Two years ago I wrote that 2017 would be remembered as the year politics was put back centre stage at Glastonbury Festival and it had the best weather on record. I also wrote back then:
"After it’s fallow year next year, Glastonbury Festival will return in 2019, just one year before the year 2020. A year that ecologists warn is crucially important for if emissions continue to rise beyond it, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris will become unattainable. We thought this year at Glastonbury Festival the temperatures were hot, but they’ll be hotter still when Glastonbury returns with more record breaking summer temperatures, unless drastic change is campaigned for now."
As predicted, this year the weather topped last time’s with a full five days of hot sunshine, which at times must have hit the mid 30s C. Although there were also some pretty strong winds keeping flag wavers to a minimum thankfully, and for us hay fever sufferers an awful lot of pollen and dust. The wind only highlighted the climate issue that hangs over all of us, and Extinction Rebellion were there in numbers to ensure the opportunity to rise up and be radical was at the forefront of our minds at some point over the weekend.
Whilst the politics of the last edition was still noticeable this year (“Fuck Boris”), it played second fiddle. 2019 will be remembered as the year the green agenda was given top billing with the Festival announcing back in February that single-use plastic drinks bottles will not be available to purchase nor available in backstage, production, catering and dressing room areas.
Whilst Festival goers weren't be prevented from bringing plastic bottles onto the site, they were encouraged to bring as little single use plastic as possible. The message to reduce plastic pollution had in the main hit home, and the site looked so much cleaner for it. Each night the main access routes and arenas looked as they did decades ago, when a less consumerist more alternative and greener crowd were mainly in attendance before Glastonbury got popular with the bucket listers (back in the day when you could buy your ticket in the local HMV a fortnight before the Festival).
It looks like Worthy Farm is finally seeing the return of a green generation. After the Festival finished it was clear the green ideal had moved from the alternative to the mainstream when Festival organiser Emily Eavis tweeted: "Just heard that 99.3% of all tents were taken home. That is absolutely incredible… HUGE thanks to the record numbers who loved the farm and left no trace! #Glastonbury2019"
Okay, there's no doubt that the lovely weather and lack or mud and rain greatly contributed to this happening, but all the same it's a huge improvement showing that the farm's mantra of 'Love The Farm Leave No Trace' is once again at the forefront of a crowd once firmly wed to consume and dispose. The tired and weary but far less mud-encrusted fans picked up their kit and took it home in vastly increased numbers over any previous year I can remember. The lack of gazebos (since the Festival appealed not to bring them) also made a huge difference to the number that would have died in the strong winds that desiccated the earth hardened pathways criss-crossing the site at times.
There were other signs of a more caring crowd this year, firstly there were much less people were peeing in the hedges (though I still yelled at a few who did – the Festival threatened ejecting them) and secondly the toilets were in much better nick, despite not one flushing loo on site again this year. Shangri-La's wonderful 'don't be a dick' message was clearly getting through.
Queues for loos and the water points were long at times, but it takes a while to get the Glastonbury mindset, and not refuel at the points between the entertainment. Once I remembered that I found the wait for food, water, wine, or waste were tolerable even in extreme heat.
The Glastonbury mindset also took a while to develop when it came to refuse. I wish I'd taken a photo of overflowing bins at the end of the West Holts field, with completely empty bins literally ten steps further away! But even then overflowing bins with so many less bottles (and water in cans or paper cups you could crush down) meant much more space for compostable plates and cutlery from the many wonderful food vendors across the site. Though bins were colour coded on the top, so they shouldn’t be in the same colourful hand painted bin anyway.
I still have a gripe though. What is it with plastic sequins? This year's must have accessory for the hipster appeared to be some kind of tippet or capelet covered in colourful plastic scales the size of pound coins.
I saw them so many times worn by all genders over the weekend. So much so, that when Robert Smith took his break during The Cure's stupendous set, I thought he had said: "Give me 2 minutes I just have to put my pop cape on." Whilst both glitter and sequins do I suppose make everything good for your Instagram feed it's still plastic and has no place at the Festival – eco glitter perhaps grudgingly.
