Glastonbury Is Still The Best Festival In The World

There’s been a lot of comment (partly from me) about Glastonbury not being as good as it used to be but it’s still far and away the best festival on earth - here’s why.
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There’s been a lot of comment (partly from me) about Glastonbury not being as good as it used to be but it’s still far and away the best festival on earth - here’s why.

Attempting to quantify exactly what makes Glastonbury special is a toughy. Everyone has their own experience of the festival and everyone loves it for different reasons. Certainly, judging by the media coverage you’d think that people enjoy it solely because of the bands but I’ve always found that the music accounts for roughly 12% of the entertainment (or 7% this year, looking at the line up). There is far, far more to do at the festival than just see the bands, there’s comedy, theatre, dance, circus acts, craftsmen, mad hippies, chainsaw sculpture, house building, skateboarding - entertainment and activity of every hue. While most people’s opinion of Glastonbury is formed by the media what never really translates in the papers or on TV is that old cliché ‘the vibe’. There is definitely something very special in the air in Pilton, ‘Glastonbury moments’ await in every corner of every field and when they happen to you there’s no finer feeling. These magic moments can take any form and they arrive and depart like benign spectres, unexpected and indefinable. But there are some very tangible underlying reasons why the Glastonbury vibe exists in the first place.

First up is the layout, which is unique among events of this size, certainly in the UK. Normally festivals have a main arena surrounded by a heavily guarded wall, outside of which everyone camps – it’s almost medieval in its simplicity. This results in all of the ‘fun’ being geographically contained and strictly controlled – you go here, watch bands, spend £4 on a pint, go there, watch another band, spend another £4 on another pint, leave now, go to tent, sleep, repeat tomorrow. You’re not allowed to go where you want when you want, you can’t take your own booze in so you have to buy it at the overpriced bars and once the bands have finished you have to spend your evening sat by your tent drinking warm cans and listening to some knob camped 50 yards away howling half-remembered Libertines songs accompanied by another knob with an out of tune acoustic guitar.

Glastonbury is the exact opposite; the super-wall (and I accept that the wall is sadly now essential to Glastonbury’s survival) surrounds everything except the parking. This means that at any time of day or night you can wander anywhere you wish around the vast site, you can drink your own booze, eat your own food, walk your own walk, you can access almost any part of the festival and get into all kinds of unexpectedly bizarre situations with whatever kind of weirdo you happen upon. All of this is not just tolerated but actively encouraged with areas and acts designed specifically for late night exploration. For many punters the festival only really comes alive after the main stages have closed for the night and, without a doubt, an early hours wander through Shangri-La, Arcadia or Strummerville will provide more adventure and spectacle than a zillion Coldplay gigs. GLASTO FACT: Chris Martin would have to walk onstage bollock naked and proceed to set himself on fire, Vietnamese monk-style, while singing Smack My Bitch Up in a Screaming Jay Hawkins voice to be one tenth as interesting as any of the crazies in the Green fields.  God, I hope he does.

I’ve been to many other festivals and nothing rivals Glastonbury for the sheer amount of quality experience options available. The Eavis’s have always demanded the festival remain true to its roots but bang up-to-date and it’s ultimately thanks to them and the solid foundations they have built the event on that Glastonbury has grown into the most exceptional, amazing and unsurpassable gig on the planet.

Along with the layout, the remote location helps. Many festivals are close to (or in) big cities - this means that license restrictions are tight and there’s a greater number of people who arrive just for the day and, consequently, have less interest in meeting new friends or ensuring the festival has a happy, communal vibe. Being way out in the country means that Glastonbury can rattle on 24 hours a day without too much risk of upsetting the local council and that most of the punters stay for the entire weekend, ensuring they mix and mingle with their fellow man, sometimes forming genuine friendships which continue well beyond the festival weekend.

Also, uniquely to Glastonbury, the line-up is never announced until all of the tickets are sold. This ensures that people attend because they want to go to the festival itself, not to see their favourite bands. There is also no specific agenda when it comes to booking policy, meaning that it’s not a festival aimed solely at teens or the middle aged or any other, easily-defined but limiting demographic. There are, literally, all ages there, from newborns to octogenarians and, while the racial mix has turned a whiter shade of pale in recent years, most UK cultures are represented somewhere on site, if nowhere else in the festivals diverse cuisine.

Incidentally, another decreasingly represented (but vital) group at the festival is nutters. Without sounding too much like a not-as-good-as-it-used-to-be killjoy the amount and variety of head-the-balls populating the festival has definitely nose-dived since the arrival of the super-wall. Just a few years ago it felt like most of the interesting characters in the south west of England had walked to the festival and jumped the fence so they could stagger round, off their heads on hot cider, falling into pissy ditches purely for the entertainment of those nearby. You rarely see any of these types these days. That said, Glastonbury can still claim a greater concentration of genuine eccentrics than any other event outside of the Bedlam Festival of Psychosis (which is a gig I just made up, anyway).

Artists love to play the festival. Many return every year even if they’re not performing and others stay for the entire weekend and wander the site enjoying it the same as everyone else. Some of the performers have stated that the backstage area is the worst place to be at the festival and take every opportunity to escape into the fields. This means that you’re very likely to run into one of your favourite artists somewhere on site, something that simply doesn’t happen at other festivals.

The final reason why Glastonbury is so special is, very simply, the Eavis family. Michael, his late wife Jean and, more recently, daughter Emily have cultivated and curated more than 30 years of spectacular events with the kind of love and eclectic abandon that has ensured Glastonbury remains fresh and artistically relevant. There’s always at least one band you want to see on the main stages over the weekend, the choice of smaller stage artists has been inspired, the food and drink on offer is always varied and comparatively reasonably priced and there’s never a line of sight around the festival that isn’t amazing and enticing. Of course the Eavis’s entrust a great deal of the organisation and booking to trusted collaborators but, while the festival’s aesthetic has always been centred on left-leaning, hippy values, this hasn’t stopped there being genuine extremes in the entertainment on offer and a positive aura of risk surrounding some of the acts. You can spend a merry day learning basket weaving or having a reiki massage with a candle up your bum but you can also spend entire nights enjoying extremely offensive comedians performing on acid, witnessing 3-way gay marriages presided over by a transsexual Elvis impersonator or watching naked dancers hang from trapezes by chains attached to their breasts – thinking about it, I doubt some of the acts I’ve witnessed in the deeper recesses of the festival’s fields were actually approved by the Eavis family at all.

I’ve been to many other festivals and nothing rivals Glastonbury for the sheer amount of quality experience options available. The Eavis’s have always demanded the festival remain true to its roots but bang up-to-date and it’s ultimately thanks to them and the solid foundations they have built the event on that Glastonbury has grown into the most exceptional, amazing and unsurpassable gig on the planet.

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