I started writing this as if it was going to be a blog, but actually felt maybe it was better discussed here with all you experts. I have seen there have been threads about this already, I've just compiled my thoughts and hope it's ok to post them as a new topic.
I write this having been to Glasto as a 10 time festival Ticket Holder veteran and now also as a 1 year Glasto crew member. So that’s 11 times total I’ve been to Worthy Farm and experienced the behemoth of a festival that it is. If Glasto was a city, I would live there; if Glasto was a belief, I would be a preacher. That's how much I love it. So all the below is coming from a place of love, if also a bit of confusion, and hope that 2023 can be even better.
The 2022 Glastonbury Festival was different for me in many ways - it was my first on site early (I was there for a full 8 days, Sun-Mon!), and my first time camping in crew and being able to experience those crew areas I never had before. It had also been 3 years since we’d all last been on the farm - the longest gap I’ve had in my Glasto history. I WILL be writing a review of the 2022 Glastonbury festival in my usual style, because I did honestly still have a brilliant time, and I have lots of new stories and pics to share. I just needed to get this out quickly beforehand...
Now on to the point of this particular post. This festival stood out for me (and lots of others from my online browsings) for a number of more negative reasons, the biggest and most common of these was the overcrowding that was clear to anyone on site.
I have experienced crazy Glasto crowds before, for example when trying to get from an Other Stage headliner over to the Arcadia spider, or after the Sunday Legends Slot when we all run to the Pyramid toilets/food. There are always huge crowds and specific pinch points, but the difference this year was it felt relentless.
For around 12-18 hours a day - the main hours everyone was awake (11am-5am), everywhere you went it was shoulder-to-shoulder busy. It wasn't just huge crowds at stages, again that is to be expected... it was massive heaving crowds going in different directions on all the pathways at all times, and 50+ people in queues for individual toilets or food stalls, despite having more traders/toilets than ever before.
So why did it feel like this?
I want to clearly state that ALMOST EVERYTHING I WRITE IN THIS BLOG IS OPINION, RUMOURS, or HEARSAY, apart from the first four points I will make which are facts. I will make this clear as we go along, but for most of the below list of possibilities, I have no evidence or facts to back it up. It was things I heard on site, before, during, and after the festival.
Why did Glastonbury Festival feel so overcrowded?
What were the factors involved?
1. FACT: On 5th November 2021, Melvin Benn was appointed Festival Director and Event Controller for Glastonbury Festival Events Limited
Melvin Benn is also the Managing Director of Festival Republic, one of the largest festival companies in the world. He was originally appointed as Director of Glastonbury from 2002-2012, to help the festival through some difficult financial years. In 2021 he was offered and accepted the position again, replacing Paul Latham, after the festival reported a £3m loss between 2019 and 2021. - The assumption is he was brought in to help the festival cuts costs because of his management experience of large festival events - however these events are all very corporate and different to Glastonbury. A new person in charge means lots of new logistics/management/companies behind the scenes.
2. FACT: The festival officially announced the capacity had increased. 2% more tickets were sold, and 3% more crew were on site. Meaning the official total licensed numbers on site went from 203,000 to 210,000
This is the only official numbers increase that was announced by the festival. It doesn't sound like much, but it will have made a difference. The reason given was they were able to secure new campsite fields to accommodate the extra attendees. However, most Glasto veterans will say that it felt like it was much more than 'just' 7,000 more people on site.
3. FACT: COVID was peaking before, during, and after the festival - meaning high levels of staff turnover and changes
During the festival site build, COVID was still strong, and if someone on site tested positive, they had to leave the site. This meant lots of last minute staffing to replace people - security, build professionals, even volunteers to staff the gates. High staff turnover means more inexperienced people (or even the odd 'bad egg' would have gotten through) brought in to fill numbers last minute.
4. FACT: Legacy Events staff who had worked in Events all their life with years of experience have all moved on during COVID because of necessity (no work for 2.5 years) so almost all staffing has been filled by 'green'/inexperienced staff
We all know that during the pandemic, everyone in the Events industry was essentially abandoned by the government. They received next to zero help from the government, and were literally the very last industry to start coming back to life. Even Hospitality got help such as Eat Out To Help Out. There was almost no furlough for event staff unless they worked for a few very fortunate companies who were barely able to keep them afloat. Many incredible staff held on as long as possible, but eventually had to reskill and leave the industry, leaving gaping holes behind them. And though we're now on the path back to normal, those roles have been filled by newer staff that don't have the years and years of experience of their predecessors.
So now we move on to theories, rumours and hearsay...
5. THEORY: It has been 3 years since the last Glastonbury. We have forgotten what it was like/we mentally feel different in huge crowds now
None (or very very few) of us can say we have attended events of over 200,000 since at least 2019. This will mentally affect our feelings when we are in a big crowd for the first time. As much as I can say "I know there were more people on site because I've never felt so consistently crowded the whole time" - there is a huge bias that I must appreciate - it has been a long time and memories change/adjust due to experience. Plus we are all so much more spatially aware after 2.5 years of social distancing.
6. THEORY: Signage / crowd management weren't up to scratch
Probably because of some of the reasons added above (new people in charge, less experienced staff, and less staff in general) - they weren't properly prepared for certain areas/pinch points to help manage crowds. There were of course the usual one way systems etc, but lots of people were wandering confused where the nearest amenities were, or how to get somewhere. And apart from the SE Corner, there was no foot traffic system to ease overcrowding (see Arcadia Fri/Sat/Sun night).
7. RUMOUR: "There are at least 20k plus more people on site this year" - mentioned by multiple crew members
Right so now we get into hearsay. While I was on site and in crew areas, I heard/spoke to a number of people that said that somehow, there were a large number of extra people on site this year, and that they were aware, and that everyone was finding it difficult to manage.
8. RUMOUR: People were being smuggled in in large numbers/extra tickets were sold/counterfeit tickets were created and sold
Again HUGE rumour probably originating from the inexperienced/temporary/last minute staff points above - many rumours about easy bribery of the security/gate staff, as well as ticket/tout sellers themselves. Glastonbury Festival 2022 was the hottest ticket in the entire world, everyone wanted to be there and was willing to do/pay anything. Plus with the cost of living crisis, if someone offered £500 for you to get them into the gates, many more inexperienced staff would be tempted. I heard from one person that they knew of lorry loads of people being smuggled in with money changing hands.
I'm a bit worried about writing/posting this, but I wanted to get all my thoughts in one place. Some of the points above may have no relevance, some only make sense when paired with others, and as I stated a lot is just rumours or whispers heard around site. But even if all of the above is true, firstly I still had a wonderful time, and secondly all of these can and likely will be rectified before the next festival.