When launching the Festival's bottle reduction pledge the Festival explained - Greenpeace estimate that, globally, up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year. Greenpeace advise that by far the best way to avoid plastic pollution is to reduce plastic usage and purchase – not slap it on your thighs, head or shoulders and wander about looking a ‘dick’.
It seems to many music fans stopping plastic usage only went so far, bags for polypropylene wet wipes were still discarded in toilet cubicles with alarming regularity (as were tampon applicators), and plastic bags still zoomed off in the breeze.
But this was nothing compared to what I experienced in the camper van fields, though perhaps they should be renamed caravan fields as these have become the majority live-in vehicle of choice this year. Mind you it wasn’t caravans I have an issue, it’s the big all accessories on board modern behemoths that cost at least the earth, probably 2 earths.
Okay, I've been coming to Glastonbury every time since 1990, I used to camp but now I like my sleep, and my home comforts that a live-in van provides. For many years the bringing of generators has been prohibited on site for good reason, but this year, large rental motorhomes had their engines running all week. Behind me one particular group of 'dicks' ran theirs with their lights on all night, because newer models engage the lights when the engine runs and it senses it's dark and there's no way to switch them off. So for the whole weekend we were blinded by these sidelights all night long - 'dicks'!
Each morning one of the denizens of the vehicles, I called them ‘The Donalds’ would pour two jerry cans of fuel into the beast so it could continue to kick smelly exhaust particles out across the fields. Despite having words they wouldn’t change their ways. This wasn't an isolated case either, a short stagger in their fumes away could be found another shiny new mobile home this time with it's 'dicks' all sat in a semi circle on chairs beside their own chugging exhaust! That's Darwinism right there!
Clearly at times Glastonbury’s Festival goers obviously lack the joined up thinking to really try and be green, but hats off to the Festival their persistence to change things means it's so much better than it was even just a few years ago. The litmus test will be a muddy year.
2019 will also be remembered for it's massive positive outpouring for gender equality and LGBT+ Pride. 50 years after the Stonewall riots the Festival celebrates free love with a rainbow of queer artists from Years & Years, to Janelle Monae, from Christine & The Queens to Lizzo. Plus the gay icon that is Kylie and the whole gay dystopia that is NYC Downlow and Left Field hosting debates on Queer Liberation plus Shangri-La ‘s gender equality exploring line-up of speakers, poets, musicians and artists.
More gender equality was on display with the ladies' football shown on the big screens for the first time. Lionesses fans were able to follow the Women's World Cup on the West Holts stage screens, and a decent crowd left buoyed by their victory.
This year I broke down, I was left stunned, I felt so strongly for my fellow humans plight that it stopped me in my tracks. It happened in West Holts, there was a long strip of paper running along a wall beside the stage, I sauntered over and read it. It was the list of the 34,361 documented deaths of refugees and migrants due to the restrictive policies of 'Fortress Europe'. I started on the first page, the date they were found, the numbers of them found there, where available their names, then gender, then age, their region of origin, and then their cause of death. I read the first 3 pages, around 200 souls and I broke, just thinking about it now brings tears. It was the most heart feeling thing I've ever felt at Glastonbury and I hope it affected many others just the same. Something real, something big and thought provoking and moving.
This year saw the site boast many other new things to grab our attention, only in a much more upbeat and exciting way. Each of them succeeded in making a big impression. There was the seaside pier of Glastonbury on Sea - a Herculean effort to complete and a fantastic feat just to be in a field miles from the sea. Incredible, it felt surreal, more so when, as is usual, the seagulls wheeled overhead seeking discarded chips on the Sunday!
Also incredible was the new Block 9 East venue IICON. Wow what an incredible feat too. A mammoth 65ft sculpture of a head with a giant block eye visor in front of an LED wall, and with such a fantastic sound system. It was jaw dropping if a little too cold and dystopian at times, and with a freaky 'welcome to iicon' soundtrack - it perhaps needed to be a little more comforting instead of the hard red, blue and white light over a black and white landscape. Still visually stunning though.
