Oh. Hello! Were you one of the 137,000 lucky individuals who nabbed yourselves a much-coveted ticket for the 50th anniversary edition of Glastonbury Festival of Performing arts?
If so, stay a while and I will congratulate you on your amazing luck and persistence in beating over two million other people, but you already knew that. Afterall with the near 24/7 coverage of this year’s sunny Glastonbury on the BBC it’s hard to find someone who hadn’t heard about it, so no surprises that 2.4 million people registered for the big-ticket scramble.
Whether you’re a (tie)-died-in-the-wool, old-hand, who’s been to Glasto many times before or an excitable first-time newbie, yet to experience the initial sense of awe and amazement as you venture over the hill from one of the huge car parks or the bus station and see the vast site below. So, let’s have a think about what we can all begin looking forward to, in earnest and base our expectations on some of what has gone before, and with its 49-year history, a LOT has gone on before. The great news is, you can dispel any negativity you might have heard about losing its way or being all corporate – that’s for other festivals. Glastonbury totally rocks!!
Obviously, it’s sunglasses all the way now, gone are the days of Mudstonbury. In-fact, this year I did hear a few folk saying strange things like “it’s too sunny” or “Where’s the mud?” We don’t want that back, honestly. The Eavises and their army of talented event team have put a lot of logistics in place to ensure better drainage, better water, more metalled pathways etc. just to be on the safe side. They really deserve a lot of praise. #Believis!!
Glastonbury is basically many different festivals wrapped up in one big site, more on that later. Huge main stages, small quirky tents and everything in between. So, if you happen to be exploring the site up in the Green Fields area by the Stone Circles, yes there is a mini Stonehenge in a big field, where there’s usually a fire and drumming. Lots of drumming, kind of 24/7!
That’s another unusual thing about Glasto, you can have fires and sit around those flaming wax covered torches. Fireworks, other than the official ones though are taboo, for obvious reasons and Chinese lanterns likewise. When you are making new friends chilling by the circles, you’ll probably encounter a long-haired fire-starter in leather trousers called Steve, who’s from Bristol, probably kicking a log into the fire and permanently has a rolled-up cigarette in his mouth. He used to come way back in the day, before the giga-fence and didn’t pay back then, he’ll be able to tell you about things that may seem to the more recent visitor like folklore, as in the time when someone smart thought it was a good idea to bring a sewage truck in to suck out the giant lake-like flood that had formed inside the Dance tent but someone accidentally hit blow instead of suck…. The worst happened, exactly as you might now be imagining it! I need not dwell on it here. And yes, you read right, back in the day there was basically only one, albeit huge, dance tent.
Next year, newbies can look forward to a whole Dance Village and many other world-class dance venues like Arcadia’s new Pangea (the amazing fire shooting crane, low-loaded in from Avonmouth dockyard) and Block-9. To this day I don’t actually know if some of the wilder things to be seen down there in the early hours of the morning are amazing art installations, fantasy projections or just my own over-stimulated imagination. Hmmmm? It’s wonderful though, and you should definitely plan to spend a few nights getting lost there, working up the numbers on your step-counters.
You know the tickets sold out in a record 34 minutes and if you are anything like me and were sitting there with laptops, desktops, tablets and phones hopefully clicking and reclicking refresh it was quite a difficult morning. A quick glance at social media reveals a lot of sadness for those less fortunate. It’s hardly surprising that the tickets are so popular though, when the show has had 49 years to prepare for the big party next summer.
It’s a truly amazing place that is constantly changing and bringing new things. The Victorian pier this year was a great new place to visit, up near the delightfully kitsch, ribbon viewing tower, whilst remaining reassuringly constant. Those who’ve been before can almost always find their way around, assuming they remain sober enough obviously.
