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Glastonbury 2011 review

published: Wed 29th Jun 2011


Wednesday 22nd to Sunday 26th June 2011
Worthy Farm, Pilton, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 4AZ, England MAP
£195 - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 175000
last updated: Wed 29th Jun 2011

Glastonbury Festival used to be the icon of alternative culture, and it's grown and grown, until now it's the hot ticket, boasting a superstar line-up, and last weekend the festival was embraced by people from all walks of life who had one thing in common to have two years worth of fun in the mud and sunshine.

This year we finally got U2 as headliners, and they put on a fan pleasing old school, and slightly subdued set, that failed to ignite the whole field, I hear Primal Scream offered a more ballsy performance on the Other Stage. Coldplay were just as pedestrian, but got the crowd more on board, and lit up the stage with projections flowing across the iconic stage. Surprisingly Beyonce delivered an energetic flawless, polished performance that had the crowd, including men in leotards, dancing and singing along throughout, with a set including a Destiny's Child medley, Eurhythmic's 'Sweet Dreams', and it was only her new material which fell a little flat. But it doesn't matter a jot about the headliners really, in reality every one of the 177,000 people who came together at Pilton had a different set of acts they saw over the weekend that made it special for them.

Netsky, Skream & Benga, Plan B, and Professor Green are just some of the names who rocked the Dance Village, with Katy B providing the biggest draw of the weekend. Paul Simon brought out the most Festival goers to stand in the blazing sun to pack the Pyramid field. Self confessed fans of the Festival, Elbow, also drew a huge audience, as did both 'secret' headliners Pulp, and Radiohead.

Orbital @ Arcadia
These bands, who, like dance legends Orbital, have grown up with Glastonbury, and proved a huge attraction to large numbers of Festival goers. Many having to navigate long queues in the mud. These were defining moments I felt. With thousands of fans disappointed either because the fields were too full to get in, or because the sound was too poor, and they could not see a glimpse of their icons. although in Orbital's case this was not a problem as the pair rotated above the crowds. However the packed conditions in the Park put many people off returning their over the weekend. Perhaps it's time to return to secret Pyramid Stage acts, at least that field has the capacity and geography to cope.

But although these big names failed to work well as large unannounced gigs, it is often the 'secret gigs' that make this Festival special. It's these small intimate shows by the likes of Molotov Jukebox, Treetop Flyers, Ed Sheeran, Nessi Gomes, and their peers in the smaller unbilled stages that make Glastonbury special. My personal highlight was The Fisherman's Friends appearance in the Cornish Arms pub.

around the festival site (Shangri La)
The billed South East corner offered another major low point for Festival goers, as they queued without success to get in and suffered major crushing in the mud once in the slippery darkly lit lanes of Shangri La. Where once festival goers would stumble upon it by accident, now there is a special access route, waiting time signs, and glowing arrows to attract the whole late night crowd en masse. No longer offering a more edgy alternative to the festival proper, it's become an eye popping stage show. But, what a show, from the fire, electricity, and laser gorging Arcadia, through District 9, and the Blade Runner themed Shangri-La to the dancing fire girls and twisted metal of The Unfairground and Latin twist of The Common, boasting a new area.

around the festival site (Campo Pequeno)
The Campo Pequeno and Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital were great additions, the latter offering an intimate stage within a field hospital and guests like Ed Sheeran, and Raghu Dixit. Plus a container treatment centre where festival goers can chill out on treatment beds and chat to MSF staff about their work in Haiti, read and watch videos about their work. Campo Pequeno proved to be a great addition, mixing acrobatics, fire, robot animals, and dance with a line-up including Zero 7, 2 Bears, Rob Mello, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Justin Robertson, and more. Farmer Michael Eavis was even there to watch the opening night's show. There were also strange venues offering broken fortune telling machines, the lost cinema, motorbikes racing around the Wall of Death, and venues to drink and dance the night away.

Another more peaceful escape from the sensory overload ensuing was Strummerville which showcased intimate gigs around the fire with highlights including Treetop Flyers, Molotov Jukebox, Shoplifting For Jesus (featuring Alabama 3 members), Beans on Toast, and The Supernovas.

around the festival site (3)
The Spirit of '71 Stage proved my personal favourite line-up, boosted by it's proximity to the G Stage, Sometimes the programme fluctuated, and that just added to the old school feel. However the location meant it suffered from pooling water, and there was never much of a crowd there, and those that were had to be gathered in front of the stage to hear the acts clearly. The Function One powered stage offered a line-up of a few of the forgotten sounds of festivals past. Just as Avalon and Croissant Neuf are providing the modern take with showcases of acts that are the lifeblood of the UK festival scene. Two places where UK festival circuit regulars regularly bump into each other, to sample the familiar and new and upcoming acts and have a dance and a singalong far away from the more commercial big hitters on the main stage.

