Glastonbury Festival for Old People
by Philip Greenspun, July 2014
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Would you like to join about 200,000 people on a muddy farm to listen
to some of the world's most popular musicians? If so, the Glastonbury
Festival is for you. Imagine Woodstock but held every year. See the Wikipedia
page and the
official site for more background.
The authentic way of experiencing the festival is to board a train
with one's mates, carrying a tent and sleeping bag on one's back, and
then pitch a tent near one of the stages. You'll listen to music until
midnight, party in the impromptu dance clubs set up in various
outlying areas of the festival, notably Shangri-La, and then try to
find your tent at about 4:00 am. You'll wake up at around 6:30 am to
the sounds of acts practicing for their performances that start at
11. You'll wait in line for an hour to take a potentially cold shower.
Have you reached the age that this doesn't sound like much fun? If so,
this article is for you.
Note that this article is based on the author's experiencing attending
the festival in June 2014 and staying at Land & Sky.
I found out about Glastonbury from a softspoken friend in his 50s. He
described it as one of the "peak experiences of his life." This is a
guy whose ability to experience joy has been somewhat impaired by his
having been targeted for child support profits. After a couple of
years of marriage, his wife moved with their child to a state on the
opposite coast of the U.S., then sued him for divorce, custody, and
child support. Thus for more than 15 years he has been (a) paying to
support his plaintiff (she is a fully trained medical doctor but ever
since she started to collect child support has chosen not to work),
(b) traveling across the North American continent every month to spend
time with his daughter, (c) paying for an apartment or hotel for about
one week per month so that he has a place to be with said
daughter. I'm more of a classical and jazz fan but I figured "If this
guy who has suffered through 15 years as a defendant in the American
divorce court system managed to have a great time at Glastonbury then
it is worth checking out."
From an old person's perspective, here are the challenges presented by
- getting tickets requires advance registration, with a photo, and
some nimble keyboard/Web action when the tickets go up for sale,
possibly in the middle of the night if you live in the United States
- finding a quiet place to sleep
- walking 10-15 miles per day
- standing while listening/viewing (many venues)
- sitting on the ground inside some tents
- finding a hot shower
Soft Option 1: the Bed and Breakfast
A couple who live in a nearby Somerset village said that they had
attended the festival a few years ago by simply booking a bed and
breakfast room in Glastonbury itself. This was shortly before the
tickets went on sale so nobody else had bothered. The B&B operator
quoted them standard rates of about 100 pounds per night and said
that, due to the overwhelming demand during the festival, if they
failed to get tickets he would be happy to refund their money. Each
morning they would take a 15-minute shuttle bus ride to the festival
pedestrian gate and then return at about midnight via the same bus.
Soft Option 2: Land & Sky
Writh Farm, adjacent to the festival, has a deal with the Worthy Farm that
hosts the festival. "Land & Sky" (www.landnsky.co.uk) is the name
of the "glamping" village that is set up every year with yurts, big
safari-style tents, a wedding reception-style tent serving as a
restaurant, and a tunnel containing hot showers and bathrooms with
normal running water (the conservation status of the land prevents
them from setting up permanent buildings).
Land & Sky makes life simple. You wire them some money. They meet you
at a nearby village and guide you in so that you avoid the
traffic. They give you a special pass so that you can skip the traffic
queue on the way out as well. They then give you a "hospitality
ticket" from their private stock, enabling you to skip out on the Web
lottery system, and also enjoy a special area in between the main
"Pyramid" and "Other" stages that is normally reserved for performers,
production, and press. This hospitality area has a restaurant called
Hive Beach Cafe that received rave reviews. Land & Sky offers food
from 8 am until 2 am every day. (Guests enjoyed the food but thought
that there was not enough variety and there was an emphasis on meat,
cream, and starch rather than vegetables and fruit.) You can buy
alcohol from Land & Sky or bring your own.
Our "bell tent" was 100-percent dry inside despite the fact that it
rained on three out of the four days that we attended.
A tent at Land & Sky is a 10-minute walk from the Shangri-La and Block
9 after-hours party areas that are insanely popular, but if you've got
enough energy to keep dancing after midnight then you are probably not
part of the target audience for this article. Getting to the Pyramid
stage is about a 30-minute walk.
More: my Land & Sky photos
Soft Option 3: Glamping at Camp Kerala
About twice the price of Land & Sky, Camp Kerala is a similar idea at
a higher level of luxury. It is a bit farther away from the festival
but they take guests by golf cart to "public gate C", which is
substantially closer to the main stages than Land & Sky.
Soft Option 4: Motorhome
Renting a motorhome, RV, caravan, or camper van is a reasonably soft
option. There are some companies that allegedly will deliver the
camper to a campground within Glastonbury and all that you have to do
is show up. Supposedly there are some nearby farms that have a
campground and a stock of tickets, sort of like Land & Sky and Camp
Kerala, and a shuttle service, but I couldn't find them with a Web
Soft Option 5: Tipi within the festival
The festival itself has a handful of Tipis that one can rent for less
than $2000. Each sleeps six. These are very conveniently located and
they have their own reasonably plush showers and bathrooms, but
earplugs would be essential because they are very close to some
late-night venues. This option would enable you to enjoy the festival
with a minimum of walking.
Soft Option 6: Stay anywhere; just do two days
There is crazy bad traffic getting to Glastonbury on a Wednesday or
departing Sunday night/Monday morning. But why not book a hotel
anywhere nearby and travel in via car on Friday morning, return to
your hotel Friday night, come back for Saturday morning, and then
depart the area Saturday night?
