The Glastonbury Festival is one of the most famous, fascinating, and documented events in the UK. There’s a good chance you’ve already read a few reviews, seen a healthy number of pictures of the headline acts, or watched at least some of the BBC footage. There’s also a good chance you’re a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of coverage – or, let’s say, bored to death with another snap of Liam Gallagher. Fear not.
This isn’t another photo story documenting the happenings on the Pyramid Stage. This is a very subjective story covering some of the areas BBC cameras will never take you. As Glastonbury 2019 slowly fades into memory and Worthy Farm has almost completed its post-festival cleanup, thousands of festival-goers are still discussing the acts they saw and those they missed.
And, at Glastonbury, chances are they missed a few. With the sheer size of the festival grounds, going from one stage to another isn’t a walk in a park, but a challenging trek involving climbing hills and navigating through the crowds.
The physical effort begins even before you’ve seen your first performance, as every Glasto-goer faces the same challenge: to get in and set up camp. First timers are usually overwhelmed by the long walk from their parking spot to the gate.
And only once they’re inside do they realise how massive the site is. Suddenly something that looked like a good plan falls apart and the road to the campsites is full of people trying to drag and push their belongings, fix their trolleys, or just having to catch their breath on the way up or down the hill.
But it’s worth the effort, from the broken trolley and the blisters on your feet, to the sleepless nights leading to October’s ticket lottery. None of that matters once you’re there with your tent up, greeting old friends and making new ones, sharing excitement and laughs.
This feels like home, and regular life has been left outside the pedestrian gates.
Friday is the official first day of music as all main arenas open to the public. But, with over 100 stages, it’s often the road less travelled that leads to the most spectacular performances you’ve ever seen.
Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real bring a mix of good old country and rock’n’roll. The son of Wille Nelson and his band keep the audience up and dancing, cheering at his jokes, and singing along to Simple Life, Find Yourself, and Forget About Georgia.
But it is the stunning cover of Rockin’ In The Free World that sweeps me away, leaving me breathless and lost within the music.
As the next Park performer (King Princess) isn’t quite to my taste, I choose to wander and discover Glastonbury On The Sea. New for this year, the giant pier stands proudly, rises above the sea of tents.
Joe Rush’s brand new construction attracts fans of British style sea-side holidays with bingo, sweets, fortune-tellers, sun decks, lifeguards, and a band performing just opposite the pier.
After a short rest in The Stone Circle I head back to The Park for SOAK, followed by my highlight of the festival, IDLES.
SOAK, or in fact Bridie Monds-Watson, is an Irish singer-songwriter who won the Irish Choice Music Prize in 2015. Her set combines indie folk and dream pop soothing the audience on the lazy, sunny Friday afternoon. But this is just the calm before the storm.
IDLES are a British punk-rock band from nearby Bristol. Formed in 2009, they’ve released two studio albums and won over the souls and hearts of fans across the UK. They are pure energy. Wild and unpredictable, they dive into the crowd, sharing their power with the audience.
There’s no place for faking. Their performance is as honest and brutal as their lyrics.
“My mother worked 16 hours, six days a week!” shouts Joe Talbot from the stage and the crowd respond by chanting back the lyrics of Mother, a song from their debut album Brutalism. “My mother worked 17 hours, seven days a week!
The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich!” Intense, political, controversial, the band can be described in various ways. You’ll love them or hate them, but you’ll never be left lukewarm.
Saturday brings a record-breaking heatwave to the farm. As the temperature rises to 30 degrees, the festival goers are desperately seeking a bit of shade and a cold shower on the day of the biggest clashes. With Courteeners and Chemical Brothers on The Other Stage, Liam Gallagher and The Killers on Pyramid, or the legendary Hawkwind playing the Acoustic tent, the choices are tough.
I go to Shangri-La early to secure my spot at one of the smallest stages, The Scum, which is dedicated to metal, hard rock, and post-punk. En-route I stop off at The Truth Stage to catch Los Kamer.
The nine-piece band from Mexico, who bring over 10 years’ of experience to their swinging, jazzing, and dancing, have the audience doing exactly the same, and fully participating in the performance.
