I went to Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Luton and here’s what happened

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I laughed, I cried and I was aching all over by the end of it. Luton knows how to put on a truly unforgettable weekend!

Since announcing that Radio 1’s Big Weekend would be coming to Luton, there has been a buzz in the town as people got ready to welcome over 100,000 to Stockwood Park.

And as hyped up as the festival was, it is safe to say that it did not disappoint. Our reporter, Olivia Preston, went to all three days of the festival and here’s what she made of the Big Weekend.

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I was as shocked as anyone when I first heard that the BBC had chosen Luton to host its Big Weekend festival, bringing world-class musicians to Stockwood Park for the first time.

Our reporter spent three days at the festivalOur reporter spent three days at the festival
Our reporter spent three days at the festival

The park was transformed with scores of food trucks, colourful punting, posters, a Tardis and four huge stages.

I was lucky enough to be invited to report on all three days, and it most definitely lived up to the hype!

This was the first year that the BBC has put on acts on the Friday, and it was a success. The walk up to Farley Hill was a killer, especially in the sun, but I was not complaining. The excitement was palpable as swarms of fans made their way to the park from the train station.

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The helpful Festival Makers were on hand to guide us and give out ponchos, which came in very handy on Sunday.

Me with Melvin, Charlie and Rickie. Picture: Olivia PrestonMe with Melvin, Charlie and Rickie. Picture: Olivia Preston
Me with Melvin, Charlie and Rickie. Picture: Olivia Preston

I was first struck by how surprisingly easy it was to get from one stage to another. The park wasn’t massive so I wasn’t left to traipse for miles to see an act on the other side of the park.

Becky Hill started off the festival, by getting fans on their feet. Between sets, the Radio 1 DJs kept the energy going, hyping up the crowd for the next act.

There was a real mix of people there, with lots of families - including those with babies in arms, with ear defenders, so they could safely enjoy the music. The young and old danced the night away, as planes took off and landed overhead.

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For the most part, there was a sea of smiling faces and a great vibe. There was little to no violence and animosity that you have to get used to at other festivals.

I ended up making friends in the crowd, and even spotted some mates who also happened to be there! The low cost of the ticket, in comparison to other big festivals, was a draw for many, especially those living nearby.

On the BBC Introducing Stage, Eliza, an eight-year-old from Marston Moretaine, was over the moon to get a wave from JGrrey. This stage was great for getting up close and personal with some of the biggest up-and-coming artists in the country, and Luton’s own JW Paris, Ryussi, Myles Smith and Lavz all performed here.

Hands were in the air for Eric Prydz before walking back to the Main Stage for Chase and Status. I’d say there was a younger crowd for Friday.

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Another highlight of the day was seeing Natasha Bedingfield come out to perform ‘Unwritten’ with Ella Henderson. Nobody was expecting it.

Rudimental got the crowd jumping and it was refreshing to be able to see the stage and not just a sea of iPhones recording.

On Saturday, we decided to get the 321 Arriva bus from the Luton Interchange instead of going up the dreaded Farley Hill again. It struggled to get the packed single-decker up the winding roads, but we arrived in one piece before a short walk to collect our wristbands.

Passing through the metal detectors and security was a breeze, and sniffer dogs greeted us before we were let into the park. Saturday was about 18 degrees, and the warm weather made it feel like summer as the feel-good anthems played.

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While I donned my best party outfit, I felt like I was missing something as I didn’t have glitter, a feather boa or a cowboy hat!

I listened to Bedford lad Alfie Templeman perform, with his band. While I didn’t know any of his groovy indie tunes, I couldn’t help but tap my foot into what felt like very familiar songs. The 20-year-old kept on singing despite some technical issues with his guitar.

I spoke to lots of people, asking them if they wanted to pose for a picture for the newspaper. It was obvious that the majority of people were from Luton, their beaming smiles being the first giveaway. That and the thousands of Luton Town FC shirts I spotted.

The festival was a real tonic for the town, with the mayor, Councillor Tahmina Saleem, estimating that the Big Weekend had helped bring in around £4 million for the local economy.

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My best friend, Libby, joined me at the festival and remarked: “Everyone’s just in the best mood.”

I met 21-year-old Jaala, born and raised in the town. This was her first festival and I was so happy to have been able to come. She said: “I don’t really like crowds, but this has such good vibes - especially since the sun is out.”

Speaking of crowds, for families and those who were overwhelmed, there was a special quiet tent for people to have a breather before getting stuck back into the party.

