Glastonbury Festival or Glasto, Fabric of British Culture
When someone says Glastonbury – there’s very few who think of the sweet little Somerset town. More likely we think of the world’s biggest and most infamous live music festival, complete with crowds of free spirited music-lovers camping out in tents, drinking, smoking (and the rest), wallowing and wading in mud baths and the torrential rainfalls British summertime is known for, and watching mind-blowing good music. And you’d be right.
Glastonbury – or Glasto as it’s affectionately known – has become part of fabric of British culture, and from (relatively) humble roots – it now hosts over 2000 act across 50 stages. The sheer scale of this festival is just staggering!
The festival has been host to some of the most legendary bands and performers of their time – and what heady acts they were (and still are): Marc Bolan and T-Rex, David Bowie, Van Morrison, Curtis Mayfield, Hawkwind, New Order, The Smiths, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Elvis Costello, The Waterboys, Simply Red, Madness, Lou Reed, Primal Scream, Johnny Cash, Radiohead, Oasis, Pulp, Smashing Pumpkins, Velvet Underground, Jeff Buckley, Morrissey, Blondie, The Pixies, Coldplay, Sting, Neil Young, Rage Against the Machine, Blur, Lenny Kravitz, Moby, Amy Winehouse, Bjork, Adele, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Kings of Leon, James Brown, Jay-Z, Basement Jaxx, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga...... and that’s just the tip of the impressive musical iceberg.
Glastonbury, fabric of British culture
But how did it all come about?
Located in Somerset on large farm in the Vale of Avalon, a place known for ancient myths and fascinating King Arthur legends, the first Glastonbury festival went by the very un-rock & roll name of Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival and was organised by what is now the hippest farmer in Britain - Michael Eavis - nearly 43 years ago, in September 1970. Around 1,500 of those aforementioned free- spirited music lovers turned up to Pilton, paying just £1 to see Marc Bolan and T-Rex headline.... and they even got free Somerset milk thrown in for the price.
The following year in 1971 they improved the festival’s name (but only slightly) to Glastonbury Fayre and the festival’s date was moved to June to coincide with Summer Solstice. Performers that year included David Bowie, Fairport Convention, Hawkwind - and the delightfully named Worthy Farm Windfuckers. And as the ‘Fayre’ part suggests, the festival also featured mediaeval music, dance, poetry and theatre. The festival was – according to Eavis – funded by ‘rich hippies’ and saw Bowie perform to 12,000 people for free. The festival came with rules though; no alcohol sales, meat-free food only, and no music past midnight. It was still – after all – the countryside.
1971 was also the year the infamous Pyramid stage (the main stage) was set up; conceived by Bill Harkin, the stage was a smaller replica of the mysterious Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and was built on the Glastonbury Stonehenge leyline (found by dowsing ) – all of which added a magical and otherworldly ‘cosmic vibe’ to the festival – and made this stage the most iconic in the world.
The legendary status of Glastonbury came full circle in that fateful 1971 when the event was filmed by award-winning cinematographer and director Nicolas Roeg (Far From the Madding Crowd, Don’t look Now and Performance) and Oscar winning producer Sir David Puttnam (Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields, The Mission) who released the film as a documentary simply entitled Glastonbury Fayre. The documentary became a cult classic and Glastonbury was well and truly born, history made - and the festival was firmly on the music map.
But not everyone was a fan of the event, especially country locals subjected to way out music lovers, wandering about naked. Then Eavis decided to put the wellbeing of his farming business and livestock first. So, to the great dismay of many, the festival was closed down.
Perhaps it was the vibes, the leylines or something even more cosmic, but in 1978 over five hundred travellers arrived from Stonehenge and a totally spontaneous and unplanned event took place. Could it have been a message or a sign from the universe that this festival was meant to be? If you build it they will come? Possibly. Probably. Either way the message was heard, and by 1981 the festival was back – and with a new Pyramid Stage which doubled as a cow shed and hay barn in colder months.
