In The Dock: Glastonbury
By a serendipitous twist of fate (and recent alterations to the schedule), this week's subject is actually topical...
This week's subject: Glastonbury
The case for the prosecution (Martin)
Right. Sleeves rolled up, lucky statue of St Jude in position, here we go.
I love Glastonbury. Whether working or just turning up I've had some great times there. I've seen landmark gigs, discovered a love of weapons-grade scrumpy and Iranian cuisine, seen theatre and comedy, been educated and bonded with strangers through the joy of music in the sun and litter picking in the mud. I've made a friendship that has lasted for over a decade. I’ve never had the same experience twice and thoroughly enjoyed every minute I've spent at the Pilton Pop Festival, knowing that I'd heard good music in the company of like-minded people and contributed to charitable causes. Glastonbury is the best ever Duke of Edinburgh expedition with a soundtrack and hallucinogens.
And now it has to stop. Forever.
In 1970 Glastonbury was attended by some 1,500 hippies who paid a pound to see T Rex. Each one was given free milk. It was a truly unique experience, a claim the organisers still make today.
In 2007 it will be attended by over 100,000 people who will pay £145 for a ticket. Some will fly to stay at Windinglake Farm for about two grand. Others will spend the weekend in Camp Kerala for three times that price, or hire a tipi for £1,620. Most will queue for cash machines provided by high street banks and enjoy the services of a mobile phone provider. You want wireless internet with that? You got it. Prefer to stay at home and watch from your living room? Have it your way.
Glastonbury is not a unique experience. It's a victim of its own success, attracting competitors and corporate interest. It's big business, and big business will feed us more of the same for as long as we'll pay for it. It's been fortunate to have Michael Eavis at the helm, and the prosecution suggests that it should be laid to rest with him. I come to bury Glastonbury Festival and praise its founding spirit.
I'm not denying that hosting a large event doesn't cost money. It makes sound business sense to be funded by commercial interests but those interests are bringing the corporate world into Glastonbury. It's the thin end of the wedge.
Neither am I denying its contribution to charity but it has no lasting effect. It raises money and awareness (as does Children In Need, and I'm not about to defend that either) but what most people apply for the rest of the year is questionable. There's an obvious ethical contradiction in giving money to environmental charities while providing a car park the size of an airport. People think differently for a weekend and relatively few change their behaviour. They buy into an ideal for a few days.
Glastonbury cannot be defended on the grounds that it is unique. Pardon my pedantry but anything can be unique if you make it. You can see a band in a club or a different field whenever you like. There are all kinds of cultural experiences on our doorsteps if we take the time to find them. They're cheaper, don't involve as much travel and they're more significant in the context of everyday life than once a year in a field. Scores of smaller gatherings all over the country benefit from not being in the same overpopulated place at the same time. It's sad that people are prepared to pay £145 or more for a pre-defined "unique" experience when they could participate in smaller events (festivals, gigs, comedy clubs, theatre, local ethical / charitable / political associations, etc) for less money, and enhance them by contributing. The activities at Glastonbury could take place anywhere. If you want a yearly fix of them all in one place why not move them to somewhere more central and accessible? It's just a place. If you lose the location everything will happen somewhere else. If you focus on the location you limit the experience.
I'm prosecuting Glastonbury to encourage the promotion of its constituent elements on a more regular basis throughout the country. I love the festival but not the corporate encroachment and the laziness it encourages. It should be laid to rest at the same time as Eavis to prevent its further decline into just another corporate music festival. Glastonbury should be an inspiration to find and create experiences much like Eavis did in 1970. They're outside our front doors every day, not in a field in Somerset once a year.
The case for the defence (Swiss Toni)
Without wishing to do my opponent here a disservice, I can hear many of the arguments against Glastonbury already: it’s too expensive, too corporate; the fence has ruined it and it’s now attended more by lawyers than by hippies; it’s safe; it’s boring; it’s all over the TV and you’d be better off watching it from your own sofa.
I’m not going to bother denying them. Some of them are true. But they could *all* be bloody true and Glastonbury would still be better by miles than most of the other festivals. Have you been to another festival recently? Have you queued up for beer tokens? Have you eaten from the brown vans selling barely cooked burgers of dubious origin? Have you been swept out of the arena by surly stewards and found yourself back at your tent by 11pm and within 10 minutes of the headline act leaving the stage? I have, and I’m telling you that even a Glastonbury Festival that might not be as good as it used to be is still streets ahead of Reading or Leeds or V or Download or almost any other festival you might care to mention. Glastonbury do things differently to other festivals.
At Glastonbury the beer tents are organised by the Workers Beer Company. Yes, it’s now sponsored by Budweiser, but the workers give their time for free and the profits go to the trade unions, charities and some left-wing campaign groups. The stewards are not hired thugs from the local community centre, they are volunteers organised by Oxfam who receive a free ticket and free food in exchange for their work. In return, the festival makes a donation to the charity. Refuse on the site is not just burned or buried, it is carefully sorted and separated for recycling. In 2004, 300 tonnes of waste was recycled and 110 tonnes composted. The site is also becoming increasingly self-sufficient with its sewage processing. Long before it became fashionable, the carbon footprint of Glastonbury has always been relatively small and it’s getting smaller every year. Hell, they even use wooden cutlery at all of the many and varied food stalls. The festival makes a profit, sure, but a good chunk of that profit goes directly to various charities: in 2002 Greenpeace received £200,000 and Oxfam and WaterAid picked up £50,000 each. The total amount of money given to various charities out of the profits that year was £1m. It’s not just about the money though, as all of those charities are given a forum during the course of the festival where their message can be heard by a captive audience of over 100,000 people. The festival might be expensive, but at least you can guarantee that a good chunk of that money is going to be distributed to some really excellent causes.
Not convinced by the ethical argument? What about the fact that Glastonbury has to be one of the only festivals where you could spend a happy three days without once setting foot in front of one of the main stages. Lost Vagueness alone could probably keep you mesmerised for the whole weekend, never mind the plethora of other smaller stages and tents. In fact, my festival highlights almost always come from something I have stumbled across and not from a band at all. My favourite ever Glastonbury moment is deciding to give the Stereophonics a miss and running instead into a ballerina performing whilst suspended underneath a hot air balloon.
You think the fence has ruined it? Did you go to the festival before they put the fence up? My first Glastonbury was in 1993 and although I had an amazing, eye-opening time, there is simply no denying that the festival was crowded with people and that I was offered hard drugs every time I walked between the two main stages. I’m not naïve enough to think that there the site is now free of hard drugs, but the festival has felt an awful lot safer since 2002 and there are still plenty of scallies trying to sell you a warm can of Stella and you can still be assured of the availability in the Green Fields of a hash truffle that will blow your head off.
Glastonbury might have changed over the years, but it’s still the best weekend of the year by miles. 2006 was empty without it and I can’t wait for June.
Good luck on Sunday everyone. I hope to see you there.
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Thanks to Martin and Swiss Toni for their contributions. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Good Friday to make up your mind...