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.

Why go?

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."

The challenges

From an old person's perspective, here are the challenges presented by attending Glastonbury:
  1. 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
  2. finding a quiet place to sleep
  3. walking 10-15 miles per day
  4. standing while listening/viewing (many venues)
  5. sitting on the ground inside some tents
  6. 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 big 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 search.

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?

Disabled

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.

Children

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 official guide...
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."

It is for this reason that ALL children of 12 and under enter the Festival for free.

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 10-12-year-old girls.

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 festival.

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:

Social Causes

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)).

General Vibe

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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philg@mit.edu

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