Unlike many lesser festivals, the camping is within the confines of the whole festival, so unless you are in a camper van, glamping (more on that later) or a Worthy View pre-erected tent once you go through the gate you are in, and don’t need to worry about access for the rest of the week. It’s exciting finally getting your all-important wrist band and other goodies, such as a free programme, tote-bag, bio-degradable tent pegs or whatever else they are giving away. And then you are free to venture off to pick one of many campsites to settle in. The best bit is you can take in as much food and drink (yes including booze) as you can carry – or even pull on a cart. The only rule here is to avoid glass bottles, as once the circus of Glastonbury packs up again, it’s a working dairy farm and guess what – cows hate broken glass as much as we do.
With over 300 food places serving up a total smorgasbord of just about every cuisine you can imagine from vegan tofu burgers to sushi to jerk chicken to gumbo. Literally everything is available and, as might be expected from a festival with such worthy heritage (donating millions to Oxfam, Wateraid and Greenpeace over the years) they arrange that most stalls will do a £5 meal-deal, so you really won’t need to break the bank.
For the uninitiated, who’ve not been fortunate enough to go before it’s worth bearing in mind that the perimeter fence of Glastonbury is something staggering like 9 miles long and the given population at any given time, including staff and performers is approximately 200,000 people, just let that sink in for a moment, that’s like a busy city-centre. There are over 100 stages to enjoy and something like 350 food stalls and many, many shops – when in doubt, just wander, don’t be afraid to get lost!
At the last count there were something like 3,000 sit-down toilets, including one, which contains a throne and art gallery, right the way to the other end of the spectrum. The Long-Drop toilets, which are basically a hole to sit on, high up over a latrine trench. The good news is that the toilet situation has come on a long way. Spare a thought for those 250 wonderful, dedicated WaterAid volunteers in the Poo-Crew. There are lots of options including she-pees for girls who can stand up and over 700 meters of male urinals. I still like to keep some wet-wipes, loo roll and hand sanitiser in my faithful bum-bag, just-in-case – along with hay fever paraphernalia.
When thinking about writing a preview edition for the forthcoming event, you might be forgiven in thinking how come I haven’t even touched on the music yet. Weeeeelllllll, Kind of tricky when the programme isn’t announced and won’t be until soon after April 2020. That’s not to say that a bunch of overexcited artists won’t accidentally self-confirm or publish their UK tour dates, with a mysterious week off at the end of June?
What a lot of people don’t know is that, whilst the main stages begin on Friday morning at around about 11am and usually finish around about the same time in the evening, the festival ground is actually open from 6am on Wednesday morning and those first couple of days are a great time to wander and get to know the place. There is usually a bonfire and fireworks on the Wednesday night, once it gets properly dark and there are lots of smaller tents and dance sound systems providing more than enough entertainment. That’s the thing about Glastonbury, there is ALWAYS enough entertainment. It is probably fair to say that is the only major festival in the world that sells out, when the line-up hasn’t even been announced. That doesn’t stop the rumour-mill. Although, rumours are usually just people expressing their wishful thinking, some artists do let the cat out of the bag. For example, we already know for sure that for 2020 one of the legends is going to be the fabulous Diana Ross!
There are some strong rumours around, as there always is. I think Madonna has ruled herself out and Emily Eavis sounded like she was ruling out Fleetwood Mac. Personally, I would love to see Depeche Mode there. Who would you want if you could have any? A great site for the rumours is eFestivals. They have the likes of Robbie Williams, Carl Cox, Taylor Swift, the Foals and the Kinks as strong rumours. All good of course. Please believe me when I say “it really doesn’t matter who the headliners are”. I often hear it from people who have never been, and I sigh as the place is the experience and it far surpasses any thoughts of who the headliners ever were. That’s why it sells out regardless of any kind of line up. The line-up invariably blows me away though, and I have muso friends who always introduce me to some band who are simply the best, who I’ve never till that point heard of, but who I will walk away, like at the start of a new love affair.
