The infamous Glastonbury Festival is held annually (most of the time) in Pilton, Somerset. The festival began when the curiously-bearded Micheal Eavis and his now late wife Jean decided to hold a festival of their own on their farm, named Worthy Farm. The first festival took place in 1970, a day after Jimi Hendrix's death.
The festival is generally known for it's outstanding ability to showcase the best bands of the time and it's general vastness. Those who have been also claim that the atmosphere is completely unique, with all walks of life turning up to the annual tented city (it's possibly the only place where soapdodging hippies don't have things thrown at them). The festival also has a lot of spiritual and alternative things going on, such as the Sacred Space, Healing Field, a circus and cabaret area, a cinema and the intentionally mis-spelt Kidz area.
Of course, many see the festival as all about the music. The Prodigy, Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack and practically any other band you can think of have played the event at some point in their careers. The stages tend to get mixed up, but there are some old faithfuls. There are two main stages: The Pyramid Stage and The Other Stage, along with an acoustic stage, the Jazzworld stage, the
New Bands Tent John Peel Tent (in memorium after his untimely death), the Dance Tent, the Cabaret and Circus tents and probably a few I missed!
Of far more interest for those that aren't there, is the soap opera that is the actual staging of the festival that goes on each year. Whilst Eavis is an amazingly nice guy, many of the local population in power would rather see "those damn pot smoking hippies" take a ride out of the area on the florally decorated Volkswagen vans they came in, and see the festival as the root of their problems. The festival is arguably the greatest draw of travelling vagrants, and many have settled in Glastonbury itself. Some try and make a living by opening spiritual shops, others just sit around busking and generally looking dirty. This year-long friction between the communities is exacerbated by the continual breaking of Eavis's license. Many people simply choose that paying for music is simply wrong (a lot like those cheapskate Napster badboys) and jump the fence instead. This often swells the festival population to dangerous proportions and seems to happen regardless of how much is spent on the outer perimeter fencing. The license grant in 2002 was seen as the Last Chance Saloon for Eavis, by both him and the local council. Another infringement and it was most likely the license would not be granted again, and the festival will end. Fortunately, the 2002 "Superwall", a very tall steel fence around the perimeter with 24 hour guard towers kept everyone out. It has succeeded in allowing the license to be granted without major difficulty ever since. In a bizarre twist of fate, it was the Glastonbury Festival that led to it's own local MP in 1981 spearheading the Miscellaneous Provisions Act, who had the intention of shutting down festivals altogether. This Act made it much more difficult for the festival to obtain a license each year, which is causing the more recent problems. Ironically, the MP was awarded an MBE by the Queen for his involvement in the festival.
Glastonbury has not taken place every year since 1981 when it became a regular event due to various factors such as the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, allowances for the farm to rest in 1988 and 1996 and to review the disturbances of 1990 in 1991. The 2001 cancellation was widely protested against, with celebrities such as Zoe Ball joining the outcry.
Since 1992, the festival has donated money in the region of £250000 each year to charity, Water Aid, Oxfam and Greenpeace being the main beneficiaries.
To end on a high note, the festival is also known for its disgusting toilets.
My own experience of the festival in 2002
Because I thought that my factual account of the above probably isn't very representative of Glasto itself, I've decided to write about my own trip to the festival in 2002. Warning: The following is not fact. There is no science and no evidence. Factual readers run away!
As a Glastonbury virgin, I can't possibly comment on the atmosphere change that occured this year to something far more relaxed. Indeed, the festival was very relaxed this year, but that's how I envisaged it would be, anyway. It's probably the only festival you can go to and not feel pressured to see any bands at all. I happily wandered around the Greenfields, which are the fields where the hippies and ecoactivists hang out. A little bit has rubbed off on me, so let's Stop Esso (or Stop Exxon if you're so inclined). Annoyingly, the Greenfields are on an incline, so it's quite tiring walking up and down. Yes, I'm so shallow that inclines bother me. As for the music, it's everywhere. You can't walk 500 metres before finding a stage or a tent, and there's always some random percussion emnating from the direction of the aforementioned hippies. The toilets, as I have now had first-hand experience, can be smelt from around 50-100m away from them. Water Aid provided some far cleaner (clean as in no infection or disease, not clean as in not dirty!) African-style pit latrines, so at least you didn't have to see what hadn't been flushed.