What grabbed me less was the Arcadia replacement Pangea, okay the giant Bristolian crane dominated the landscape, and it's a long term project. Impressive from afar it had less of the immersive experience for the crowd under it than its spidery predecessor. Yes big flames, but the crane itself's scale was too big to provide immersive interaction with the crowd. It's a work in progress, and I suspect from here on it'll blow our minds every year!
I can't comment on the new venue Samula in The Common, for some reason the way it was placed meant I kept walking behind it, and not remembering to seek out the entrance. That aquatic paradise will have to wait until next time.
The whole South East corner had expanded this year, with Shangri-La increasing their exploration of the juxtaposition between consumerism and waste. Activism, sisterhood, positive masculinity, the anthropological message of Extinction Rebellion, 'Reuse, Repurpose, Repair, Recycle' and 'Don't Be A Dick' were again extolled along with some cutting edge art, anarchic venues and an extended programme which meant it wasn't just the place to be at night, the area was also the place to go during the day with a full daytime programme of talks, activism, activities, and top tunes from DJs, pretty much it’s own festival at the heart of the Festival. The Gas Tower constructed from ocean plastic salvaged from across the South West was at it centre highlighting climate change, waste and re-use. Plus some heavy riffs in the bigger Scum stage and ShiTV returned with Chillla Crack and our Graham - epic!
It seemed to me that by contrast the anarchic twisted baby doll headed chaos of the Unfairground had become less chaotic and a bit more spacious this year. Visually it was a lot less disturbing I felt. The field wide underground cabaret and art on display were instead much more noticeable, and it held our attention more than just being the walkthrough venue of previous years. Across the fields in the other corner Carmageddon cinema’s mix of crazy vehicles also returned with much the same vibe.
The Park also had had some changes, but these seemed to pass us by in the main, the overall vibe created was as good as ever, and the cooler slopes of the site were the place to enjoy sunset sets from the likes of Michael Kiwanuka. So much easier to enjoy this area when it's not muddy. I was completely captivated by the new Aquaponics watermill, growing food with live carp providing the fertiliser - fantastic!
Various other areas enjoyed the dry ground, the Theatre & Circus, and Cabaret Fields were full of walkabout entertainers, stilt walkers, performance artists, and crazy costumes. The Green Fields and Green Futures appeared to be many degrees cooler. Not too sure why, perhaps it was the fact they explored ways to keep the planet from boiling over in the next decade? The Glade was a haven for escaping the sun, and organisers promised to open more covered areas for those seeking shade, but I was unaware of them. Where trees provided coverage or where water pooled it was markedly cooler in temperature.
I know, you want me to talk about the music, but to me that's secondary, what I find fascinating is the potential Glastonbury has to become a model of the zero-carbon cities of the future. Climate breakdown is occurring with increasing frequency, and eventually it will displace populations. When that happens Glastonbury offers a template for how to do what comes next. A tented city, very few vehicles, that celebrates carnival in all its forms. That springs up rapidly in a suitable location. Decades from now climate refuges may well be living in tented cities that spring up like Glastonbury Festival, and will need entertainment, decent simple food, and artisan crafts to sustain and cultivate them.
The Green Fields area and Croissant Neuf stage have for years been run entirely on wind and solar power. Plus stages employed pedal power, but it's the big stages the Festival needs to green now. The farm already has one of the largest privately owned solar photovoltaic solar panel systems in the country, and the Festival has previously employed a giant wind turbine, and the Festival offices use ground source heat pumps.
This year Farmer Eavis has a new anaerobic digester - a green bump beside the Festival providing the Pyramid Stage with power from the 124-kilowatt plant as it converts cow manure into methane gas, which then drives a generator. The Festival team’s search for green power includes the ‘Pee-Power Project’ which creates electricity from Glastonbury goers’ urine, and low power LED lighting across site.
At the moment stages in Theatre & Circus and The Park are run on the more traditional biofuel derived from cooking oil and other sources, but no doubt the Festival is seeking greener solutions to the infrastructure it needs. Already caterers comply with green food packaging and ingredient demands. How long until they offer greener clean, efficient cooking fuels and devices too?
