For the last few days I've been living in a field in Somerset along with 170,000 other people enjoying the varied delights of Glastonbury Festival. If you're from the UK then you'll know it well, it's pretty hard to escape on the BBC, but if you're from the other side of the pond then you may not have heard of it before. Basically it is the largest music festival in the UK, there are, I believe, more than 50 stages and hundreds of acts who play over three official days of the festival, and it's all hosted on a farm in south west England.
Those of you who know me well probably wouldn't expect me to have gone to such a gathering and to be honest I'm slightly surprised myself! But I was persuaded to go and go I did.
Although the music doesn't start until Friday, the site opens at 8am on Wednesday and, if you want a good camping spot then it's advisable to get in their as quickly as you can. We got to within 3 miles of the site by 8am but so did tens of thousands of others so we ended up queueing in the car for about 2 hours, worryingly the rain also started to fall fairly heavily. But the time we got into the car park (field) it was already fun and games with wheels spinning all over the place. But we got parked ok and loaded up our rucksacks, tents, etc and started the walk onto site.
Again with so many people trying to get onto site we had to queue, this time for 2.5 hours and it was still raining. I'd like to say it was fun, it really wasn't. By the time we got to our camping spot very kindly saved for us by others in our group who had managed to get in quickly, it was still raining and we had very sore arms and shoulders and very wet gear. No matter, actually pitching camp was simple and we were off to explore. It's hard to imagine the scale of this temporary town which is built from nothing. There are more food vans than you've ever seen in your life in one place, plus various other assorted stalls selling pretty much anything you can think of. It's one of the reasons that it's worth getting in early to site, it takes a couple of days to have a look round at everything before the music actually starts!
So the rest of Wednesday and Thursday were spent wandering round the site, getting to know the place and just generally relaxing. Well as much as we could in the intermittent rain. I guess I should mention the mud. Boy there was a lot of it. That many people and that much rain on essentially fields means that it very quickly turns into a bog. At various point through the weekend the mud got as deep as six inches, making walking a challenge, but surprisingly, once the sun was out it dried out very quickly. The Friday especially though it rained for well over six hours straight and by the end of the evening it was pretty depressing.
But the real reason we were there was for the music and there was a lot of it to choose from. Seemingly the biggest challenge of the weekend is to work out how to see all the bands you want to see. In the end it is simply not possible so you have to pick your route carefully. The one thing I had assumed watching on the TV in the past was the you could get from stage to stage pretty quickly. In reality you're looing at a 30 minute walk to get from the Pyramid (main) stage to the Other (second) stage.
I won't review all the bands we saw other than to say they were almost exclusively brilliant which is pretty surprising in itself as, over the three days we saw more than 20 different acts. So here's that list in full:
- The Naked & Famous
- The Wombats
- Fleet Foxes
- Tame Impala
- The Early Edition
- Graham Coxon
- The Walkmen
- Paolo Nutini
- Fisherman's Friends
- The Low Anthem
- Don McLean
- Laura Marling
- Paul Simon
- The Go! Team
- Kaiser Chiefs
- Queens of the Stone Age
The stand out acts for me were Elbow on Saturday who performed a greatest hits act in front of 100,000 people and had every single person in the palm of their hands. It was incredible to see and be a part of. I wish we'd seen more of Fleet Foxes on Friday, the reviews I've seen were not good but I thought they were brilliant. On Sunday, Eels were surprisingly good and then Queens of the Stone Age to finish things off were superb.
Getting off site was almost a much fun as getting on. We packed up the tent after midnight when the last acts finished and headed for the car. It took an hour to walk there but then on the upside only 30 minutes to drive off site thanks to the location of the car park. I was very tired so stopped for a 20 minute cat nap at the side of the road, but even so we managed to get home by 05:30 on Monday morning. Tired but happy.
I suspect that it's all a little to close in the memory for me to decide overall what I thought. My immediate reaction is that I had a great time, and am very glad that I went (belatedly) to my first Glastonbury Festival. Will I go back in the future? Well there's a couple of years to decide as there is no event in 2012. We shall see.