I think the best way to sum up Glastonbury is that it feels like a treasure hunt where you never lose. If you see the big bands, you're pleased about that. If you see small bands giving it their all, you're pleased about that too. If you spot a celebrity then that's all good. My own treasure hunt finished when I saw Ross Noble in the cabaret tent. He was hilarious, despite the fact he wasn't listed on any program. I just stumbled over him. And stumbling, it seems, is what Glastonbury does best.
All 112000 tickets for Glastonbury sold out in 24 hours. This is astonishing in comparison to the average selling time of about six weeks. Reasons proposed for the surge include the fact that both Radiohead and R.E.M. confirmed their appearances at the festival; that is was nice and sunny that day; and that the war on Iraq meant people weren't booking holidays and staying at home.
Quick summary (I'm going to keep these short, 2002 gives you the feel, in the end the bands are superfluous)
: Don't remember, I was very "scrumpied". Flaming Lips
: Good. Kings Of Leon
: Supposedly amazing. Junior Senior
: Definitely amazing. REM
: Too much new stuff, but magical none the less.
In what is one of the greatest ticket allotment debacles of recent memory, Glastonbury 2004 is doomed to be remembered as "The One With The Pathetic Ticketing System", even before the event has taken place.
Problems began when Eavis announced Aloud.com, a common-or-garden ticket company. It was patently obvious to all observers that the system couldn't hold based on the surge of tickets last year. Three Windows 2000 boxes weren't going to cut it. Eavis had also limited tickets to two per person, each with names and addresses. This was done in the name of "preventing the ticket touts", who were buying up tickets, then eBaying them for a hefty profit. Obviously, this meant that families had to buy twice. Not a problem under the system? It's going to double up the hits. No-one seemed to notice. The time of ticket allocating was moved to 8PM, from the previous 9AM slot. This allowed everyone, even those at school or work to have a chance to buy.
8PM rolled around. BAM! 2 million hits slam the site, and it all falls down like the flimsy pack of cards it was bound to be. People stay up all night. Phone lines are jammed, and people stay awake until 1PM the next day, still desperate to get tickets. It became a matter of principle, at least for me, by 1AM that night. "I've been up this long, I'm going to get my bloody tickets." It was 12:45PM when I got them.
Looking back, and the clean-up operation began. People weren't seeing the confirmation screen, even though their cards were being debited. Some people bought 8 tickets (remember, you were only allowed two!), and ticketing organisers starting phoning up, cancelling tickets. Some people got all their tickets cancelled, so they had to phone up again, asking to get them back. The system, is of course, being reviewed for 2005.
Kings Of Leon: Now upgraded to the Pyramid stage, boring and unmoving. Oasis: Couldn't have been more bored to be there. Basement Jaxx: Phenomal arse-shaking stuff. Paul McCartney: Very well received indeed, much better than feared. Morrissey: Stirling stuff as ever, but not enough. James Brown: Looked like the poor guy was tired, but man can he still belt out the classics. Mud: Absolutely everywhere. Muddiest for a good few years. Wellington boots, coats and a very good sense of balance (and humour if you don't) essential.
From the inbox - Station23 says: "You might also want to mention that it is the biggest non-corporate-sponsored festival in the UK, which is why the tickets are so expensive, but also why they can afford to give so much money to charity." Thanks!
I thank you!: Glastonbury Festival History web page, http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/HISTORY/michael.html and http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/HISTORY/overview.html. Accessed on 3rd May 2002.