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Glastonbury at 50

Glastonbury at 50

Glastonbury Festival is back for its 50th year. It’s grown a lot since the 1970s to become the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world. But apart from its size, how else has it changed and who is it for?

With headliners from Beyoncé to Blur, David Bowie to Adele, Glastonbury Festival is one of the most anticipated music events of the year. 

After being cancelled three years in a row due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 200,000 people are finally descending on Worthy Farm for the festival’s return… and to celebrate its 50th year.

I’d just fallen in love with a lovely girl in Glastonbury Town. We were all loved up and the music was perfect and I’ve got the farm and I thought “My God, I can’t go wrong with this one. I’ll do it myself.”

Michael Eavis, BIMM

That’s Michael Eavis, he founded Glastonbury in 1970. 

Back then a ticket cost just £1, and that included free milk from the farm. It was attended by just one and a half thousand people. 

Today, the cost of a weekend ticket will set you back about £300 and people are willing to sit in an online queue for hours to get one without even knowing the lineup.

And that’s because Glastonbury is no ordinary festival… with over 100 stages, it’s by far the biggest in the UK, bringing together music and the arts. 

For a week, Worthy Farm transforms into a mini town with its own medical facilities and shops… an all-encompassing experience away from the throws of everyday life. 

We’re open.

Michael Eavis

The wait – and it’s been a long one – is finally over. They brought their tickets three years ago and now the Glastonbury festival crowd finally get to use them.

ITV News

In 2020, all festivals were cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.

For many, live music wasn’t something they would experience again for months, if not years. 

So, the return of Glastonbury with Sir Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar headlining the Pyramid stage this year, is set to be a momentous occasion for many.

But its sheer size and status mean it also comes under scrutiny, about who it’s for and what it represents.

Some people have pointed out that Glastonbury festival is perhaps not as inclusive as it should be. 

Comedian Lenny Henry recently said he was always surprised by the lack of black and Asian faces amongst festivalgoers. A sentiment echoed by author Marcus Ryder on TalkTV.

I think what we’re talking about is that there’s still parts of British society, really important institutional um parts of British society that make up our cultural fabric, in which black and Asian people and people from different classes as well still don’t feel welcome.

Marcus Ryder, TalkTV

In 2019, Stormzy became the first black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury. 

Emily Eavis, Michael Eavis’ daughter and co-organizer of the festival, admitted it had come “a little bit late”.

It’s not exactly clear what needs to be done to diversify the festival’s devoted crowd, but this year’s headliners do have something to suit most tastes.

There’s Billie Eilish, a talented-beyond-her-years artist who burst onto the scene in 2017. 

Kendrick Lamar, a Pulitzer-prize winner and established hip-hop artist who’s recently returned after a 5-year hiatus. 

And Sir Paul McCartney, a Beatles legend who paved the way for modern music and whose career spans more than 60 years. 

***

We’re building a city, essentially, but we’re working with a farm in a valley and so we need to bring the city in and let it go without impacting too much on what is a very kind of rural part of the world.

Emily Eavis, BBC Earth

Questions of sustainability and damage to the farmland have also been raised as the festival has grown.

Naturally, the hundreds of thousands of people who attend the festival, bring with them a significant amount of rubbish. 

The Worthy Warriors scheme was set up by the Eavis family to ensure as much of that rubbish is recycled or disposed of responsibly.

The sale of single-use plastics has also been banned and over the coming years, the festival hopes that bio-gas produced by the farm’s cows will provide enough power for everything, including the pyramid stage.

*** 

Ultimately though, Glastonbury is a festival that brings people together in their thousands to enjoy music and the arts.

And it’s obvious to the millions of people who’ve attended over its 50 years, that Glastonbury transcends the traditional music festival in a way that simply isn’t replicated anywhere else. 

They’re so excited. It’s like a Mecca for them really, isn’t it?

It’s like a mistress in a way, the festival. It’s a love affair really.

Michael Eavis

Today’s episode was written by Tomini Babs and mixed by Imy Harper.