With Covid-19 still infecting our society and hindering our ‘normal’ lifestyle, Britain this year will have its first summer without festivals since 1968. In that year, the birthplace of UK music festivals took place on the Isle of Wight with a small number of attendees, but by 1970 the popularity had skyrocketed and over 600,000 music-lovers came together to share their joy in listening to live music. It only took two years for the popularity of this music festival to reach these incredible numbers, which in turn caused the Conservative UK government to ban the festival due to fear that the wild partying would be harmful to the island. However, luckily for us one of Glastonbury’s founders, Andrew Kerr, was one of these previously mentioned music-lovers who attended the festival in 1970. So, we must pay thanks to that tiny Isle of Wight festival for hosting Andrew Kerr. His experience there provided him with the inspiration to approach Michael Eavis and set up their own small little festival called ‘Glastonbury’. The rest is history.
I can hold my hands up and happily say that there is no other festival in the UK that can compete with Glastonbury. It is a festival known worldwide to appeal to all age groups and music tastes, one that does not just show the new up-and-coming artists but hosts the all-time greats such as David Bowie who attracted a crowd of 220,000 at the beginning of the millennium in 2000. No other festival has the entire weekend filmed by the BBC, enabling those who did not manage to snatch up a ticket to watch it from the comfort of their own home. This unique feature gives everyone the chance to listen to some incredible music, with the Sunday headline act of 2019 Kylie showcasing just how many people the festival can reach – a record number of 3.2million viewers.
Despite going on sale in October and being priced at £248, tickets sell out in minutes, which just shows how much the festival has grown in popularity and size since its launch in 1970. Tickets were originally sold for just one pound and even included a pint of milk as little extra! The first festival attracted just 1,500 people, and forty-nine years later in 2019 figures show that the festival housed roughly 200,000 spectators. This is not at all surprising with a line-up including artists such as The Killers, Liam Gallagher, Loyle Carner, Maribou State, Wu-Tang Clan… the list goes on.
This year, however, circumstances meant that everyone interested in the Glastonbury Festival would have no choice but to be watching from home. Who knew that the festival’s 50th year in the making, marking such a milestone in its creation, would be put on hold due to a global pandemic?
This year’s half-century celebration was to be honoured with incredible artists Diana Ross, Elbow and Kendrick Lamar, all performing live on the Pyramid Stage. In an attempt to recreate what would have happened in Pilton, Somerset this weekend just gone, the Glastonbury website created a virtual line-up with ‘2020 main stage playlists’ which include a mix of tracks from different artists that would have been performing across the site. And instead of the usual live coverage of this year’s acts, we were treated to the BBC’s Glastonbury Experience. Over the weekend the channel aired previous years’ headline acts and incredible Glastonbury debuts, with blasts from the past such as Bruce Springsteen, Adele, and Stormzy to name a few.
Indeed, from the 4th July pubs and restaurants are to open across England as lockdown starts to ease. And although this new freedom will give us a taste of what life was like pre-quarantine, it still shows us that we have a long way to go until we reach a stage where events such as Glastonbury, although outdoors, will be able to be held to the same level as they were before Covid-19 took over. This unfortunately poses the question of whether we will ever be able to return to that same level of comfort and laissez-faire attitude that one has when attending music festivals in the UK. Will shared coaches escorting people to and from the site be suspended? What will the health and safety policy be regarding portaloos? And, an aspect which is often a crucial element of the memories made is camping onsite – will festival goers ever be able to camp in such close quarters again?
This weekend’s virtual reminder of the Glastonbury Festivals of the past gave us a glimpse of what life was like before Covid-19 and a chance to reminisce and appreciate what all festival goers have taken for granted for years. Although, for now virtual festivals like the BBC’s Glastonbury Experience will be there to fill the void of the most popular outdoor events of the year and hopefully this content can reassure us of what life can be like again at some point in the future.
By Grace Browne
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