Glastonbury Festival is the biggest festival in the UK with the weight of its heritage and history fostering it near mythic status. It mixes those that have been coming back decades with those who have never been before. For some it's an experience that to do once is enough, although those who say once is enough, always add, they may be back 'one day'. For others it becomes an essential part of their lives annually. There's nothing quite like it anywhere else in the UK, and perhaps we shouldn't take it for granted.
It's a festival that offers a slice of festival life from many different kinds of festivals held over the summer. There's aspects of a myriad of different types of festival here from EDM, to folk, indie, and alternative to kids, mainstream, punk, art, installations, rock, political, green, and more. There's something about the farm location and the Festival's growth through history that's become an intrinsic part of the festival.
It's also a reminder of other events now long gone, of the old hippy festivals from an era in which it was founded, and aspires to the ideals of being green, environmentally conscious, and all inclusive. Okay it's possibly a little more safe now than it was in the previous millennium, but it still has a feeling of being slightly out of control, relying on self regulation. It's a giant temporary city whose occupants enjoy a unique mix of music, politics, spirituality, hedonism and hippiedom.
These days it's clear that the catering and stalls are becoming big businesses to be able to cater for hundreds of thousands on site. Even the independent local scrumpy cider sellers are few and far between across the site, replaced by an increasing number of Craft Cider outlets selling Thatchers orange diesel. However it's still a long way from being a monolithic corporate event yet, there are no RFID wristbands, chipped finances, or a feeling of being herded cattle. There still appears to be an increasing amount of subtle subliminal messaging in the main commercial centre - known to regulars as Babylon.
The old adage of poor festival food and terrible toilets is a thing of the past. There's now a huge choice of gastronomic delights, and a choice of longdrop and compost toilets, both of which take a little getting used to. Gone too are the complaints of poor sound, there’s great sound spilling from the speakers at all the stages. Even the Dalai Lama’s speech on an impromptu PA could be heard by the crowds who gathered to hear him.
Glastonbury with warm evenings and fairly good weather offers a much different experience than recent years. The expansive site is easy to traverse, and music fans can see a wide variety of quality acts across the 100+ stages. There's also artistic areas to enjoy, hidden areas to stumble upon, people to connect with, and a chance to be life affirming, creative, and an escape from the mundane. Little by little Glastonbury Festival has been quietly adding to this amazing raft of treats away from the music. Be it theatre and circus, flaming machinery, crazy cabaret, comedy, green workshops, activism, debate, art and expression there's a wealth of options to spend time away from the music stages. The better weather creates a much more even distribution of people across the site this year, the other parts of the Festival are well visited. More Festival goers experience just how multifaceted the event is both musically and artistically.
If you believe the mainstream press all this on offer over five days is apparently eclipsed by just three things. The three headliners gracing the main stage. The column inches in the news are full of how Flo (+ her Machine), Kanye West, and The Who performed on the Pyramid Stage. There's also consideration given to Lionel Ritchie's well crafted set of feel good hits, but little regard to all the other thousands of acts. Apparently it's all about finding some exciting new angle to report on the Festival, some way they can make their Glastonbury coverage unique. Often there seems to be a driving need to dispel the magic, to be negative, to pick fault, and at worst suggest it's a waste of time. Incredible considering just how much entertainment is on offer.
What is remarkable is with so many slots to fill on line-ups the quality of acts across the bill from top to bottom is high, there's no filler visible on the line-ups. Depending upon which stage you are watching and the musical proclivities and ethos of the stage booker you can watch many a smaller festival's main stage bill. The Festival also boasts a massive new stage build this year with it's new Other Stage. It's big enough to fit in major touring acts, with a footprint larger than the iconic Pyramid. Even Festival regulars playing it over the weekend seem a bit nervous appearing on it.
Glastonbury Festival isn't just about the music, or the arts though there's much more to the Festival than that. It's a symbol of the individuality of festivals themselves - of where they came from, a world that isn't designed on the corporate drawing board. The individuality on show comes from somewhere more akin to a community village fete than a money making commercial enterprise. Crucially though this is lost on some elements of the audience who take as much as they can from it, with little love for the farm, dumping their waste like their respect. Perhaps they should all be made to see farmer and founder Michael Eavis singing 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' on the Thursday to realise this is a family run enterprise and it's his farm they're trashing. Some kind of collective green education is needed.
Interesting the banning of Noz gas by organisers in the Kings Meadow seems to have drastically reduced it's usage elsewhere. Although the Stone Circle field is also less busy as we watch the sunrise there in the mornings. A previous request to stop using Chinese Lanterns appears to have led to not a single one taking to the skies all weekend.
The less trampled areas of the site looked lovely with green fields offering a place to sit and relax, and in places pre-emptive chippings and straw were already in place which really kept the fabric of the site intact and helped mobility. Most of the audience seemed to arrive on Wednesday and Thursday and they were able to acclimatise. The event opened on Wednesday with a CND FlashLightmob, fireworks, and the burning of a phoenix. Shangri-La also opened early with their overarching theme of awakening festival goers political side – and there were various placards punctuating the flags above the crowds throughout the weekend. Many of the smaller venues had music on Avalon had a new layout with everything moved about, and the site had a new viewing platform.
Charlotte Church introduced Pussy Riot, Kanye West delivered an iconic entrance to Daft Punk's Faster Stronger, The Libertines proved to be the unknown guests, Florence delivered a fan pleasing performance, special guest Michael Eavis joined The Moody Blues on tambourine, for a hit laden set. Legends Neville Staple, Mavis Staples, Burt Bacharach, and Lionel Richie provided the singalong moments.
There was a historic visit from The Dalai Lama who told the throngs in the Sacred Space Stone Circle Field that "everyone has a right to a happy life" and made a second appearance on the Pyramid Stage to cut his 80th birthday cake.
This year saw the arrival of the Young Greens camps initiative, a subtle campsite presence that created paths to fires and impromptu gatherings, a great idea and one that needs to keep going. Also the campsite crews encouraged campers to drop off unwanted food and camping gear another great idea. Other initiatives included the use of recyclable cups in the back stage areas, and the EE rechargers that were a cinch to swap each day and keep our clashfinders working on our mobile phones. Camplight too was a great idea - the recycling of abandoned tents and camping kit so that festival goers could travel light - there is a separate review of that online (here).
Glastonbury is still the flagship event of festivals in this country, still able to hold off intense corporate branding. Still incredible value for money, and the most fun you can have in a field. With the weather so good overall, and the atmosphere lovely, tickets are sure to be in high demand next year. Incredibly the standard just continues to improve, from the organisers, to the volunteers, the staff, crews, those who created and inspired, and the terrific performances of a high standard of acts all across the site. This was a weekend to make everyone happy, and fill our heads with memories, and the Dalai Lama would certainly approve of that.
If you want a ticket to next year's Festival, remember you will first need to register, and look out for ticket details later this year.
review by: Scott Williams
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Glastonbury 2019 accommodation options on sale Saturday 27th October
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