But the reason I’ve come all the way to South East Corner is to see The Damned. They were the first punk rock band to release a single in 1976, New Rose. They were also set to open The Scum, a venue that fills up so fast that a queue of die-hard fans wait outside for a solid hour before the doors open.
The stage run by Earache Records is a development of last year’s Earache Records Express, which was housed inside a London Tube carriage.
Despite the passing years, The Damned remain strong and deliver a set that fulfills any fan’s dreams. Love Song, Happy Today, Plan 9, Black Out, New Rose, and Neat, Neat, Neat were the highlights of the night.
Sunday brings a much-awaited fresh breeze and more big names ruling the main stages. With The Cure closing Pyramid Stage, Christine And The Queens headlining The Other Stage, and The Streets at John Peel Stage, I’m spoiled for choice once more. But, for my Sunday treat, I choose The Avalon, headlined by Reef.
The official name of the festival taking place at Worthy Farm is Glastonbury Festival Of Contemporary Performing Arts. This might sound like an unnecessarily long and fancy name to someone who’s never attended. But, what most people see as a music event, is, in fact, a cultural feast.
Music, poetry, theatre, circus, and countless independent acts present their work and put on a show, sometimes in the most unusual places.
Open-mic acts wait in line for their chance on the mini Pyramid Stage, including some performers Weird Al Yankovic would approve of. A man with plungers all over his body doing a catwalk is just one.
The Avalon Stage is part of Fields Of Avalon, an area that lies in the southeast, on the way to Naughty Corner. In a bright contrast to South East Corner, the area offers a calming and relaxing atmosphere with Avalon Inn, Avalon Café, and The Avalon Stage.
All venues play live music, and festival organiser Michael Eavis likes to visit this area in his iconic red Land Rover.
The first act I see on Avalon Stage is Lucy Spraggan. As she says from the stage, many people thought it was inappropriate for the Glastonbury Festival to host her, an act from X Factor.
And yet, there she is, owning the stage during her second Glastonbury appearance. And she deserves to be there.
Lucy’s music combines funky hip-hop with folk and acoustic pop, and her live performance benefits from her jokes and anecdotes, changing her performance into a little story rather than another gig.
Skinny Lister take the Avalon Tent straight after Lucy. They’re a band I always look forward to. Well-known for their high-energy show, the folk-punk six-piece from London are one of the acts that you need to see to fully understand.
You can’t just listen to them, you need to experience them and take part in one of their performances. Tragedy In A Minor changes the Avalon Tent into a sea of jumping, hands-raising festival goers.
Somerset locals The Blue Aeroplanes have the difficult task of keeping spirits up and people dancing. The rockers take the stage, joined by a dancer, and leave no doubt that they deserve the slot.
Their set is very different from the previous acts, combining alternative rock with post-punk and indie, and very different from the band that follows.
‘80s legends Bananarama (now a duo, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward) fill the tent with music lovers of all ages. Their set, consisting of their greatest hits like Cruel Summer, Venus, Robert De Niro’s Waiting, and Love In The First Degree turn the arena into a dance hall.
Next up: one of the most extraordinary acts I’ve seen at Glastonbury. Nahko And Medicine For The People are a world band led by Oregonian Nahko Bear, whose ancestry is a blend of Apache, Puerto Rican, and Filipino.
The six-member group treat music as a healing process rather than a performance art, and seek to lead, motivate, and inspire the global Tribe.
Finally, it’s time for Glastonbury’s own rock legends, Reef. Gary Stringer on vocals, Jesse Wood on guitar, Jack Bessant on bass, and Dominic Greensmith on drums gift the audience with a perfect close to the weekend. Forget The Cure and Robert Smith.
Stringer, a man whose smile and energy are infectious, climbs the tent pole, jumps around the stage, scales the barrier, and delivers a set of all-time fan favourites. Naked, Lone Rider, Revelation, and Place Your Hands are the night’s highlights.
And as the song comes to a close, so does my Glastonbury 2019. Monday morning can’t be avoided, and the temporary festival town will pack up for almost a year. In 2020 we’ll do it all again.
Photography and words by Edyta Krzesak