After attending Glastonbury Festival last month, I can unequivocally say that I get it. I get the hype. The festival actually is one of the best music events on the planet.
No wonder, it takes a carefully managed team of mates to get one of 135,000 tickets which sell out in under half hour. No wonder people, such as this music obsessive, spend hours of customer service wages to fly themselves from all corners of the earth. No wonder people struggle through the infamously dreadful weather which turns the site into a literal swamp.
The temporary population of Glastonbury is almost four times the size of my home city. An entire civilisation is constructed in a field for five days. A city complete with 28 major stages and 54 ‘smaller stages’ of varying sizes, as well as countless bars, food outlets and shops. After five days at the festival, there were entire sections I was never able to get to – not stages, sections of stages.
Typical of many music festival punters in Australia, I love a boutique festival – revelling in the laid back vibe, strong community, lack of corporate sponsorship and zero clashes created by the singular well-curated stage. So, despite the iconic status of the festival and the head-spinningly stacked lineup, I approached Glastonbury with the slightest hint of trepidation. I have attended festivals such as Coachella, Osheaga and more locally, Splendour In The Grass. Despite having a great time at each of those festivals, there are definite downsides to their sizes.
Yet, Glastonbury just knocked me out of the park, and the reason is that it felt like Meredith, just bigger. Somehow a lot of the negative factors of large festivals that I have been to in the past just did not apply to Glastonbury, or they didn’t matter. It felt like an event for mates by mates…with some of the planet’s biggest names on the lineup. It prompted me to compare this festival to those I have been to before, and especially to question why is it that this festival is so much better than the festivals that we have in Australia.
The Lineup – enough said
The lineup of Glastonbury is the kind of cooked list of all your favourite artists which makes any Australian music fan simultaneously want to cry and pick up another 5 hospo jobs to fund an endless summer in Europe where bands never leave five years (or more) between tours or refuse to fly to your country. Heavy hitters on my wish list included everyone from industry titans Radiohead, indie darlings The National, original disco legends Chic and Barry Gibbs to my favourite Melbourne producer, Harvey Sutherland and tiny artists that are gathering momentum like Confidence Man. Utilising contacts all over the world, the lineup aims to not only show the audience artists who are well known already but to create unique experiences with little-known artists from every corner of the globe. Not to say that Splendour In The Grass doesn’t get great acts on their lineup, they do, but unfortunatley the tyranny of distance both within Australia and globally means that we just don’t get as many big acts on our antipodean shores. The expense of flying acts into the country in the first place, and then paying them too would often be simply too high.
The Crowd Are A Bunch Of Legends
It will take a lot for me to go back to Splendour (even LCD Soundsystem couldn’t get me there this year) and this is because I found the crowd too much to handle. Everyone likes to have a good time, me very much included (ask anyone who attends The Tote on a regular basis for confirmation) but I can’t cope with people who care more about having a good time themselves than respecting the want of other people around them to enjoy the festival too. Splendour seems to be many people’s annual party where they proceed to pop pills and drink themselves into oblivion with little regard for the music, or fellow attendees.
I do not mean to say that Glastonbury didn’t have its fair share of cooked units, or that Splendour doesn’t have a share of pure music lovers, but the general vibe at Glastonbury was one of less frantic ~good times~ chasing and more music appreciation. As an uncompromising music fanatic, I spend a fair amount of time traipsing to bands that I want to see that my friends don’t. At Splendour, I spent a lot of time in packed crowds being jostled backwards by groups of mates or ignored whereas when I was watching a band on my own at Glastonbury, people engaged me in conversation, asked me to join their mates or even gave me their drinks! (Shout out to the girl at Jamie xx at The Beat Hotel on the Sunday night, thanks for beers. Great boogie.)
Perhaps, it’s that the average age of Glastonbury attendees is reportedly 36, so people are a little more chill on the partying front. Perhaps, they are right when they say Australia has a binge drinking problem. Either way, something about Glastonbury makes people more cheerful, open and friendly.
It’s full of weird, wacky and wonderful places and spaces
Glastonbury just looks amazing while also looking like it was thrown together. Unlike the sleek and flashy staging of the likes of Coachella, Glastonbury has a particular thrown together aesthetic like a kind of 21st century Bartertown. Every corner of the festival has art and experiences which cover a broad spectrum from beautiful to scary – but always amazing. On the first day, we found ourselves lost in a wooden section which was dotted with light and sound installations, which lead to a huge tree house platform with a large disco ball hung from it. On the second night, lost without my friends I found myself in Arcadia dancing below a 50 ft steel spider. On the third day, walking to the Pyramid stage, our way was blocked by a dancehall sound system on a truck driving around the site past a sculpture of a large crab snapping a torpedo in half…anyway you get the idea. The place is chock full of extremely cool shit.
Arcadia with the terrifying flame throwing spider in action.
Where are all the brand names and sponsored stages?
Unlike many large festivals, not a single stage is sponsored by any huge commercial corporations. None of the bars were covered with banners for the brands that they sell. No stage screens show ads or promo material between sets. The sponsorship by brands in the festival it is not in your face or obvious, except for corporate relationships which seem to be more directly connected to the political ethos of the festival like Greenpeace, Oxfam, WaterAid and The Guardian. This is so refreshing when you think of the torrent of marketing that we consume at festivals in Australia with specifically branded stages and bars like Smirnoff Lodge at Splendour or V Movement at Sugar Mountain.
Jeremy Corbyn Got Involved
Glastonbury is very transparent about the owner’s politics, which definitely lean to the left. This was reflected by one of two events over the weekend which made me shed a tear. After the steep rise in support for Corbyn’s Labour party in the recent UK elections, especially amongst many young first time voters, it is no surprise that there were a lot of Corbyn shirts onsite, and breakouts of singing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’….don’t ask because I really don’t know either. However, no display was bigger than the massive turnout for Corbyn’s 15 minute MC of Run The Jewels set, the Pyramid stage was so packed that they restricted access to it and his speech live streamed to the screens at The Other Stage before the Kaiser Chiefs. While Corbyn’s speech was rousing, the emotions for me came from the huge amount of people who were open to engaging in politics while at a festival.
See Old mate, Corbyn here with the original legend Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis.
You can camp a late night stumble to whatever stage you want
At Glastonbury, there is no delineation between the festival site and the camping site. Yep that is correct there is no lines in and out of the festival to your tent and no bag searches. Also depending on how small your regard for sleep is or how ludicrously early you want get in line on the first day, it is possible to be literally camped right beside your favourite stage. On the final night, I sat next to a tent unceremoniously stuffing my face with late night food which was less than a swimming pool’s length away from The Beat Hotel, a stage which played banging house from 11 am to 3 am every day. No doubt there were some absolute champions who get in so early that they were camped in a position where they could have watched Radiohead from the comfort of their tent. Goals.
Yep, you read correctly. The limit is as much as you can carry from the car, in as many loads of as you want. Falls Festival, Splendour In The Grass, Beyond The Valley…eat your hearts out.