Glastonbury – so much more than a music festival

This weekend, Worthy Farm in Somerset should have been hosting the 50th anniversary of the Glastonbury festival but like everything else this summer, it was cancelled. Not that we were going to attend anyway as, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to snatch those sought-after tickets back in October 2019. We weren’t exactly alone with our disappointment, though – according to the festival organiser, 2.4 million people registered to the nerve-racking exercise of refreshing the crashing website over and over again in a hopes of getting through until you received the soul-crushing announcement – all the 135,000 tickets have been sold out. And this year, it took only 34 minutes – and this is months before even the first performers are announced.

Fortunately, this hasn’t always been the case with us – we’ve been lucky enough to get a hold of those tickets not just once, but twice in the previous years. In the honor of the respectable milestone year for Glastonbury, BBC has done a great job showing the highlights of the festival over the years this weekend and giving us a chance to relive some of those magical moments. Seeing those broadcasts brought up some wonderful memories so I figured I would share some of those with you as, at least in the Finnish media, this festival has very little coverage despite being one of the biggest events in the world. I remember back in 2107, which was the first year we attended Glasto, the only news story I saw in Finland was about the amount of rubbish that needed to be cleaned up after the festival.

But first, let me give you some facts and numbers about the 2019 festival:

  • Glastonbury hosted 79 stages across numerous areas.
  • 2,800 performances took place from Wednesday until Sunday night.
  • The site covered 900 acres (3.6 km2) in the Vale of Avalon in Somerset. Just to give you an idea of the size of the festival area, I used the Glastonbury Map Overlay tool to place the festival site over the map of Helsinki.
  • Around 400 food stalls traded across the festival site.
  • 135,000 tickets were sold to the general public. Altogether the site hosted around 200,000 festival-goers, cast and crew over the five-day event.
  • The ticket price was £248 and the profits were split between the charities Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace.

As mentioned earlier, we’ve been lucky enough to attend the festival twice – first in 2017 and then 2019 (there was no Glastonbury in 2018 as every 6 years, there’s a gap year in order to give the dairy farm time to recuperate from the damage). And even luckier we’ve been with the headliners as on both years, the Saturday headliner slot has been given to two bands we adore – Foo Fighters and The Killers. Headliners, the acts that take over the famous Pyramid Stage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, are usually the most talked about performances of them all and the speculation for the next year’s ones start as soon as the festival ends. The Pyramid Stage is the main stage of the festival and it’s it is widely considered the most iconic festival stage in the world. For 2017 the headliners were Radiohead, Foo Fighters & Ed Sheeran and in 2019 the honor of taking over the Pyramid Stage was given to Stormzy, The Killers & The Cure.

If you take a look at the below pictures, you’ll probably get the idea where the name of the stage comes form. Funny enough, the two below pictures are from different years (first is Foo Fighters 2017 & the below is The Killer 2019) – seems like we were watching the two shows in almost exactly the same spot! And the lowest one features our Finnish “Mörkö” flag (which is heavily connected to the Finnish 2019 Ice Hockey World Championship) as flags in a bewildering variety are an inescapable part of the Glastonbury experience which we wanted to take part in.

However, Glastonbury is not really even about the headliners – or some would argue that it’s not even about the music at all. There’s just something nearly magical about the cheerful atmosphere and the joy of just going with the flow and ending up watching very random performances. Before my first Glasto experience, I would have never described myself as a fan of festivals as the Finnish music festivals have never really been my cup of tea – probably mostly because I don’t really enjoy Finnish music. I wouldn’t describe myself as any hardcore music fan either but I must say that singing along to your favourite bands together with over 100,000 people have been almost like religious experiences.

Besides the musical performances, there’s also a lot more to see during the festival – there’s art, drama, dance as well as circus performances, crafts, workshops and even movie theaters. Actually, one of my favourite festival memory is from last year, when after The Killers’ set we headed the Glade to hear the last moments of Idris Elba’s DJ set followed by Faitless and then, well after midnight, decided to walk all across the festival area to Pilton Palais Cinema Tent to watch (and, unfortunately for others, sing along to) Mamma Mia! Here we go again. The screening had already begun but we managed to talk ourselves in and luckily, found some coins from the bottom of our pockets in order to buy some cider and popcorn from what turned out to be a cash-only bar.

I guess you can’t really talk about Glastonbury without mentioning camping. When we first told our friends that we’re going to Glastonbury and will be spending 4 nights in a tent, the reaction was usually something between amusement and disbelief. We are not much of campers, you see – in fact, before Glastonbury, Mimosa had never spent a night in a tent in her life. Luckily, Glastonbury also offers accommodation where the tents are pre-erected and therefore, leaving you nothing to carry back home but the backs. This area called “Worthy View” is a short walk from the festival site and it also offers its own facilities including flushing toilets, showers and even pamper areas with hair dryers and straighteners, and I must say – I think it was worth every penny spent.

I think the biggest difference between Glastonbury and the Finnish music festivals is the alcohol policy. In Finland, you can only drink the ridiculously overpriced beverages purchased from the bar area and stay there until your glass is empty but in Glastonbury, you bring your own alcohol and consume it wherever you like – even inside the actual bars. This took us some time to get used to – I remember when we were drinking Long Island Ice teas (in our defense, we had just been listening to Radiohead and felt a bit sluggish) in Cornish Arms bar and decided that after the drinks, we’ll head to the Other Stage to see Major Lazer until we suddenly realised that we can just take the drinks with us! And surprisingly, despite this free alcohol policy, I don’t really remember seeing any sloppy drunk people.

I remember when we left the festival last year and were waiting for the shuttle bus to first take us to Castle Cary railway station, and the hopping into a train to Paddington, followed by a tube ride home, we were talking that even though we had absolutely brilliant time, this probably was our last Glastonbury festival. However, it didn’t take more than a long shower and a few good night’s sleeps in clean sheets and you had already forgotten about the dirt, the lack of sleep, the smell of the loos and the nagging hangovers and started reminiscing about the amazing musical experiences, fun days of stage hopping and the feeling that just about anything could happen. And that is why, we’ll definitely be vigorously hitting the refresh button on the Glastonbury website when the 2021 ticket go for sale in October.

– Milla

Read more about Glastonbury on their website.

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