As you can see from my
full Glastonbury 2014 photo collection, the festival makes
substantial efforts to accommodate everyone. There are special viewing
areas near the main stages for those in wheelchairs. Some performances
are interpreted into sign language. Certainly a person with limited
mobility will not feel out of place or unwelcome.
Are you concerned that your child isn't being exposed to enough
second-hand tobacco and marijuana smoke? Are you worried that your
children will use their keen hearing to spy on you and your partner?
If so, taking them to Glastonbury is an excellent idea! From the
Glastonbury Festival observes the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child, Article 31: "The right of the child to rest and lesiure, to
engage in play and recreational activities and to participate FREELY
in cultural life and the arts."
How many folks took advantage of this? Check out my
photos of kids at Glastonbury. There were babies in slings on
their mothers' chests. There were babies in backpacks on their
fathers' backs. There were kids sleeping in strollers whose wheels
were half-buried in mud. There were roaming packs of independent
It is for this reason that ALL children of 12 and under enter the Festival for free.
Should you take your kids to Glastonbury? What's not to like about a
festival where circus acts perform all day every day? From
conversations with kids and parents, it seemed that children starting
at about age 6 really loved the experience. The younger bunch tended
to look shell-shocked or exhausted 30-50-percent of the time, except
in the dedicted Kidz Field.
The children who seemed to be having the most fun were there with
siblings or friends of similar ages.
A folding step-stool on which a child can stand for better visibility
is a great thing to pack (also for shorter adults). It also makes
sense to take a distinctive flag so that a child can find the rest of
his or her family in a crowd.
What to pack
To enjoy the festival your packing list need not be longer than one
item: "Visa card". Even if you are camping inside the festival you can
show up empty-handed and buy a tent, an air mattress, and a sleeping
bag. You can buy folding chairs, umbrellas, rubber/plastic boots
("Wellies"). There is a reasonably well-stocked pharmacy within the
Given the rain-soaked nature of this corner of England, probably the
most useful items to pack are waterproof boots, a waterproof coat, a
fleece if it gets cold at night, a sun hat, and a folding chair.
What to eat
Except for the halal food that is common elsewhere in England,
Glastonbury has a tremendous array of food vendors. See these
photos for some examples.
How about the music?
Here are some of the acts that we heard in 2014:
- Dolly Parton, amazing at 68, with undiminished star power
- Blondie (also age 68), prompting my 25-year-old companion to ask "She was popular with adults?"
- Rodrigo y Gabriela; if you weren't hearing them live you might think that there were 10 guitarists
- Jungle, an unexpected electronica pleasure
- Arcade Fire, earnest Canadians who assured the 80,000 listeners
that each had been born with interesting idiosyncracies but had been
pressured to conform and, a bit later, that each audience member was "perfect"
- Skrillex, a DJ who demonstrates that it isn't really about the
music (you also need stagecraft and the massive machine shooting out
- Turtle Island, a Japanese group with some traditional drummers and
a generally confusing-to-Westerners set
- Robert Plant, supposedly 65 years old but ageless like Gandalf,
"celebrating music of all ages and types"; very convincing.
- Seun Kuti, heir to his father Fela Kuti's band and style
- Goldfrapp, wowing the hometown crowd
- Metallica, who gave a very gracious talk about how they hoped to
encourage British heavy metal bands and how grateful they were that
Glastonbury had recognized the importance of metal
- Caro Emerald, who seemed timeless
- Toumani and Sidiki, the 72nd generation of father-son musicians in their family (from Mali)
- Ellie Goulding, bouncing around the stage like a bunny on
amphetamines while wearing a gold bikini top. Sang beautifully but it
is hard to believe that she wasn't lip-syncing because in between
songs she was out of breath from the athletic demands.
- Massive Attack, the closing act on the Other Stage.
- Kasabian, who opened confidently by saying "This is why you came
here" and almost justified it.
It takes 20-30 minutes to break down a set from one act and then
prepare another for the next one. At the Pyramid Stage it is tough to
spend this time talking to friends and neighbors because the audio and
video systems are used to present ads for various social causes. Felt
good to listen to your favorite band? Then you can get to spend the
next 20 minutes feeling bad because the Arctic is being destroyed, as
many as 3500 people worldwide are injured or killed by land mines,
England is being ruined with fracking (see this video for how the festival makes heavy use of natural gas, however, for the fire-spouting Arcadia machine), the world is being trashed due
to a failure to recycle, Third World countries are bankrupted by debt
that should be forgiven, Britain is wasting a lot of money on nuclear
weapons, etc. This
photo shows a list of some of the causes featured at Glastonbury
(note that of the more than 200 countries in the world where the Visa
card is accepted, only one nation is so heinous as to require specific
condemnation by the 200,000 Glastonbury attendees (hint: the whipping
boy of 2014 was not Vladimir Putin's Russia nor Imperialist America
nor any of the free-spending nations that are bankrupting the EU)).
When you're sharing a farm with 200,000 other people it is inevitable
that someone will bump into you. Nearly all of the folks who bumped
into me, however, even beefy tatooed young guys, apologized
politely. It is a friendly considerate crowd where a wandering child
would be safe with strangers.
Unlike a U.S. event, where there might be one security worker for each
attendee and concertgoers, their bags, and their vehicles inspected
for guns, knives, explosives, etc., festivalgoers in Glastonbury drive
their caravans in, or walk in carrying supplies for a week, without
being scanned or prodded. (The festival does do some spot checks for
drugs, however.) Unlike in the U.S., where 50-year-olds, 60-year-olds,
and 70-year-olds would have their IDs checked to make sure that they
were over the legal drinking age of 21, in Glastonbury you'd have to
be within a couple of years of 18 to be carded.
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