Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Glastonbury, the Adjective

ELO on the Pyramid Stage
What happens when 200,000 people gather annually in late June on a giant patch of farmland in Somerset, England, for several days of music and a general celebration of the arts?


It's called the Glastonbury Festival.

I never thought I'd see it firsthand. Glastonbury was always that elusive thing in the future I could never get to. Like the perfect house in the perfect location that you build when you retire. Like Shangri-La. Like the pirate ship you find by following the treasure map.

Like a dream.

It existed, but it would never be part of my reality.

Every year, my friend Andy would ask me. It was THAT sort of question: "WHEN are you coming to Glastonbury?" To him, it wasn't a question. It was a necessity. A command. You love music as much as I do? You feel it deep within? It moves you in ways you cannot explain? You must go to Glastonbury. It's a calling. Why?


I knew the Glastonbury Festival was great. I knew it was huge. I knew the performances were special because I had seen them. Just not in person.

I had never WITNESSED them. I didn't "get" it.

I do now.

Glastonbury isn't hype. It's the real thing. It's 200,000 people living in a communal space to experience something intangible - but palpable. It's all around. It's about people coming together. To celebrate. To make the world a better place. It's friendship. It's peace. It's love. It's respect. For your fellow man. For the environment. Everyone knows it. They feel it. 

The musicians feel it too. That's why they play Glastonbury when they get the opportunity. The rain doesn't matter. The mud (oh my, the MUD) doesn't matter. It's a calling. They know they must play there. Why?


Miracles happen everywhere at Glastonbury. Some of them are small. Some of them are show-stopping. You hear them. You see them. Most of all, you FEEL them. And when you leave Glastonbury, you are not the same person you were when you arrived. Your heart will be bigger. Your senses will be more acute. Your friendships will be stronger. And your mind will be wider.

Let's talk about those miracles. 

The first miracle was how we managed to get tickets in the first place. Let's just say it was a miracle. One of those karmic miracles. We never planned on going to Glastonbury this year. But when I found out Turin Brakes were playing, I said the right thing to the right person (that's you, Rob) and somehow, a miracle happened - a pair of tickets - landed in my hands. I will be forever grateful. 

The only bad news was we had a mere two months to sort out logistics.

The second miracle was how little we paid to get to England. After preparing to drop a huge chunk of cash on airfare with only a two-month lead-time, we found tickets to London from Toronto on Air Canada cost about half the price of flying out of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or Detroit. It was only a five-hour drive for a direct flight to Heathrow.

Now, let's get real - I have no idea how to navigate a festival, and thus, we needed massive help. We needed another miracle.

I took the standing offer to attend this thing with Andy and Caroline (they go every year). In retrospect, I can't imagine doing it any other way, and I will be forever in their debt for their generosity and help in packing, getting there, and getting around. Glastonbury was the greatest experience because of them. They ARE the third miracle.

Our last day - in the rain and mud, with our dear friends,
awaiting Coldplay on the main stage.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, Andy wrote daily, sending us information, links to videos of various bands, packing list advice. He and Caroline purchased food, drink, inexpensive day packs, air mattresses, and pillows for us. Andy even sent photos of the trolley he was building to carry our stuff to the camp site. I couldn't ask for better friends, and I feel happy tears welling up just writing about them.

So, let's talk camping.

It was nothing short of a miracle that we actually found a place on high ground to put our two tents. We had almost given up when we found a spot - a spot almost as far away as you could get from where we would need to be for gigs. But it was high ground - a small miracle.

We had to sleep on a slope - that's when we were taught one of the great festival lessons. Never sleep horizontal on sloped ground because you will roll into each other. Saved yet again by the wisdom of A&C - we never had to make that mistake.

Getting to Glastonbury with A&C via car also yielded some life lessons. I found out exactly what were the three most useful household items: gaffer tape (duct tape), cling film (plastic wrap), and cable ties. The fourth might be bin bags (trash bags).

Scenes from packing and camping:

Packing the car
See what I mean about useful
household items?

The view from our camp site,
watching the sun go down on Wednesday
Our temporary home for five days.

Now, let's talk about the mud...

It rains in England. A LOT. And Glastonbury 2016 was not just a music-fest, it was a mud-fest (officially dubbed "the muddiest Glastonbury ever" by The Guardian). I received my PhD in mud and mud navigation this year at Glastonbury. I now know all the different consistencies of mud. I know how to tell the depth of it. I know how to walk in it so it doesn't splatter all over me or the people around me. I know how not to get stuck in it (although this was the hardest lesson and needed the most practice). And I know that no matter how much mud you have on your wellies (rubber boots), you can always add another layer, especially if you creatively mix it with hay, wood chips, or confetti.

