This Is Glastonbury
For five days, I dropped off the face of the earth and into the sparkling fluorescent world of Glastonbury. Notorious for its epic line-ups and the masses of mash-ups [Br. slang: "people who party and do drugs and stuff"], the Glastonbury Music Festival (June 22nd – June 26th) is arguably the world’s largest. Friends who have gone in years past have bragged about the surprise guest performances, the over-the-top interactive art installations and the head- bopping, dancing maniacs that make Glastonbury the legend that it is. But even with the inside gossip I had no idea what I was in for. This is my story: This is Glastonbury.
We boarded a bus and left London before the sun came up. This would be the first of many moments over the next five days that would feel unnatural. With backpacks, crates of cider and a few hundred glow sticks we began the pilgrimage to Worthy Farm, a few hours southwest of London. Two hours into the journey it started to rain. With every drop that fell, I watched with horror as the ground swelled and the puddles emerged, and the voice in my head asked, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” The rain persisted through the morning, but the sun came out long enough for us to partake in the traditional first cider at Brothers Bar, a tavern on the Glastonbury concert-grounds. This cider should not be called cider–”cider” makes it seem sweet and harmless, and with a percentage of alcohol at 7%, it is lethal. It tastes like sunshine, but it is lethal The night turns into a dizzying muddy haze of hilarity. We all pass out in the dark. Welcome to Glastonbury.
Rain hammering down on my tent rouses me from my cider-induced coma. Where. The. Fuck. Am. I? With my eyes closed I listen to the sounds of Pennards Hill, which is one of the many once-grass-now-mud fields where all the young crazies camp. I emerge from the tent and look to the overcast skies before asking my mates what is for breakfast. I munch a greasy egg and bacon bap (that’s British for bread roll) like the true New York transplant that I am. It works a treat and I am on to other things. We stumble upon The Beat Hotel, and the marquee outside has an amazing line up of dubstep-electro-uptempo-dancy acts, including Erol Alkan, Romy XX and Skream. We grab a morning beer, and another and another, dancing out in the rain before lunchtime.
Morning turns to afternoon and afternoon to night. We end up drinking Skittles vodka in the Rabbit Hole and it tastes how it sounds, and then the night turns to feel how it tastes, with strobing lights, shitty house music, drinks of strange color. DRINK ME. The tented hideout is completely packed but the night air nips in through the cracks and creases. It is the coldest night at Glastonbury and no amount of potions would warm me up. I fall asleep frozen in a sleeping bag, glowing but cold.
It’s Friday and I can feel it. Today the music starts and the sun shines in the early morning, heating the tent and pushing everyone out early. We venture to the Pyramid stage and find a semi-dry spot on the hill. English hipsters Metromony brought in the big-beat funk with head bopping precision, but the Pyramid stage was perhaps too vast for them to have an impact.
Two Door Cinema Club followed, and to me, they felt like Glastonbury. They played a set that felt like it was their first ever and last ever rolled into one: all heart, no regrets. The rain began to fall again during their set, which got everyone standing and dancing.
Wu-Tang Clan woke everyone out of their indie rock trance, getting everyone to rock with their W’s up. From the hills we made our way down closer to the stage to get in on the arm-swaying and to yell, “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing to Fuck With.” They did a tribute to the fallen ODB and Young Dirty Bastard (his son) joined them on stage to honor their fallen member. “You down with ODB? Yeah, you know me…”
The rumours started on the walk to the Park stage; at Glastonbury everyone’s brother’s girlfriend’s cousin works back stage and can confirm it’s (insert band name here). But when the rumblings starting pinging in to mobile phones from the outside world I had to confirm. I made a 10 dollar call to my sister in Dallas to confirm and settle my fears. Pushing our way through the crowd and the mud and the rain was all worth the effort because at the end of the journey was was the holy grail of festival rumors come true. “Hi. We’re a band called Radiohead.”