It was fantastic to chat with so many Lutonians who were proud that BBC Radio 1 had chosen them this year. I spoke with David, Holly and their one-year-old Aoife. They live just five minutes away from the venue. David said: “The noise was alright in the evening, you could only really hear it if you went outside. The traffic’s been a lot better than I thought it was going to be.”

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In the New Music tent, I made some friends, Roo and Ashlea, while listening to Cat Burns cover ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. The girls told me about the acts of kindness the people of Luton had shown them during their time in the town. They had struggled to get a lift to their hotel, but a friendly passer-by offered to drop them off free of charge.

Roo said: “Everyone is so friendly here. Everyone’s talking to each other. Nothing like Reading [Festival]. It has been nice.”

On the same stage, we saw Tems, Shygirl (with her fierce queer dancers) and Charli XCX. Because there was so much I wanted to see I was very aware of the timings and made sure I got back to the Main Stage to watch Aitch, Mabel and Rag’n’Bone Man.

Despite having a busy day, there was time to sit, chill and mingle with the crowds, many of whom had packed blankets to sit on.

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Raye, with her 11-piece orchestra, was sensational. Her 1940s-style waved hair and applique roses on her dress: she was a picture! She sounded incredible and her song, Ice Cream Man, about her own experience with sexual assault, was so profound that people in the crowd shed a tear during the track.

Towards the end of Saturday, the ground had started to get a little muddy, a sign of things to come for Sunday, when the heavens opened.

The sun was trying to break through the clouds, but sadly it was raining on and off throughout the day. But I guess it wouldn't be England without a bit of that.

I got to sit down with Radio 1 DJs Melvin, Rickie and Charlie, two of whom met whilst studying in Luton. Over 20 years ago, Melvin and Rickie lived together in the town during their years at the University of Bedfordshire.

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Melvin said: “It’s kind of surreal because this is where Rickie discovered me, Melvin Odoom, and now he can’t get rid of me. It was such a buzz, everyone was so excited. It has been an honour to be back and celebrate in such a way.”

It was inspiring to see the pair flying the flag for Luton years after calling the town home.

Charlie Hedges added: “I don’t know what the misconceptions of Luton are, but all I know is I have had the best weekend. The minute those gates opened, the energy and the vibe was unreal.”

I took a dander to the Dance Stage where fists were punching the air as people grooved to some remixed tunes.

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I spoke with JW Paris’ singer, Aaron, after his performance, in which the band threw shirts into the crowd. He said: “It was so good. I couldn’t sleep much last night, but it wasn’t as nerve-racking as I had thought.”

Olly Alexander, hot off his Eurovision stint, played his first gig on his own, after leaving Years and Years.

The mayor, who was only four days into her new job, got to go to her first-ever festival. She said: “We’ve never had an event like this in Luton before. 100,000 people are here, that’s half the town’s population coming over three days. Would you have thought that Stockwood Park would become a world-class venue as it has?”

In attendance were some Love Islanders and I spotted ITV newsreader, Sharlene White, having a boogie.

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AJ Tracey’s set was safe from the elements, but London Grammar seemed to jinx things as they mentioned the weather moments before the rain poured again.

For pop superstar, Sabrina Carpenter (who looked like a real-life Bratz doll with her orange mermaid dress and oversized gogo boots) the rain fell even heavier, but was followed by a rainbow right across the sky.

I squealed as Olivia Dean shimmied onto the New Music Stage. I am a huge fan of hers and hearing her velvety voice live did not disappoint. It is always a relief when your favourite singer sounds just as good in person as they do through your earphones. I couldn’t help but get emotional as she sang a tribute to her grandma.

The atmosphere in the huge carnival-like tent was electric, and I was thrilled to hear Olivia play some new music just for us.

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Ramping up to arguably the biggest act of the whole event….Coldplay. Each attendee was given a wristband which lit up during their performance. There were fireworks, tears, a very special song just for Luton and thousands of people singing as one. It was the perfect end to an epic weekend of music.

For me, my least favourite part of the festival was the price of the food. Festivals are indeed a rip-off! Or that fact that there was rail disruption, with scores of trains cancelled. This just added an unnecessary element of stress to the day.

But the best part was seeing my favourite artist, Olivia Dean, in the flesh and getting to speak to so many Lutonians who were over the moon to have their town showcased in such a great way.

A big thank you to the BBC team for all their help and hard work to make the three days seem like a dream!

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