The Truth About Going To Glastonbury
Fact: you will leave a disgusting, unwashed bucket of dirt and slag.
Making the pilgrimage to the UK’s annual Glastonbury Festival means taking the good with the bad. Yes, the line-ups are incredible — 2017’s bill boasted everyone from Radiohead to The Foo Fighters and Lorde — but it’s not always the easiest event to live through. Lines for everything are long. The toilets stink. The weather is frequently shithouse. We’ve all seen photos of the mud. But ultimately, is Glastonbury worth the trek? SIMONE UBALDI weighs up the pros and cons.
I find I have been staring at the fresh-packed salads in a Waitrose supermarket for a solid ten minutes, semi-catatonic. The bus from Glastonbury back to London has stopped here for half an hour and I am definitely going to eat something, but I am broken. Five days is a very long time to be lost in a field in England.
Is Glastonbury worth the hype? Is it? Probably. I can’t think over the wailing of my internal organs.
Pro: 175,000 Human H-Bombs
English people are wound tighter than a noose, which is significant. This is a nation of emotionally repressed, socially withholding and lately politically traumatised people who, when given the opportunity, go off like an H-bomb. Glastonbury isn’t just a music festival, nor is it just the world’s biggest music festival, it is a collective unleashing of unfelt feelings, of uniquely British joy.
“This is the real me,” says one bloke, who in the normal world works in transport and logistics. “I feel free here.” We are wedged in a cow field, crammed cheek to jowl with tens of thousands of other campers who will shortly begin pissing in bottles to avoid Glastonbury’s soul-macerating, death-stinking toilets.
We will spend the next four days moving in flesh-pressed herds along endless paths to remote stages and dance tents, queuing endless hours for beer and tea cake. We will lose our friends, our minds, probably our shoes. Still, I know what the guy means. This place is special. I live 16,000 kilometres away, but Glastonbury is home.
Pro: All Of The Things
Glastonbury is bigger than you can conceive until you have been there — complex, multifaceted, surprising, delightful and sometimes a bit weird.
It has a lot of stuff in it: giant robotic flame-throwing spiders, an open-air junk car drive-in cinema, hair salons, karaoke bars and a permaculture garden. It has a printing press on site that produces a Glastonbury newspaper and a hidden death metal band room in the shape of the London tube. There is a bar down a rabbit hole, and a secret piano bar in the woods, and a whole field full of kids crap that I have never seen.
There is a viewing tower festooned with ribbons, a blacksmith workshop, at least two boats, an American diner and a tea room on a double-decker bus. There is a sacred stone circle, a jam tent for drunk musicians, a decaying New York building crawling with with leggy drag queens and an enormous plaza where people dance to Latin American roughly 18 hours a day. And on, and on, and on.
Con: That Thing About The Toilets And The Distance Between Everything
Wait time from first bus arrival to gates opening: four hours. Walking time from Pedestrian Gate A to Pennards Hill Camp Ground: 30 minutes. Walking time from our campsite to the Pyramid Stage: 30 minutes.
Walking time from The Park Stage to the late night mayhem in the South East Corner via Bella’s Cabaret Field: 45 minutes. Return walk from South East Corner to Dairy Camp Ground via the Old Railroad Track at 6am when the drugs have worn off but you remain trapped in the hideous swill of broken humanity: 45 minutes. Wait time for a shower in the Greenpeace Field: two hours.
Pro: The Left-Leaning Stew Of Human Diversity
‘The girls are coming up on Sunday to see Ed Shearan,’ my mate Kev tells me. There are a lot of dads at Glasto, a lot of mums, and a lot of old hippies.
There is an increasing number of posh, bland public school kids, and the usual truckload of celebrities on board to party. Bradley Cooper is here, making a film. Johnny Depp is here, playing guitar with Kris Kristofferson. NASA astronaut Mike Massimino is here, DJing in the Crows Nest. Jarvis Cocker is here, as always, DJing inside a tree.
“Glastonbury is political, radical, confused angry, in tune with the moment”
Jeremy Corbyn is also here, plagued by chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn, Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of the opening riff from ‘Seven Nation Army’. We sip a beetroot breakfast slushy on Saturday morning and watch the crowd stagger after him, hunting the Labour politician with their iPhones. They chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” in the Silent Disco, in the Theatre and Circus field, during Stormzy’s set on The Other Stage.
Glastonbury is political, radical, confused angry, in tune with the moment. The intensity of Brexit, of austerity and of a gutted NHS floods through Radiohead’s return to the Pyramid Stage, where Thom Yorke screams Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ catch cry over the hysterical stew of beats at the end of ‘Myxamotosis’. “See you later, Theresa,” Thom Yorke says, “Shut the door on the way out.”
At 2am on Sunday morning, one lone conservative lad at the back of The Glade tries to muster his own ‘Seven Nation Army’ chant: “What a bunch of lefty wankers! What a bunch of lefty wankers!” No one joins in and his voice stumbles to silence.
Con: The Weather.
Actually wasn’t that bad this year. Bit hot on Wednesday.
If you’re not in a VIP Winnebago, in the shower-friendly Hospitality or Tipi Fields, a rock star guest at Michael Eavis’ farm or a rich bell-end who paid $5000 for a luxury pad and VIP ticket package, you are a disgusting, unwashed bucket of dirt and slag. May god have mercy on your soul.
Pro: The Music
The thing is, right, no matter where you are at this festival, you are watching the performance of a lifetime from an act that is gobsmacked and grateful to be there.
They all comment on the privilege, the madness, the sheer scale of it. If they are British, they are living out the apex of their rock and roll dreams. If they’re American, they are reckoning with the fact that America does not have this because Coachella is West Coast scenester garbage, and anyway it’s nowhere near as big.
‘I feel cool!’ Katy Perry gushes. ‘I never feel cool!’ The Killers struggle to hear themselves over the sound of twenty thousand voices screaming Mr Brightside in unison. Bez and Peter Hook haul themselves out of bed before midday to lead a classical orchestra that plays rave anthems. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard sweat bullets over a heaving audience at Williams Green. Major Lazer has a whole field of munted ravers bouncing off the floor.
Con: Too Much Everything
There are eighty stages, thousands of bands and performers. Wherever you are, you are missing something. RIP Sleaford Mods, your live show remains a mystery.
They shut down John Peel field when news of the secret Killers set got out, so anyone who chose to watch The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb was well out of luck. The Park is too far from The Pyramid Stage to risk trying for a set in between sets, and Shangri-La is too far from Beat Hotel to trade a Jamie XX DJ set for an unannounced secret DJ set that could end up being Sophie Ellis Bexter. If you party too late, you won’t wake up for The Pretenders, you’ll have to make a choice between Justice and Metronomy.
You will miss things you want to see, and wonder endlessly what else is out there that you have yet to discover, and waste a good hour being witness to a pagan wedding ceremony in the Healing Fields. You will decide once and for all if you’re a Phoenix or a Jon Hopkins person, and you’ll spend a catastrophic amount of early morning hours dancing to drum & bass, when you could have been dancing to garage, hip-hop, house, jungle, salsa, pop, brass, acid house, techno, big beat, Brazilian techno or classic rock.
Also, most of the time, you’re just walking from one place to another. Glastonbury is a festival of marching — though frankly, if you’re bollocksed, this is not really a problem. At least not until it ends and you’re standing in a Waitrose, and your face is gently melting into the floor.
Simone Ubaldi is a ghostwriter, music journalist, film critic and frequent flyer.
All photos via Glastonbury Facebook page