Playing mostly from their new album “King of Limbs” but also singles from “In Rainbows,” the set, to me, was mellow and beautiful but many of the others felt that they should have played more of the classics. Closing with “Street Spirit,” the crowd erupted into a full-on sing-a-long love fest and I wished it could have gone on forever. But it was only 10:00pm and the night was young, the festival only in its infancy. Slipping, sliding and struggling through mud we ventured toward Bono’s voice. While I wasn’t into it right away, I’ll be the first to admit that I was singing my little heart out to “With or Without You.” After Bono said goodnight we sought shelter at the Beat Hotel, with orange lights and the people and the everything that make everyone feel warm and happy. Erol Alkan spun onto the morning getting everyone to strip down and dance until we could no longer stand.
The first act of the day: The Kills at 5pm. My hangover has a hangover. Both dressed in all black, Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart’s work their karmic magic. The set quickly gained momentum. Mosshart may be the sexiest woman in the world. Her jet black hair covered her face as she stomped around the stage and poured her voice smoothly over the gritty guitar riffs.
I stayed at the Other Stage and caught Jimmy Eat World, whom I knew nothing about, nor did I love, but dancing about like an idiot with strangers truly never loses its appeal at Glastonbury. The real reason I stayed was to secure a great spot to see Friendly Fires. It was a gamble because at the same time the other Special Guest was debuting at the Park stage. The buzz was confirming Pulp and I hoped that it was true, because in that case, I couldn’t be bothered.
Near the front of the stage, the girl next to me handed me a beer and asked if I was ready to witness “the snake hips.” I said I had no clue what she was talking about, but then the music started and I saw exactly what she meant. When lead singer Ed Macfarlane dances, “snake hips” is really the only way to describe it. They played all the hits and a few new tunes; Ed crowd-surfed and I touched–I touched– his snake hips.
Last gig of the night: Chemical Brothers headlining on the Other Stage. We pushed through the herds; we twist, we wind, we make our way into the warm womb of the crowd. Lights pulse, beats rise and drop and I could feel the baseline deep in my throat, swallowing it with each breath. Together we dropped into the music, the floor, the feeling of being young.
The gig ends at midnight and we carry on to an electronic dance tent. At 4am, the tent closes and we venture to the much acclaimed Stone Circle. I look up to the hill and see a hundred sparkling torches each with a tiny tribe huddled around. This is Glastonbury. After we found a spot, a man in a fake moustache and rainbow colored suit stood up and yelled, “Does anyone have any ketamine?” Another guy lights his Chinese lantern on fire and sends it flying into an innocent bystander’s head. We decide we will wait for sunrise, but it never comes. The clouds are too thick and it is completely light before we realise that we have missed out.
Sunday feels like a fever, hot and delirious. We head to the Pyramid stage to catch the legendary Paul Simon. We lay in the sun with cold beers and sing along to “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” It’s a pretty nice little Sunday at Glastonbury.
We jet over to the John Peel stage (named after the sadly deceased British radio legend) and grab a great spot close to the front for Robyn. The tiny Swede comes on 25 minutes late, in peacock patterned leggings and a cut off football jersey with five inch platform Timberlands. She waves and starts DANCING LIKE A MACHINE. It was like raver girl meets early-90s fly girl, impressive to say the least. Mid-way through her first song a sound technician came out and was trying to get her ear monitors working while she was dancing and singing her heart out. He tried and tried, and she grew more and more frustrated. Finally he left the stage, and she carried on, but the problem obviously had not been fixed. During an interlude she stormed off the stage and gave the guy a piece of her mind. She stomped back on stage, picked up her mic stand and threw it down.
She. Was. Pissed.
She needlessly apologised to the crowd, and we yelled and cheered her in support. Throughout the next three songs the tech kept trying to fix the problem while she carried on with the set. She played it up by being cheeky and lifting her shirt and showing us her bare tummy and bra. We LOVED it. Many people around me were saying it was one of the best sets they had seen, and that they loved the fire she carried in her belly.
Going to bed Sunday night felt normal, ears ringing, wrapped in a sleeping bag listening to the mash ups outside and the echoing DJ beats from Shangri-La. I knew that in hours, the sun would come up and I would pack my muddy clothes and board a bus back to reality. Glastonbury is perhaps the best hide-out this world has to offer. It is a place where imagination erects a world for exploration, and chaos breathes order, a place where night is day and beer is water and sleep is silly. A place to escape, just for five days.
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