The preview can’t be complete without a nod to the other areas, for example the Theatre and Circus fields, where there are so many amazing performances every day from the breath-taking to the bizarre. The Green Fields, where you can learn about permaculture and take part in political debates. The Acoustic tent is huge and can hold thousands and there are some amazing singer songwriters performing there at the top of the site, next to the Cinemas, which show some amazing films and feature the latest Sony cinema systems. Worth a look even if it isn’t raining! In fact, for the last two festivals Carmagedon has featured, where a bunch of scrap old cars have been brought in and up-cycled to form an open-air, drive-thru cinema experience too. And, in case you didn’t know, Children under 12 can go for free and that the Children’s fields contain the biggest children’s festival in the whole of Europe with loads to help entertain the little kids, maybe while the big kids are off getting into trouble!
For the lazy amongst you, or perhaps those travelling environmentally soundly in a coach, with limited luggage capacity there are some pre-erected tent options to investigate, that include several tent sizes in ‘Worthy View’ that are not too expensive. They are up a very steep hill though, which after a full day and night stomping around is an ask. It is very well set up though and on a well-drained plateaux overlooking the whole site, served by its own car park and has hot showers and VIP loos. And then there are some quite ridiculous (I only say that because I’m jealous) glamping options on offer such as big yurts and bell tents. Again some of these are a bit of a walk away. On-site there are also some native American style wigwams, which are spectacular and have neat fires in them. These are near the middle of the whole site, so a really good choice for those who don’t want to walk so much. Actually, talking of keeping walking to a minimum, we should spare a thought for those less able. Glastonbury really works hard to make the site inclusive and has many viewing platforms at all the main stages and a bus system to ferry those with disabilities around the site. Electric wheelchairs can be hired in advance and there are charging facilities in the disabled camping area.
Try not to plan too much – that being said it is great fun to visit a scheduling website in advance such as Clashfinder General and getting an idea of just how much music is actually on offer. You need to be warned though to be prepared for the pain of those clashes. For obvious reasons of safety, crowd control and general welfare the biggest acts tend to be on against each other. When you get there, it might feel like the clashes are aimed at you personally as it is often your favourite artists who seem to literally be on at the same time. You might be tempted to watch the start of one act and then try to race to catch the end of the other favourite. This can be done, and often the start times are staggered some, maybe to help this, but the best advice here is to just pick one and enjoy it to the max. Make sure you have been to bathroom, topped up with a couple of drinks, found your friends or arranged a suitable tree for them to find you by and are ready to go! One of the most beautiful sites is all the creatively inspired flags that people carry around to help their pals meet up with them in the crowds.
As you can see on the chart it usually takes about half an hour to wander between stages. Can be magnified lots if there is a big act just finishing on one of the bigger stages or it has been raining.. If you ask most folk who’ve been many times and we are of the same opinion, the less you plan and the less you anticipate seeing 23 of your favourite acts, the better your Glastonbury experience will be. One year I spent a day watching world-class Chinese acrobats, A BMX stunt comedian, The Hobbit film in an open-air cinema, A wild carnival trapeze act, a wonderfully burlesque lady playing 3 recorders at the same time, who told me salaciously that later that night an unusual performance of 4 recorders was to be witnessed somewhere up in the Theatre and Circus fields. We must always remember it’s a festival of performing arts and not just a music festival, but it really is, without doubt one of the very best music festivals in the whole world. Something to remember as you leave, expect some degree of heartbreak as you realise that Glastonbury has taken a little piece of your heart to keep there for itself. For those 5 days you lived with hardly a thought for rules and regulations, living in a magical land where you fall out of your tent and get entertained by the best entertainers in the world with no limits. That always leaves a mark. Luckily the BBC air lots of footage for you to relive your best moments. Of course, the really memorable things tend to be the quirky art installations or theatrical performers you encounter far away from the main stages, which are usually less covered by the mainstream media.
When you finally get there enjoy it with all your heart, be respectful of others (and yourself) and ‘leave no trace.’