodgy phone connection and a terrible grasp of the Czech language. When you’re pregnant, you really don’t need that extra strain on your blood pressure, especially in festival locations where timetables can be unreliable at best.

I was lucky on this occasion that my lovely travel companion does own a car and was happy to drive to RockHarz: indeed, it would have been near-impossible to get there without one (thanks to a lot of roadworks, it was near-impossible to get there with one!). It really made the whole festival experience easier for me, especially because of the whole being-pregnant thing. No panic about timetables or taxis, no confusion in a foreign language, somewhere to leave all our junk throughout the day… and most importantly, somewhere I could have a cheeky nap when I inevitably got knackered mid-afternoon.

6) Do remember that non-alcoholic beer exists.

Totally trivial, but it made a difference for me! Personally, it felt a little odd, being at a heavy metal festival without having some form of alcoholic beverage permanently attached to my hand. But you know what? Non-alcoholic beer tastes practically the same as normal beer, especially after months of total abstinence. And it’s also way cheaper. No, you’re not going to get any kind of buzz off it, but being surrounded by great music and atmosphere will give the right effect anyway. For me, it helped to make me feel like I was still the same person I’ve always been – rocking out to some pounding heavy metal, a beer in my hand and a grin on my face – just with a rather more rounded tummy and a miniature future metalhead kicking away inside my uterus.

All in all, I had an absolutely awesome time at RockHarz this year, despite being over six months pregnant and the size of a small boat. It was of course made all the more potent by the fact that it’s probably the last festival I’ll be doing for at least a couple of years. I did see quite a few families ambling round with babies and toddlers (with the requisite ear guards of course) but personally, my husband and I have some other plans for our first couple of family holidays. Rest assured, we’ll be back in proper festival action in the future, the new generation of metalheads proudly keeping live music alive alongside us.

IMG_20160716_220549