One of the largest and most well-known music festivals in the world if only for the fact that it becomes a rain-drenched mud-fest, Glastonbury is a 3 day event that has gotten bigger than Ben Hur. It started 41 years ago when farmer Mike Eavis had been to the open air Bath festival and was inspired to hold a festival in his own fields. It was attended by 1500 people, cost 1 pound entrance fee, and acts included Mark Bolan and Al Stewart. It has grown exponentially since then, with 200,000 tickets being released for 2011. Big name acts vie to play on the Pyramid (or main) stage, and this year the lineup was U2, Coldplay and Beyonce. People start arriving on the Wednesday to get a decent camping spot. Glastonbury is not about the music, it’s an experience as of itself. The food, market stalls, circus, theatre and cabaret stages, standing stones and a strange area called Shangri-La means you can spend the entire day doing something different and visiting different areas, even if music isn’t your thing. Over 2000 acts attend the festival: musicians, poets, artists, dancers, DJ’s, circus performers and street performers, so there is always something new and exciting to see or experience. As long as you are happy to contend with mud – for mud there is – and plenty of it. Wellies are the fashionwear of the day at Glasto. In fact it doesn’t matter what else you bring, and whatever strange outfit or chic festival wear you may adorn from the knees up – you need wellies.
Our Glasto experience started with 5 of us crawling out of bed at 2am at my friend Neil’s house in Loughborough in the Midlands, piling into his boyfriend Dan’s already packed-to-the-rafters car, and heading out onto the M5 for the 3 hour drive to Pilton Farm. We passed several cars laden with pillows, camping gear and booze, cheering as we overtook them as it meant we would be further up the queue to get in. We stopped at the petrol station for coffee with other festival-goers, all tired yet excited and desperate for caffeine. We got there surprisingly early, got a decent parking spot and loaded up our trolley. It was already drizzling and there was mud everywhere, churned up by hundreds of wellies and an assortment of trolleys and wheelbarrows. I swapped my rainjacket for my warmer down jacket due to the freezing weather. By the time we reached our campground, there was a torrential downpour and my sleeping bag and pillow were soaked, not to mention the fact that the water had seeped through my down jacket and I was chilled to the bone.
We found a decent spot near a fence and started to get the tent up so we could get out of the rain. This fence became a Piss Post for us and several of our fellow campers. Our group consisted of 9 of us in 2 tents: Claudia and Rob, and Karen and Steve in one tent, Amy and Chris, Neil and Dan and me in another. It was all very civilized as we all had little pods or divisions – like our own rooms really. Even so it was muddy and sort of feral, and in the middle of the night a tent appeared between ours like a big green mushroom, making our little campsite somewhat crowded and meaning we had to move our chairs closer to the Piss Post.
We had great acoustics for the Pyramid stage though and could sit at camp, drink, and listen to whoever was on at the time. As I’ve been out of the UK for some years I wasn’t familiar with much of the lineup which freed me up to do a fair bit of the other fun stuff on offer. A lot of the bands I like were on at the same time, and even with overlaps the distances were too great to schlep from one field to another. You spend a lot of time at Glastonbury wading through mud. The site is set up into different areas, with different themes, all very well signposted, and connected by areas of food and market stalls. If you haven’t got it: you can buy it. From hats to chairs to tents, to flowers for your hair. A massive tent where you can charge your phone for free – slowly – but a good spot to have a coffee and chillout and meet new people. The rubbish is legendary and the bins overflow with lager cans and plastic plates. The loos are disgusting, so much so that a guy died in one on Friday and wasn’t discovered for over 20 hours. Street performers brave the mud. It rains, the ponchos come out. It’s sunny, the white bodies come out and everyone clamours for the tiny bit of shade. People sprawl in the strangest places. At night the air is filled with cheering in the distance, tents being unzipped, drums and guitars, sex, snoring and partying.
Shangri La and the Unfairground were the highlight for me. A strange place, built like an futuristic industrial city straight out of Bladerunner, with tiny bars, weird and wonderful sideshows, things in cages, and voices blaring through loudspeakers about ‘contamination’ and ‘viruses’. The Unfairground had some good dance tents, including a ‘50’s style tent with rock and roll bands and decent cocktails, and weird statues that shot fire into the night sky. Arcadia is a metal structure complete with DJ’s, dancers and acrobats and pyrotechnics. It can take 40 minutes to get into this area after the last bands have finished but is worth it.
Music-wise, U2 was incredible although I could have done without the drizzle. Coldplay were great to see live, but Beyonce stole the show. With afro-ed dancers, an all girl band, the biggest hair and longest legs I’ve ever seen and her powerful vocal chords, it was a sight to behold. The women shook their booty and developed girl crushes. She banged out all her tunes and did Beyonce mashups. The crowd joined in so enthusiastically for ‘To the left’, the woman practically cried onstage. Another musical highlight was listening to the legendary Don McLean sing American Pie. The sun had come out, the day was a scorcher, and I swayed in my bikini top and shorts, flowers in my hair, wellies consigned to the bin and my feet happily adorned in flipflops, waving my hand above my head and feeling all Woodstock-y. I’ve discovered some new bands to listen to, the mud is a distant memory, and oh god, I want to do it all again.
My crew were fantastic. Once you’ve tramped through mud together, had a joint she-wee experience (an invention where girls can pee standing up – yes I have one now!), cuddled and huddled in the drizzle, shook your booty to Beyonce, shared a stinky car, stood in the sunshine and rain staring out over the field of a thousand tents, shared a campsite and muddy tent, boundaries collapse. These are some of the most wonderful 8 people in the world and I’m glad my Glasto-deflowering was with them, and Neil and Dan’s pre-organisation meant I had somewhere to sleep AND had tickets in the first place! I caught up with a couple of friends, met new people and had some very random experiences. I’d like to thank the guy who saved me from falling into the mud after my welly got stuck – I sort of fell sideways and grabbed him round the waist as he passed by to the amusement of his friends and disdain of his girlfriend – I practically pulled his trousers down as I struggled to stay upright. Thanks to Mike and his mates, Sy and Emmy and the rest of their crew, who took me on a very cool adventure through Shangri La. Mike’s dance moves will go down in history as the coolest Glasto has ever seen.
Roll on 2013!!
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