There was no patch of ground free of mud. At times it was more than ankle-deep, and often had a cement-like consistency. If you stop moving for an instant, your boots (and you) will stay in the mud. I got stuck while waiting for Travis to come on stage. But you know what happened? You guessed it - another miracle. People I didn't know all around me helped pull me - and my boots - out of the mud. This happened several times during the festival.

Scenes of mud around the fest:

The main entrance gate was treacherous
Pyramid Stage
The Other Stage
The Park Stage

Selfie with mud 
This was in the Croissant Neuf tent,
where I saw Travis 

On Monday they had to tow cars with giant tractors
because of the parking in mud
The mud created a living hell from the car to the gate to our camp site. I swear it took us two hours to cart our stuff about two miles. By the time we reached the top of the hill where we camped, the trolley wheels were coated with about an inch of mud all around, and the four of us were soaked in sweat from the exertion. It felt like the last mile of a marathon. It was truly a miracle we made it with all our stuff. In fact, the whole journey from the car was littered with deceased trolleys and bags - victims of the mud.

Most of the mud came from rain early in the week, but the weather forecast continued to predict a lot more rain DURING the festival than we actually got. But as luck would have it, the sun came out often and gave us many more miracles in the form of relief from the cold and wet conditions. 

I never appreciated the miracle of a blue sky more than I did at Glastonbury.

This guy was as happy as I was about the blue sky

There were so many things I learned at Glastonbury that I would never have learned. Here are some of them:

It IS possible to put 200K people in one place without violence breaking out.

It IS possible to go without a shower or bath for five days if you have wet wipes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and dry shampoo.

I learned new words at Glastonbury. (1) out-trolley, verb, used in a sentence, "Andy was out-trolleyed by the guy who installed mountain-bike wheels on HIS trolley." (2) Glastonbury is an adjective as well as a proper noun. In a sentence: "Brighton has a very Glastonbury vibe" - or, better, when someone offers to help his fellow man: "That's a very Glastonbury attitude."

Now, let's talk about the flags.

Flags are everywhere at Glastonbury. In fact, it seems like there's an unwritten competition going on  - the best flag competition. You can make a flag for ANY reason: country, county, football club, motto, musician (lots of Prince and Bowie flags), family, and my personal favorite of the weekend, the flag that just said "Flag."

Yes, there were GoT flags also.
And finally, let's talk about the performances, since that's the primary reason for the festival.

Every musician's performance at Glastonbury rises to a new level. Each show is no less extraordinary than the one you saw previously. Granted, it seems to reach a crescendo Sunday night (Coldplay blew everyone out of the water, so to speak), but the artists all seem to understand what you're expecting and what you've endured to get there - the traffic, the camping, the rain, and especially the mud.

Travis played the tiny Croissant Neuf Tent
for the venue's 10th anniversary
Fran Healy of Travis
Travis in Croissant Neuf Tent
Muse fireworks
Muse on Pyramid Stage
Hell Stage
KT Tunstall played an amazing set
in a tiny bar at the top of a hill.
Madness played to a monstrous crowd on the main stage 
Beck was the last gig before Coldplay
and tried to whip up an exhausted rain-soaked crowd
ELO played on the main stage Sunday afternoon
but couldn't bring the sun out even with "Mr. Blue Sky" sing-along

I'm going to use Turin Brakes as an example because of their unique and unfortunate time slot Saturday night up against the biggest acts of the weekend. Their tent stage was packed solid. They stood on stage in awe of US - their fans who gave up the opportunity to see one of the biggest acts in the world - Adele - headline the Pyramid Stage (not to mention New Order on The Other Stage). They were acutely aware of the crowd expectations and, wow, did they deliver a stunner!! There was not a single disappointed fan in the audience.

The packed Avalon Stage for Turin Brakes

And, ok, let's talk Coldplay. 

Whether you like him or not, it's undeniable that Chris Martin - who has one of the biggest hearts in showbiz - is on a crusade to save the world. Every single word he uttered and every move he made on the main stage Sunday night illustrated his dedication to giving his audience their greatest memory of the 2016 festival. And it WILL go down in history as one of the most epic.

Chris Martin went it alone on "Everglow"
when his piano was out of tune with Will, Jonny, and Guy

As for my best...

The singular most memorable moment I had at Glastonbury was not in the music or the weather or the logistical miracles. It was a tiny little statement by Andy as we were walking back to the tents one afternoon. 

He said to me, the world is looking everywhere for peace and love and people living together with tolerance and respect for one another - and it ALL happens RIGHT HERE.

 At Glastonbury.

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