Surviving Glastonbury

Going to Glastonbury is to be reminded that sometimes it really is about the destination, and definitely not the journey.

Especially for me, who’s journey from Paris began not in the City of Lights, but in London, from where I’d accidentally booked the outbound Eurostar ticket. Crisis diverted, along with a small fortune, and 18 hours later we were lining up at the gates.

It might start on the Friday, but already by Wednesday morning the campsite was full. By this time even the police sniffer dogs had had their fill, as there were none on duty (unlike Australian festivals).

We were waved through by staff, who – using an approach based on drug-testing at the Russian Olympics – had adopted honesty as the most effective policy for weeding out illicit materials (of which we had none, BTW).

“Any glass bottles? Vials?”

“Nope…”

“Ok, I believe you Vladimir. You’re good to go.”

It was my first time at the festival, and some myths were quickly dispelled.

First, that it’s all about the music. To you, I present here the following exhibits:

  • It sells outs of tickets before even one band has been announced.
  • It doesn’t even call itself a music festival – it’s the festival of contemporary performing arts. But whatever, none of my friends were talking about going for the henna tattoos or braiding workshops.
  • It’s first edition was held the day after Jimi Hendrix’s death, literally the day the music died.

And, it’s also not even that muddy, at least after a fallow year, and during a week in which temperatures reached 30°.


What it true, is that it’s damned hard to get a ticket. I’d first thought of going 17 years again, had secured a ticket in another name once (but not gone), a ticket in my own name once (but still not gone), and only this time, thanks to a secret back channel finally managed to walk on the hallowed – or fallowed? – grounds.

If you want to know the stats: it’s been going since 1970 (every 5th year is a fallow year to rest the earth), when it offered 1500 tickets, and this year offered 135,000.

The 2019 festival sold out in 36 minutes, and then months later sold out all over again by booking Miley Cyrus as a headliner.

This year, with Brexit approaching with frightening speed (whereas everyone at Glastonbury approaches only with mellowing marijuana, amiable MDMA or blazed on boozed), much of the right-wing commentariat chose to focus on the whiteness, progressiveness and liberalness of the crowd.

Fair comment, but I’d rather be stuck in a field with them, than a stick in the mud for a homogenised past that never existed.

One Daily Mail journalist tried to elicit a response by wearing an “I Love Brexit” t-shirt, but frankly, I saw people dressed as astronauts, pineapples, and with only sparkles for a bikini, so I doubt his mere slogan t-shirt was going to raise either eye-brows or ire brows.

Perhaps he had a point though: after all,  anyone keen to hark back to the glory days of England At War ™ need not wait for Brexit, but merely visit Glastonbury on day 5: you sleep in the mud, your tank’s running on empty, and everything’s an overkill.

By Sunday afternoon, the 135,000 gathered en masse for a final rock star performance. Their hero entered, the crowd erupted, chanting his name. He was overwhelmed by the response but still held it together and delivered a perfect performance.

And though David Attenborough was a tough act to follow, pop veteran Kylie Minogue gave it her very best.

(And yes, we left before Miley.)

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