Two years ago today, I said my goodbyes to the Glastonbury Festival site in Somerset, England and caught a National Express coach back to London for some Canada Day festivities, courtesy of my favourite Canadian band, USS. While today would be an excellent day to highlight my Canada Day in London experience, I feel that it is time to actually tell you all about the incredible festival that has stolen my heart, Glastonbury. It truly was a phenomenal experience that changed the way I festival.
Glastonbury had been on my radar for several years. It is considered the biggest festival in the world, has featured some absolutely incredible acts over the years, and has so much to offer above and beyond a typical music festival. When some friends of mine started to talk about going, I didn’t need much convincing.
My Glastonbury experience started several months before the main event. In fact, it started nearly a year in advance of the 2013 festival. My friends and I decided to attend shortly after the 2012 festival wrapped up and commenced planning stat. Glastonbury is a difficult festival in the sense that you need to be committed to going the year before you actually intend on going. To purchase tickets you need to complete and submit a profile to the festival organizers with your name, address, country and passport-style photo. Once your profile has been approved, you are now able to enter the lottery system to purchase tickets. It’s just a little bit intense.
Tickets typically go on sale during the October before the festival at 9:00 a.m. local time. I had to be ready to get my ticket purchasing on at 2:00 a.m. Nearly an hour and a half later without having any luck in getting through to the purchase page, one of the gentlemen in our lovely group was able to get in and purchase my ticket for me. The festival sold out about 15 minutes later. Just to be clear here, all 135,000 tickets sold out in about an hour an a half. Talk about ticket purchasing stress! I won’t even talk about the stress of realizing that you put one of those precious tickets through the wash (-coughJTcough-)
Fast forward about 8 months or so and I found myself enjoying the wonderful city of Brighton in the days leading up to Glastonbury. As I was going to the festival with a handful of friends who are from the Brighton & Worthing area, we organized a meet up in the days leading up the festival (which of course included pubs, go-karting and more pubs). I wound up staying at a friend’s house on the Tuesday evening, so we could get up bright and early to beat the traffic to the festival site. No seriously, Dan had us up at 4:00 a.m. (or was it earlier?!). We had about a 2 and a half hour drive ahead of us, without taking into account the horrid traffic that we were bound to face as we neared the festival site. The earlier the start the better.
Glastonbury actually opens the festival gates early Wednesday morning. While Wednesday and Thursday do not feature any musical acts, there is still plenty of trouble to get into around the festival site. We did not want to miss a minute of the insanity, thus the early morning trek to Pilton. Our drive to the festival site was awesome, in my opinion. I actually wound up napping for a decent portion of it, and woke up just in time to catch a glimpse of Stonehenge as we drove by (a first for me).
Rather than camp on the festival site with the masses, our group opted to rent a couple of tents through Tangerine Fields. Considering I was in the middle of a 3 week backpacking trip, this was the best call for my situation. When you arrive at Tangerine Fields your tent is already set up, and depending on what package you get, your air mattress and sleeping bag will also be set up. I chose to get the full deal so I didn’t have to worry about carting around a sleeping bag and air mattress. It was well worth the extra cost.
And then the festival madness began.
Let me tell you, walking onto the festival site and immediately being greeted by the Pyramid Stage was absolutely magical. After years of drooling over photos and videos of it, seeing it in the flesh was absolutely incredible. In my opinion, that was the best way to start off the Glasto experience. From here, we had two items that needed to be crossed off of our to-do list right off the start: a pint of Brothers Cider and climb to the top of Flagtopia for a view of the entire festival site. While I didn’t get a pint of Brothers (something that I still regret), I strongly you to do Flagtopia first if you ever go to Glastonbury. However, there is a specific way of doing it to get the full effect. You must hike up to the top of the hill WITHOUT looking back at the festival site. Once you get to the top, take a minute to breathe and then you may turn around and take it in. Trust me, this is the only way to do Flagtopia and get the most out of it. It is absolutely breathtaking.
The remainder of my time at Glastonbury flew by in a blink, I swear. I saw a pile of bands that I had no intentions of see (Kodaline with the lovely Pip for example), and missed a bunch of bands that I had every intention of seeing (oops!). While Glastonbury is touted as being a massive music festival, I learned that you cannot go into the festival with a set list of bands to see on each day, but rather just go with the flow and see where things take you. You get so much more from the festival when you just let it take you where it wants to, rather than running from stage to stage. Trust me on this.
There are a few things that are must dos. First, the South East Corner. The South East Corner is a corner of the festival site that is touted as being the go-to late night area. It is insane. On the Saturday night, we caught the first 15 or-so minutes of The Rolling Stones, then opted to wander to the corner before the crowds got awful. Best call ever. The area was mostly empty so we had the chance to check out most of the nooks and crannies without having to push through the masses.
The South East Corner absolutely blew my mind. The insane sets created for this area were phenomenal. Block 9 in itself was beyond anything I had ever seen at a festival. We found so many time little stages and bars hidden away in the back corners of Shangri-La. The area is littered with dozens of nightclubs and filled to the brim with odd, but wonderful, art exhibits. You might also get lucky enough to get a celebrity DJ set. Thom Yorke DJed a set in Heaven in 2013. I missed it, but I knew some friends who were able to catch it. Lucky ducks!
My second must-do recommendation is spending some time lazing on the lawn at the Pyramid Stage. Our little group found ourselves here a few times. It was a fantastic way to relax, take in some music and be lazy. The Pyramid Stage is the main stage at Glastonbury and features a wide variety of fantastic acts. We caught Vampire Weekend, Ben Howard, First Aid Kid and Kenny Rogers during our lazy afternoons at the Pyramid. Surprisingly, Kenny Rogers was pretty awesome 😉
The Pyramid Stage, like every other stage at Glastonbury, will typically host some of the most incredible musical moments at some point. This year, the Pyramid Stage saw Florence and the Machine beautifully cover Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” in honour of Dave Grohl. There is no denying that it was an incredible cover and a beautiful moment.
In 2013, the Pyramid Stage saw something far more spectacular. You might recall that during the summer of 2013, Ted Dwane, the bassist of Mumford and Sons, was hospitalized and subsequent underwent surgery to remove a blood clot that had formed on his brain. It was recommended that he not perform at Glastonbury, a mere 3 weeks after the initial surgery. However, being a musician faced with possibly one of the greatest moments of his musical career, the man pushed through and performed. And it was insane.
I do want to note that prior to catching Mumford’s set that year, I loathed the band. I found that their songs sounded all the same and they didn’t do a thing for me. My opinion quickly did a 180 after catching that set. It was incredible. Nothing beats standing on a field and listening to the likes of 80,000 people sing along to “I Will Wait”. Nothing.
The randomness that was Glastonbury made the festival for me. I could go on and on about these random little stories about my short 5 days wandering the festival site. But I really shouldn’t. Suffice it to say, that when you can walk through a festival site and come across a kazoo marching band, get accosted by a group of women to partake in a Mexican wrestling thumb war and buy milk fresh off of a milk truck (the festival is held on a dairy farm after all), you truly have experienced something a little bit different.
My last few moments of Glastonbury were quite peaceful albeit sad. I got up early to catch my bus to London, hiked across the festival site to the bus terminal and had the chance to see some of the festival grounds for the last time. It’s crazy to think that it has already been 2 years. Talk about a throwback 🙂