There's also a lot of more plant based diet recommendations and go Vegan poster slogans create an interesting contrast on a dairy farm. Plus a complete myriad of food options that put Glastonbury at the top of charts of fantastic food at a music festival. I know what you're thinking it's a music festival not a food festival, and wanting me to get on and tell you about the music.
Okay, I promise, but the thing with Glastonbury Festival is you can plan to see 30 acts a day, and end up only seeing 5. It's not like Reading Festival where all the stages are so close you can see nearly every act if you're fit enough. No, Glastonbury has a scale, a huge scale that blows my mind every single time. It's vast. To walk the perimeter takes you half a day at least. Whilst every year I plant to see a headliner, I get distracted by the multitude of other things from acrobats, to jugglers, from comedians, to giant giraffes, to wandering kazoo marching bands. It's sensory overload, and no I wasn't drunk, at £6 a pint I couldn't afford to be! This really is the Festival of Performing arts.
Yes The Cure (who headlined my first year) were still stunning delivering a terrific last half hour of sheer joy. Yes, Stormzy is somehow still the first British black headliner to top the Pyramid Stage bill since Skunk Anansie 20 years before, and whilst his arrival drew parallels with Kanye West's flat performance, thankfully this one had it all - including that Banksy designed stab vest, and most agree he smashed it with an iconic performance, that will be forever part of Glastonbury history.
Others like The Killers (with guests Johnny Marr, the Pet Shop Boys and Jimmy Carr!), Liam Gallagher, Johnny Marr, the Chemical Brothers, Courteeners, and The Streets merely added another chapter to their Glastonbury story. Others not even on the bill like Coldplay's Chris Martin popped up to sing with Stormzy and Kylie. There's even rumours he put in appearance at our mate's campfire at 4am with a piano wanting to duet with someone. That would have been one of the few surprise sets this year, with the Festival opting to keep surprises to a minimum this year - though The Charlatans replaced Snow Patrol, and Frank Turner, Pale Waves, Vampire Weekend, and Foals filled most of the few remaining TBA slots.
There were also crowd pleasing debuts from Miley Cyrus (with dad Billy-Ray), Janet Jackson, and Jeff Goldblum as Glastonbury celebrated the jazz revival with Kamasi Washington, Kokoroko, The Comet Is Coming, Sons Of Kemet, Roy Ayers, and more.
But for me Lizzo and Slowthai back to back were the performances of the weekend. The former sheer joyous entertainment and the latter an assured laid back exuberant debut performance from a Glastonbury royal in waiting - one of those moments.
There's no doubt that both Michael and Emily Eavis will declare this year the best ever, and certainly it was one of the best, possibly a bit lacking in must see acts and crazy clashes - but is that a bad thing? The heat took a lot of the exuberance out of the crowd who were a little more sedate (but less litter buggy) than previous years. My guess is next year's 50th celebration will see the big guns max out the line-up a lot more.
Every damn year Glastonbury ensures to keep itself the biggest green flagship event in this country (and possibly the world), it still refuses to bow to the corporates, supporting local cider house Malletts as their official cider, and presenting a platform for every kind of performing art to be showcased alongside a diverse range of music. Welcoming with open arms and that Eavis laugh all the crazy, inspired, cultured carnival that it’s denizens create.
Yes, perhaps the audience need to look more closely at plastic fashion and completely drop the sequins - or do the green thing and make them from hole punched fallen leaves - they'll last almost as long! The van livers need to stop running their fossil fuel generators, and we all need to get the Extinction Rebellion handbook - 'This Is Not a Drill' and see if die, survive, or thrive until next year's best value for money Festival in the world.
Once again, my undying love, gratitude and thanks to everyone that makes this beautiful thing happen - the organisers and their families, the volunteers, the staff, the crews, to all those who performed, created, constructed and inspired, and the bookers who delivered acts that gave terrific performances - and if you want to read about them - you can read all about it in other reviews elsewhere - or just watch their performances on the tellybox or interweb.
Actually don't do that, else you'll want a golden ticket to the greatest show on earth, and with it being the big five-o demand will be mental! Tickets are expected to be on sale in October and remember you will first need to register.
In the meantime rebel - join the international rebellion, align with all peoples living with struggles to protect life on this sacred earth. Go find your place in these times.
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