Over the past week, this blog has been rather quiet. This isn’t because I’ve dropped off the ends of the Earth – not quite, anyway. I’ve been volunteering at the Glastonbury Festival with the Oxfam Stewards, who raise money for charity by helping to run festivals across the UK, and who I can’t recommend enough.
Yes, my waterproof really is that mucky. The result of a pratfall the previous night when, dancing rather enthusiastically to Arcade Fire, I slipped and went face-down into the mud.
I’m now going to put forward a few opinions about Glastonbury, all of which run counter to some sort of received wisdom about the festival. Feel free to disagree vehemently, as I’m sure quite a few will. On that note, I think I should add the usual disclaimer that these opinions are my own personal views and not necessarily those of the Oxfam Stewards.
1. Glastonbury hasn’t become too mainstream and middle-class.
This was suggested by Bruce Dickinson just before the festival kicked off.
“In the days when Glasto was an alternative festival it was quite interesting. Now it’s the most bourgeois thing on the planet. Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.”
Well, obviously it’s disappointing to be considered too middle-class for the guy with his own jet plane. Even more gutting, I didn’t get an air-conditioned yurt when I arrived. My tent didn’t have a Gwyneth Paltrow in it either, but that’s probably for the best as I’m sure she’d get in the way.
It’s true that the great and the good do come to Glastonbury these days. And I’ll grant Dickinson that it has given rise to the abomination that is “festival chic”. On that I’ll say that if you buy a £500 handbag that Vogue featured in its festivals edition, and it then gets stomped into the mud, then that is simply a tax on stupidity.
But if the celebs and the politicians turn up at Glasto, so does everyone else. The hippies are still there, mostly up at the Greenfields. The hardcore ravers are still clustering around the dance stages, while the indie alternative types are hanging out in the Park. Glasto’s detractors tend to criticise it for what’s headlining on the Pyramid, forgetting that it has multiple areas and stages, some of which could be pretty much mini-festivals in their own right. If Beyonce is too mainstream for you, then there’s plenty of other, more alternative acts going on elsewhere. In 2011 I took a certain amount of pride in that I only saw one act on the Pyramid Stage (a Moroccan folk band waking the crowd up at 11am), and spent all the rest of my time at the smaller stages.
Also, if people think Glasto is middle-class these days, then they should take a look at some other festivals. The pinnacle of festival poshness is Wilderness, where City bankers and Tory politicians take a break from ruling the world to watch Metronomy. I challenge anyone to read through this fashion gallery from Wilderness and not be ready to declare class war by the end.
2. Glastonbury ticket prices are reasonable.
£210 for a five day festival, with a whole host of the world’s top acts, and a huge variety of smaller ones. Plus a circus, a cabaret, street theatre, dance stages, art installations….Oh, and free camping thrown in. I’d actually say that’s a lot of value for money.
To be fair, not everyone can afford 210 quid to get in. But then if that’s the case, do what I did and engage in a bit of voluntary work in lieu of payment. I did my 3 shifts with Oxfam and still got to see Arcade Fire, the Manic Street Preachers, Blondie, St Vincent, Midlake, Haim and many more.
3. It’s entirely appropriate to book hip-hop or metal bands as Pyramid headliner.
Seriously, Mike and Emily Eavis can’t win. They get accused of sticking to a white, middle-class formula of music. Then as soon as they book Jay-Z or Metallica to headline people complain that such acts are “not a Glastonbury band”.
Personally, I had a great time when Jay-Z headlined in 2008. I wasn’t watching his show – I was at the Park Stage watching CSS – but it was a great time. You don’t approve of such acts? Watch something else!
Let’s get away from this “not a Glastonbury act” snobbery, when Glasto probably has a greater variety of acts than any festival you care to name. For that reason it was entirely right and proper to book Metallica to perform their dull, cliched, utterly pedestrian, mind-meltingly dumb, badly-dated act on Saturday.
4. Glastonbury isn’t essential.
Glasto is not the one festival you absolutely have to go to. The festival industry these days is bigger and has more variety than it ever has at any time. I actually think there’s a lot to be said for smaller festivals where the walking is much shorter, the crowds are less intense and the beer is often cheaper. I have a particular love for the Shambala Festival, which last year hosted a whopping 8000 ticketholders, which pretty much equates to a small corner of Glastonbury. There may not have been big-name acts on the stage, but the atmosphere was ridiculously fun and happy.
Glastonbury is the grandaddy of the festival scene, but has also spawned many children and grandchildren. If Glasto ain’t your thing, there are plenty of alternatives.
So, those are my thoughts about Glasto. You may now all tell me I’m wrong.
I particularly love your comment about being called too middle class by a man with his own plane! Sounds like you had a great time and your opinion seems very balanced and sensible to me. (I have never been to Glastonbury, I enjoyed watching bits on i player, can’t help but think most of the crowd must’ve had a rubbish view. My preference, watch big acts online, go to folk festivals and get festival atmosphere with less crowds).
I was at Glastonbury and I have to say the staff and volunteers were incredibly friendly and super helpful. You guys have the patience of Saints! I’d also echo your comments above, and add that Glastonbury of course is much more than a music festival – I loved the acts, but my most fun experiences were getting off the beaten track and discovering the various wonders in Shangri-La and the Cabaret area. Great fun!
Great Post, Phil! I looked at that fashion blog from Wilderness, and I’d just love to throw some mud over those girls in the photos. I had one of the best Glastonburys ever this year, and it wasn’t just that I embraced the glamping world of bell tents. I also volunteered with Oxfam, working and playing hard. After the music, I realised that festivals are all about the people – spending time with old Oxfam friends who make me laugh hysterically!
Right on! We obviously have different music tastes (I love Metallica and can’t stand Haim! Lol) but what you’re saying is spot on. As someone who has been going for 15 years, I think the fence and police presence makes it safer, a place you can take your kids and there has always been loads to do. We love being in the theatre fields, watching unsuspecting people get trapped in a net or kids being squirted with water guns. Top festival and people should stop moaning. All hail the legendary lands of King Arthur! 😉
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