What is Glastonbury for a volunteer? 5 days in a tent, 4 days of 6-hour work shifts and 3 days of live performances of Radiohead, Alt-J, Foo Fighters, the Killers, Cinematic Orchestra, London Grammar, the National and another dozen of bands.
Originally designed in 1970 for a crowd of leftish hippy eco anarchists and other over-haired folks, Glasto has grown to be one of the most expensive musical events in the world. But even today the echoes of past can still be heard on Tom’s Field, mecca of volunteers. But all begins with the legend.
Rumors fly over ever-green Somerset that first ever Glastonbury took place around 2000 years ago, when Joseph of Arimathea came here bury a thorn from Jesus. The event was marked by building an abbey, and soon pilgrims (who never say no to holy ground tours) started to treat these lands as sacred. The tomb of King Arthur was also conveniently placed not far from the heart of strongest British cider and cheddar making industries. All of this created a perfect atmosphere for the first gathering of hippies and other translucent music lovers in 1970. Organized by a local farmer Michael Eavis, the event hosted T-Rex as headliners and cost mere £1.
Today in contrast it is larger the life with 150–200 thousands of tickets sold every year and 86 stages. The echo of past activism survives by support from charities and in the names of areas such as Green Field, Left Field and Greenpeace. Thus when it comes to activism, there are volunteers. And if you are still searching your pockets for extra £250–1000, there’s still a chance to enjoy Glasto in exhcange for 4 days of volunteering. In fact, the whole territory is tidied by a volunteer Recycling Crew.
Unlike Brits, who plan their festival routes a year in advance, I get into the crew by sheer accident a week before the event.
Cleaning — this most basic of jobs is treated with respect even by the public. And well, you can understand why walking down pristine grass of the Pyramid Stage in early hours of midday after another night of musical debauch. — Michael Eavis opens pre-festival party in Tom’s Field with jokes and handling of diplomas before giving way to a couple of decent bands.
Unlike Brits, who plan their festival routes a year in advance, I get into the crew by sheer accident a week before the event. Events in Manchester and London caused a number of last-minute cancellations.
First look at 360 hectares of tents and stages can make any agoraphobic faint. A walk to the other side — field of tipis and local stonehenge takes 30 to 40 minutes. While main stages concentrate in the down to the middle, on edges of the valley helps to restore psychological health of visitors via circle of hammocks, transcendental meditation or sessions of tree hugging in the woods. — — -
A Day of Work
I start at 11 in the morning with a brisk jog to cinema tent. Today they show a 1927 Metropolis soundtracked by live electro guitar, keyboard and two singers. 12.30 — equally fast run back to to grab a lunch from canteen. Everyday you get two meals.
Today it’s a choice between curry with cashew sauce and vegetarian lasagna. Coffee and tea is available non-stop and in any wuantities, but there’s no time for that now. My 6-hour shift starts at 13.00 by the main stage — Pyramid. Our territory covers this one and 4 other main stages. Early on grass is prestine after morning shift. People shy away from littering in an obvious daylight. We walk around listening to the ballads of ex Bee Gees. By the time you get to John Piel in the forest and the Other Stage, things get more intense, but we still have enough energy to dance to some decent electronics at Silver Hayes.
You think by 18.30–19.00 your legs should be falling off, but Glastonbury time makes any tiredness vanish. At least until next week. There’s just no time. Run to dinner, hot shower and back to Pyramid to listen how frontman of the National gives US viewers a number of politician from Ohio In 30-minute windows between performances walk around circus and cabaret fields, where a steampunk clown melancholically walks on the glass and devours swords on fire.
Realizing that I lost my phone on a circus floor, I still continue through the carnival to the sound of Alt-J on the Other Stage. The phone was old and isn’t worth the pain of missing mesmerizing piano bits. When an hour that feel like ten seconds (who will say time travel is impossible) a friend makes me come back to the circus just in case they found the old mobile. I don’t believe, but return and get the thing back from the office late-night circus staff. Go to celebrate the whole thing in a small cabaret-karaoke tent, where an old pianist dressed in a three-piece white suit sing-alongs Slim Shady in the style of Frank Sinatra. No one is surprised to a piano on wheels rolling past us with a cyclist man in top hat. This reminds of last night when tired of sitting in the grass we fell onto beach chairs in front of the stage with musical comedy and unable to stand up again listened to a lengthy song of a 62-year old whose mother is apparently trying to feed him to death with home-made scone.
Even the longest of summer days has an end, and after dark we get lost in dance floors for every taste. Back at the volunteer canteen someone is still adding branches to the fire and a man plays guitar songs that no people younger than a hundred can possibly know. All sounds will stop only at dawn, so free earplugs from a welfare tent come in handy. Falling asleep, I think it would be good to wake up for one of the three fields of morning yoga. Or at least for breakfast.
This spirit of true carnival can excuse any cold&hot hell hours in the tent or five days of walking in rubber boots. The first day fear of this unknown and unmeasurable space fades out, and I start to understand Michael Eavis’ regret of skipping 2018.
The Bands (or rather Bends ;-)
Radiohead is still one of very few if not the only band that can allow themselves to play impossibly complex sounds reflecting the struggles of existential faults in front of 100000 people audience. By the end as if sensing the smell of blood in the water Rom Yorke gives in and lets his fans stream some tears bringing it home with Fake Plastic Trees and Creep. By the end of Sunday my head is full of sounds. Pure voice of London Grammar is mixed with powerful numbers of The xx, peppered by emotional the Veils whom I hunted down in a tiny Green Fields pavilion. Still fresh is excitement of my supervisor after Corbin and all other political speeches anyone who can speak two words felt important to say from the stage.
From Gallagher’s Manchester dedication to the National’s frontman dictating Ohio’s conservative phone-number from Pyramid stage. Awaited by all two surprise bands make some do impossible acts. Like running a good mile to catch the last song of Elbow in the tipi field, or getting zombified and skipping dinner when you hear the sound of Killers that come out of the trees from John Peel.
Future Islands seemed out of their best singing voice. The same goes to my college favourites kaiser Chiefs — at some point you start to appreciate singing more than jumps on the stage.
And New Tastes Acquired
But with disappointments come newly acquired tastes. This time for electronic band Justice. Not too keen on being marinated in a pool of this summer’s pop star teenage audience, I ask a girl from Portugal what band she’s here for. “Justice.” — “Any other?” — “No, only Justice.” The unapologetic statement sound convincing and I end the festival joining people who dance on the benches to broken rhythms of keyboards. Like at the same time someone ends up discovering folk from Zambia or contemporary jazz.