Glastonbury sells itself as the worlds best ‘contemporary arts’ festival and of the many festivals I have attended over the years it is one that I had not experienced until last week. For those of you who have not been to Glastonbury let me try to give you a feel for the place.
Glastonbury festival takes place at Worthy Farm, Pilton, near Glastonbury in Somerset For five days just after the summer solstice each year a small city springs up in this leafy rural idyll. Glastonbury sells a reported 177,000 tickets for the five day extravaganza by the time you add in the security, stewards, traders, musicians, media and hospitality guests there are over 300,000 people on the site. Tickets for the 2015 festival sold out in 25 minutes.
I must confess the music line-up this year was (in my opinion) underwhelming and it got worse when Dave Grohl broke his leg and the Foo Fighters pulled out. Florence and the Machine stepped up to headline and of all people the Libertines slotted into Florence’s slot. I wouldn’t open my curtains to watch the Libertines if they played in my garden.
Having heard horror stories about getting onto the site my son and I travelled up on Tuesday and were on site in one of the many camper van fields before 11.30. We virtually drove straight on to the site. No problems at all. The arena didn’t open until Wednesday but even then we got onto the site easily, exchanged our tickets for wristbands and had a wander around. It was a beautiful sunny summers day and we really enjoyed the site before the masses arrived. We were able to sit drinking cider in the sun listening to music from some of the small stages around the site.
Glastonbury has something like 100 stages to enjoy so there is absolutely no way that you can ever
cover everything. Add to that the displays, informative stalls and the street theatre and there is entertainment available 24 hours a day for the duration of the festival. To give you some idea of the scale of the place the walk from the Avalon cafe stage (where we spent a fair bit of time) back to the van was 4.03 KM of a walk. Over 5 days we walked over 100KM or 60 miles. At busy times it can take an hour to get from the John Peel stage at one side of the site to the Avalon cafe at the other side! The sheer scale of the place is breathtaking.
I was amazed to see that those camping in tents can camp right on the edge of many of the biggest stages. Glastonbury is no more expensive for food and drink that other large festivals and is cheaper than some. They also allow you to carry in your own alcohol, other festivals should take note of this. The fact is the bars still do a roaring trade, but it does help the strain on your pocket a little to carry in a few beers.
I am sure that everyone has heard the horror stories about the toilets at Glastonbury. Well I have news for you. I found the toilets to be cleaner than many small festivals that have one ‘Best Toilet’ awards. Admittedly the ‘Long-drop’ toilets are a bit off putting but if you have a pack of anti-bacterial wet wipes in your pocket to wipe the seats before you sit down they are a long way from the nightmare I expected. Truth be told I only found one disgusting toilet all weekend and that was a port-a-loo.
I go to festivals for the live music, DJ’s, rave music and EDM is most definitely not my thing so I avoided that scene. I was unimpressed with the line-up on the two main stages and in fact only watched two full sets (Motorhead and Catfish and the Bottlemen) all weekend. My son and I took our musical pleasure at the John Peel stage, Left Field and the Fields of Avalon in the main. The performance by Enter Shikari and Slaves on the John Peel stage were worth the price of admission alone. Enter Shikari played a second set on the Left Field stage on Saturday night and it was simply incredible. By a distance the best show of the weekend for me.
I enjoyed all of the bands I saw on the smaller stages, especially in the Field of Avalon. Perhaps ironically these were all bands I have seen on numerous occasions in more intimate surroundings. 3 Daft Monkeys, Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs, Gaz Brookfield, Mad Dog McRea, Neville Staple, beans on Toast, were all outstanding, but I have seen them all in smaller venues on numerous occasions.
Sadly there were so many parts of Glastonbury that we missed out on. We overslept and missed Frank Turner who was on early in the day. We missed the Dali Lamma. We missed Frank Turner in the Bimble Inn (an essential part of other festivals) but we didn’t even find it at Glastonbury. There were so many places that we didn’t discover because the festival is so huge. There may be hundreds of thousands of people on the site yet it is easy to escape the crowds to find a quiet corner. We saw sets by bands in front of 30 people.
I guess the unique thing about Glastonbury is that everyone’s Glastonbury is a unique experience. It really is an incredible, awe inspiring, breath taking and mind blowing place.
So is it the best festival in the world? Well if I am honest it wasn’t even the best festival I have been to this month. That is because I wasn’t blown away by the music. It was just too difficult to get around to see all the things I wanted to see and at times I was just so tired and worn out I simply had to sit down where I was and enjoy whatever happened to be there.
Would I recommend the festival? You bet I would! There isn’t another festival like it and everyone should experience it at least once. Would I go back? Again a definite yes. I will enter the annual scramble for tickets when they go on sale but I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get a ticket.
I know that I will visit at least five festivals over the course of this year that I enjoy more than Glastonbury. That is just my preference, one guys opinion and in no way does it detract from the incredible experience that is Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.