Friday, 13 April, 2012 - 16:32

Glastonbury Festival - much more than music

by Rik Glauert

Glastonbury festival is one of the most vibrant, colourful and energetic events of the British
summer and tickets sell out minutes after going on sale. It also is the world’s largest open air musical festival, as 180,000 people flood (sometimes quite literally) to Worthy Farm in the heart of the Somerset countryside. Every June, thousands of tents, caravans and stages pop up over night for a weekend of brilliant live music, art and merriment. The festival covers 1300 acres of farmland and uses the same amount of electricity as the city of Bath – the Main Stage alone has over 250 speakers! Last year Glastonbury celebrated its fortieth birthday - let’s find out how and why superstars, hippies, and music lovers all still head to the mother of all music festivals.

Glastonbury began life as the ‘Pilton Festival’ and was unrecognisable from the town-sized event we see today. Michael Eavis, the festival’s founder, was inspired by the hippies of the 1960s and local New Age Travellers to host an open air music concert at his farm. In 1970 tickets only cost £1 and a mere 1500 people attended. ‘T-Rex’ headlined the festival and free milk from Eavis’s farm was available to everyone. Eavis remains in charge today and unbelievably the land goes back to being a working farm when the festival is over. Tractors fitted with giant magnets are used to pick up left over tent pegs before cows and pigs return to the fields.

Wizards, Druids and Hippies have always attended the festival bringing tai chi, yoga, meditation, vegan food and messages of peace and harmony to Glastonbury’s Healing Fields. This gives the festival its relaxed and alternative atmosphere. Walking around the festival can feel as though you are on another planet or have gone back in time! The festival lies on ancient pagan Ley Lines, believed to channel elemental and powerful energies.  There is even a megalithic Stone Circle – a smaller version of Stone Henge. The festival is involved in campaigns to highlight worldwide social problems; such as climate change and human rights issues. As a large amount of Glastonbury’s profits go to charity, the festival relies on volunteers and artists often perform at the festival without being paid.

Despite Glastonbury’s impressive ethics the festival has a long history and of people sneaking in to enjoy the festival’s legendary music and atmosphere for free. Over the years ‘gatecrashers’ have tried everything to get in without a ticket. These include smuggling themselves in on delivery vehicles, bribing a corrupt official or even pretending to be a celebrity! Most popular, however, is attempting to break through, climb over or dig under the outside fence. After a major breach in the fence in 2000, people attending the festival reached over 250,000 even though only 100,000 tickets had been sold. So, in 2002, the ‘super-fence’ was introduced:  a 6 mile long, 15 foot high stainless steel barricade that is dug 3 feet into the soil, making it nearly impossible to gain illegal entry.

Glastonbury is renowned for one more thing – the mud. Although it takes place at the height of summer, the Great British weather means that it usually rains at some point over the four days.  As the festival is in a valley, fields turn to mud surprisingly quickly. 1997 and 1998 are famous for being particularly muddy years, with huge areas of the site being reduced to knee-high sloppy gloop. In 2005 two months worth of rain fell in 3 hours, causing flash floods across the valley.  Tents, bars and stages were all underwater and many left the festival early. However, last year unbroken sunshine shone throughout the weekend and the temperature was above that of Spain, Brazil and California. Glastonbury is the perfect example of the unpredictable British weather!

Of course you can’t talk about Glastonbury without talking about the music. In recent years
Glastonbury stages have been graced by Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen (who played for two and half hours which broke the 12am curfew and cost organisers £3000 in fines). This year saw Beyonce close the Main Stage on the Sunday night. A diverse range of music is one of Glastonbury’s greatest appeals and you can listen to everything from blues to jazz, from electro to classical, from folk to punk and even ear splitting techno until 7 o’clock in the morning.  If this has convinced you to try for a much sought after ticket next year, I am sorry to disappoint you – Glastonbury is having a year off in 2012. The festival often has ‘fallow years’ to allow the fields and farm to get back to full health. It is also rumoured that as the date would clash with the London Olympics there would not be enough fencing, police and portable toilets available!

However, Glastonbury promises to be back in 2013 with Emily Eavis, Michael Eavis’s daughter, at the helm.


Would you brave the mud and maybe even floods for a weekend of music, camping and general merriment at the Glastonbury festival? Why? Why not?

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