During the 80’s, Glasto supported a number of charities; Children’s World, WaterAid, Oxfam and Greenpeace - all of which offer volunteers who in exchange for free entry into Glastonbury. But the festival wasn’t all fun, games and good will - originally the maximum attendance was 30,000 - but it quickly grew in popularity and size to over 100,000 music revellers. By 1985, it became clear Worthy Farm was too small so organisers invested in neighbouring Cockmill Farm - and the festival continued to flourish.
1990 was the largest Glastonbury festival ever but was tainted by violence between security guards and new-age travellers, forcing the organisers to take 1991 off the agenda. But 1992 was a massive success. In 1994, the Pyramid Stage burned down – and the festivals was saved only by the setting up a short-term main stage. This was also the first year in which the Glastonbury festival had Channel 4 filming there – and for anyone who didn’t know about the festival before – they did now. Glastonbury was more than popular - it was suddenly big news – and it was THE Mecca for music lovers!
The new Millennium kicked off with a new monumental Pyramid stage and strong security to stop gate-crashers which saw the problem of illegal crashers eradicated once and for all. Since 2007 festival-goers must register online before tickets go on sale to prevent all illegitimate ticket scouts. The number of attendees has since risen to 137,500 and as anyone who has been to Glastonbury knows – tickets are like gold!
If you want to be part of this year’s musical extravaganza (which takes place from Wednesday 26 to Sunday 30 June), here’s some practical info:
Book your tickets well in advance: Book ahead and register online first. Your registration number allows you to buy your ticket (but does not guarantee a ticket) which is £205. Not cheap – but worth it. And be aware – as we already said - these tickets are like gold – so if you have one you’re already very, very lucky. This year a record-breaking 135,000 tickets sold out in just an hour and 40 minutes.
If you’re driving there, stay eco-friendly and fill your car with other people. Better still take a coach or train and check out all travel information here:
What to bring:
You’ll be camping out (unless you can afford a trailer) along with tens of thousands of others, so bring a tent and all the practicals that go with camping, from loo rolls, earplugs and binliners to sleeping bags. Don’t get too optimistic – this is England after all, bring wet weather gear; willies, umbrellas and make sure you bring a torch – finding your tent amid 70,000 others in the dark is not fun if you’re very tired (or very drunk). Even better pitch, your tent near a recognizable landmark so it’s easier to find. Whatever you bring - always think green – leave nothing behind and recycle – it’s all in the spirit of things. If you run out of anything don’t panic – you can buy everything from jester hats to dayglo facepaint but it may not be cheap.
Don’t worry Glastonbury has it ALL covered – if you can eat it you’ll find a stall selling it. Also consider bringing snacks and some of your own food as long queues can be a pain.
Drinking: Bring booze – and no, that’s not official advice, just the word on the street.
Safety: Every imaginable drug is available, so stay safe and don’t get so out of it you don’t know what’s going on. Theft is rife here, so don’t leave valuables in your tent or carry too much cash around – especially if you do plan on indulging a bit.
Who else will be there: Hippies, ravers, celebrities, new agers, musicians, thespians, and even families – basically everone imaginable. You’ll be making firm friends with people you never even expected to cross paths with in life – enjoy these once in a lifetime connections!
This is what it’s all about, the reason you made it all this way and are putting up with rain, mud, queues for stinky toilets and often no shower. Headline acts for this year include Arctic Monkeys, The Rolling Stones and Mumford & Sons but for the full and detailed line up go here:
Get a festival program and plan your schedule and your time as getting from one end of the site to the other can take over an hour as you navigate the paths and crowds. On the other hand, the festival is a great place to just do your own thing and meander around – discovering things, people and new music on one of the many stages as you go. Bear in mind there are six main stages - the largest of which is the aforementioned and infamous Pyramid Stage, then the Other Stage, the Dance Village, Jazz World, Acoustic Tent, New Band Stage (re-christened the John Peel Stage in 2005 after the indie DJ’s death in 2004), and the Fields of Avalon stage. If you’re not lucky enough to be there – don’t worry as the BBC will be bringing you live coverage.
At the end of the proverbial Somerset day, Glastonbury Festival gives you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to encounter all genres of music, people, styles, tastes and sounds in one location – and it will be amazing, exhilarating, frustrating, weird, unique, loud, wild and always a bit crazy.
The cost of that ticket isn’t cheap but the experience is, quite frankly, priceless.
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