Glastonbury – Is It Still the Best Party in the World?
This weekend saw the long-awaited return of Glastonbury festival, having been cancelled twice during the pandemic. For those of us lucky enough to have had a ticket, it was a bittersweet experience. It was wonderful to be back in that magical place and dancing in those special fields with dear friends and the best music, it generally felt like the last two years hadn’t happened. Then an artist would remind us to be grateful that we were there, something that seemed impossible even at the start of last year in the umpteenth lockdown, and the tears would come as it hit us all over again.
Unfortunately, the festival wasn’t completely free of Covid either, as the hundreds of positive tests on the fan forums show. The biggest disappointment was Chemical Brothers having to pull out of their ‘secret’ Arcadia set on the Friday night due to their support staff getting the virus. For those who don’t know Arcadia, it is a giant spider made from reclaimed metal that breathes fire and hosts world-class DJs for incredible dance sets. It would have been a great show but it was not to be. Otherwise, we were pretty lucky with all of the headliners making it to the show. My friends and I caught colds but not Covid, thankfully.
It was a very special festival and even the weather was near perfect this time. This was my eleventh and I am always so impressed by the creativity of the festival fans each year. Glastonbury is famous for its flags, both across the festival and those that people bring with them. Loved and hated in equal measure, they never fail to disappoint. My favourite this year was one with a picture of Boris Johnson saying, ‘This is a work event.’ A close second had a photo of Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the Ukrainian flag with the words ‘Dance for Ukraine’ and also ‘F*ck Putin’ in pink hearts. Another had the famous photo of Prince Louis covering his ears and screaming from the Jubilee – just wonderful!
The costumes were spectacular too with everyone going a little bit more Glastonbury with two years to make up for. I saw people dressed as human disco balls, Harry Potter wizards, and Yellow Coats, as well as the usual run of blow-up animals, nuns and funeral brides. There was so much colour, so many sequins and so much glitter, peaking on Sunday for Diana Ross’s set, where the Pyramid stage crowd was positively glittering.
On a more serious note, there was a real focus on diversity and inclusion, with notable support for the LGBT community this year. The arches between West Holts and the Green Peace Fields sported rainbows and displayed the word ‘Proud’. The iconic Pet Shop Boys closed the second largest stage (the Other Stage) and were preceded by Years and Years, another incredible set of the weekend. I personally noticed more black women playing, which was refreshing, and loved coming across the incredible Pongo at the after-hours Truth stage at Shangri-La one night.
The environment was also centre stage at Glastonbury, as it always is. We were treated to a talk from Greta Thunberg, which was both challenging and inspiring. The festival continued its ban on plastic, which seemed so radical in 2019 but felt completely normal this time. It is amazing that Glastonbury has achieved this and I hope that it inspires other festivals to do the same.
One notable change was how much technology has improved in the last few years. The Glastonbury app actually worked this year and was very intuitive. In fact, hardly anyone wore their festival timetable lanyards, which we used to rely on for both navigating the site and set times. Mobile signal was also ten times better with most people staying connected the whole weekend.
I also noticed how Glastonbury has been impacted by wider economic changes. As a long-time fan of Anna Mae’s Mac and Cheese stall, I noticed with horror that this had increased from £7 a bowl to £9.50 and £11 for the premium options. Most meals on site were now around the £10 mark, although the ‘Food for a Fiver’ scheme meant you could still eat on a budget if you needed to. You could pay with contactless almost everywhere this year, both wonderful and dangerous!
I have seen mixed reviews about the line up and the performances. However, I think the organisers did a fantastic job considering they have had to cancel twice since the last one. There were issues with sound and some crowd management problems, but there always will be with such a huge event.
So, after 50 years and two Covid cancellations, is it still the best party in the world? Most definitely. And for those that disagree, I would suggest that they don’t know how to do Glastonbury properly.