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By K.L John


Wednesday, July 16, 2008.


Drunk people everywhere. Louts, noise, mud and excruciatingly bad music.  I’d unwittingly subscribed
to all the popular notions about

Camping, port-a-looing, and trying to enjoy myself at
a rock festival in the middle of nowhere?  Er, no


When asked to campaign for Fairtrade on the
Greenpeace Field of Worthy farm, however, I said yes.
I would never ever go of my own accord, so I might as
well go for work, I reasoned.

Looking at the Glastonbury
line-up is thoroughly confusing for the uninitiated.  How can eight sets play on one stage on one day? Why are there so many different stages? Most importantly, which one is the good one?  


The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Arts is nearly 40 years old and, contrary to the Jay-Z ‘controversy’, is very inclusive.  The ‘farm’ isn’t a house and a few pigs; it’s a mile and a half long. The festival area is in sections and almost everybody’s tastes are catered for.  


The pyramid is likened to that famous London landmark, Leicester Square. The big names play, but it’s otherwise devoid of character.  The other stages are where Glasto really happens: Jazz World, Acoustic, Park, Dance East, Dance West, Other, John Peel, Avalon, Glade, Queen’s Head and Cabaret.  Count again, that’s 12 stages of music.  Live music is heard from 11am often until at 5am, with the big names playing until 12am and smaller acts going until the wee hours.

The vibe

Immediately obvious is the huge number of families,
particularly with very young children, and the multi-cultural face of the festival.  Worried as I was about having to play ‘count the black people’ with me, myself and I, the diversity was a pleasant surprise. While atmosphere is hugely subjective,
strongly reminded me of New Year’s Eve where everybody’s happy and loves and trusts everyone, for five long days.


Having been tempted to wander around wearing a Jay-Z
t-shirt, surprisingly, no one seemed to object to Jay-Z headlining.  The people actually at Glasto were looking forward to it days before Jigga was due to perform.  On judgement night, the crowd’s chants further testified that he was indeed welcome.

The music

The big names aren’t really what
Glastonbury is about.
It’s the random small acts that play in the bars, the theatre groups, and arbritrary tents that really capture the Glasto spirit.  The festival’s profits go to Oxfam, Greenpeace and Wateraid; since the 2nd Glasto back in the 70s the proceeds have gone to charity.  


Sunset at the stone circle, the solar cinema, Tony Benn at the Left Field and the Silent Disco, where on entering you’re given a headset and two DJs play; half the crowd listen to one set, and the other half listen to a completely different one. These inimitable experiences are what Glastonbury is all about.

That said, I loved the music. The Greenpeace field is adjacent to the Jazz World stage and I was therefore
able to jam to the legendary Jimmy Cliff, Solomond
Burke, Eddy Grant and Manu Chao from the comfort of my
sleeping bag, or while eating my dinner.  Which I did.

I also saw Kate Nash, KT Tunstall, Get Cape Wear Cape
Fly, Lupe Fiasco, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Estelle, Amy
Winehouse, Jay-Z, My Family and the London Commnuity
Gospel Choir.  My musical tastes, normally geared towards hip-hop, soul, reggae and soca, were thoroughly catered for.


I was advised never to go near the port-a-loos. Thus
it was that after a day of trying to eat and drink as little as possible to suppress nature (a very bad idea), I headed to the long drops.  Once over the shock, the realisation that there’s nothing actually wrong with them comes.  You take your own toilet paper, lock the door and don’t look down.  


The cubicles are cleaned regularly so the only mess is
inside the toilets.  Days later, I discovered the Comfy Crappers.  With small wellies filled with flowers in soil outside every cubicle, decorated toilet seats and cubicles away from the main ‘road’, once you’ve used the Comfy Crappers, you can’t go back to the long drops.  The only hitch is that the Comfy Crappers aren’t free (except for staff).

The Big Question

Was St. Lucia Jazz 08 better? Frankly, they’re incomparable. One takes place on a breath-takingly
island, the other in a field in Somerset. One lasts 10 days, the other is a long weekend. Glasto wins for variety and schedule; it probably packs in the same number of acts as Jazz, if not more.  


On the other hand Wyclef’s headline performance was easily a million times better than Jay-Z’s. Jazz wins for location, location, location.

St. Lucia
is half the attraction to the Jazz festival, and if tolerating hippies, Comfy Crappers, and camping requires too much, St. Lucia is an easy winner. However, if something truly different would be a real treat, Glastonbury is an excellent option.

Great music, interesting people and – despite the horror stories - a minimal amount of mud. I didn’t want to leave. Glasto was nothing like I expected, a wonderful, recommended experience all round. Whatever the weather.
A typical Glasto signpost – note the painted bins!


© 2008

K.L John is a writer and campaigner curious about
international politics, trade and justice. She can be reached at

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