Janelle Monae
Also well traversed over the weekend was the flag filled West Holts fields boasting acts that brought in the crowds like Kool & the Gang, and Jimmy Cliff, alongside popstars like Cee Lo Green, and Janelle Monae, as well as deck work from international acts like Nicolas Jaar, Omar Souleyman, and fellow techno artists like Chase & Status, and Jamie Woon. The missing world music showcase of previous years slightly lamented by the field's regulars. Another place to watch bands in an intimate setting was the Babylon Bandstand, that featured some wonderful performances throughout the week.

around the festival site (1)
At some point in any Glastonbury review, the subject of mud is raised. As is usual prolonged rain on Wednesday morning brought some light mud, which had just thickened and flattened down, when heavy showers on Thursday required the utilisation of straw, and chippings to bring about equilibrium, as Sunday's heat wave dried the fields, with only a few corners of the site still suffering from mud that attempted to suck wellies from feet.

However when the sun arrived, it became clear water points were not well sign posted, and could only be found by their glimmering puddles of mud, and queues which were longer than those for the toilets.

around the festival site (1)
Talking of queues, I was surprised to find people had been caught in them, sometimes badly. It would appear that everyone wanted to arrive at the same time, everyone wanted to go to the same places at the same time, and everyone wanted to get through the gates at the same time. On Saturday night, as I left Arcadia at around 4am after exhausting myself in the late night area for hours, there was a huge queue to enter it, a queue which wasn't there when I wandered in. This year Glastonbury was all about choosing your moment, and getting there early.

The Wombles may not have been an act the organisers wanted, but they're message of recycling and picking up litter is something close to the heart of the Festival's own ideology. This year it seems the message is starting to get through with dumped waste seemingly lower, although this was harder to determine as rubbish collection happened less frequently this year, and there appeared to be less staffing on site this year in general.

It's not just about the music though, Glastonbury offers a wealth of cabaret, circus, and wandering performers that makes wandering through the Eastern side of the site such a delight. Here, there was a smattering of new installations, and laughing crowds surrounding the smaller stages pique my interest. I'm hugged by trolls, squashed by bees, join a Jane Fonda type workout, get served tea by tea ladies, watch Bin There Drummed That make noises with wheelie bins, see stilt walkers, chill out on giant wooden chairs, and watch the evening fire show.

As ever, the festival offers not only a feast for the other senses, but it's taste that is also well catered for with what seemed like more food choices than ever before, and there were still places to pick up a filling meal for around £4, although most meals were priced around £6.

around the festival site (1)
Away from the throngs of the main stages The Green Fields offered a chance to learn a skill, and up in them there was still some grass underfoot, a host of stalls offering the chance to find out more about good causes, a recording studio that showcased special guests, a new look Fluffy Rock Cafe, Croissant Neuf, and Greenpeace areas nearby. I feel it's the real heart of Glastonbury, a festival within a festival offering more space and with less mud and a second kids area a place that attracts all ages.

Rastmouse @ Kidzfield on Friday
Glastonbury's fields also offer lots of stuff for kids in the Kidz' Field, and they must have been there most of the weekend, as the Festival seemed devoid of all but babies in push chairs for much of the time. Festival Organiser Michael Eavis has said the Festival needs to attract more youngsters, and walking around it was the teens that were least visible, perhaps they were all in the Dance Village. I didn't even get up into the kids area this year, missing out on a chance to see Rastamouse.

We have to wait two years now to experience the UK's most entertaining Festival. The Eavis family, and the Festival organisers deserve a break for bringing us such a fantastically well organised event, and a terrific range of acts, and entertainment. The amount of effort (and people) that must have been put into making the site look fantastic. The distribution of straw and the clearing of mud was an impressive operation. However I did feel they'd taken a step backward with the toilets this year.

But what a week, rained on, sunburnt, blistered, bruised, and aching. It's going to take me a while to get over it, and I can't quite believe I've got to wait two years until I can go back to the biggest party in the UK!

U2 from Crowd

Wednesday 22nd to Sunday 26th June 2011
Worthy Farm, Pilton, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 4AZ, England MAP
£195 - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 175000
last updated: Wed 29th Jun 2011

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