A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there was a girl. It was the 80s, so she had a bad perm, braces on her teeth, and hair dyed as black as her soul. This is the story of how that girl came to be one of the most dedicated volunteers in the Steelhouse Festival family.
She lived in Wales, in the middle of nowhere. She thought there was nothing to do – nowhere to go, nothing to see – but there were others like her. Not all with bad hair, but there were people with something in common, and that something was music – to be specific, heavy metal. In the sixth-form common room, there was metal. On the school bus, there was metal. And, as time went on, there were trips to London, Birmingham and Bristol to see metal in person. Allegiances were made and friendships founded. Then life happened – people went to university, found jobs, got married, had kids, and lost touch.
That girl with bad hair was me, and two decades passed before I found my motley crew again. It was 2010, my dad had just died, and I found myself struggling to cope with life. To my surprise, I heard that there was a metal festival taking place for the first time near Ebbw Vale, just a few miles from where I live. “Why don’t you go?” my mam said. “Your dad would want you to go”. But I didn’t go, because my crushing grief would have made it impossible for me or anyone in my vicinity to enjoy themselves.
But, in the months that followed, the organisers of the Steelhouse Festival started to put on club nights. Tentatively, I joined them – and guess who was there? The aforementioned inhabitants of that far-away world. The drinks flowed, the music was great, and the forgotten friendships reignited. We all knew the organisers and thought they were brilliant. And then, a strange thing happened: I asked if I could help. This was very out of character for me, but I was in the midst of an existential crisis and for a moment it seemed like a good idea. I was required to demonstrate new skills, to count money, and to put wristbands on people coming to the club nights. I managed it, and the following year, I found myself stewarding at the second ever Steelhouse Festival, up on a mountain near Ebbw Vale.
I spent the festival wedged into the box office – and it was so much fun that I knew I had landed in the perfect place. We were all squeezed into one cabin, serving the public’s needs through a single window. Then we spilled out through the door, staying on our feet until we couldn't stand it any more. And then the next year came around and I volunteered again, and again, and, well, we’re into our ninth year and I’m still here.
The volunteer staff are different now. Every year new people ask if they can help, and we (usually!) say yes. Many of them return year after year. We don’t actually know why – we’ve talked about it and decided that it’s weird, because here's the deal:
- It often rains
- It’s often pretty cold
- There’s no running water
- We maintain a healthy level of bickering
- You live in a tent or (more recently) a shipping container for the weekend
- You don’t get paid
- Because of points one, two and three, people can get a bit grumpy and shout at you
However, we love it. We want people to have nothing to complain about, so we try to make Steelhouse the way we would want a festival to be, if we were going to one. That’s why we try to maintain beer prices year-on-year. That’s why we employ a fully-qualified cwtcher (hugger) in the box office. That’s why you don’t have to walk far to get from the car park to the campsite, and or from the campsite to the arena. And why we tow your car out if it gets stuck. It's why we have lots of different food and good coffee on offer. And why, if you want to talk to the farmer who owns the land, you can. Basically, we are always ready to help you with whatever you need.
Apart from the security guards and the people behind the food stalls and bars, we are all volunteers – and we work hard for the simple reason that there's nowhere we'd rather be.