On Wednesday morning July 22, I left for the Glastonbury Fest via JFK and Dublin to Bristol. An hour delay on the ground in New York and my flight to Bristol was missed, and I spent over eight hours in Dublin’s spiffy new airport. Well, it’s the old airport with lots more food courts and shops. (Post-fest back in Dublin my iPad could get wireless, just not connect to any servers, so I was out of loop for a looong time. It was a bit disorienting).
From Bristol on Thursday afternoon, a one hour drive put me in my b&b, Angels at Tordown, a sweet house with heaps of crystals and other New Age ephemera. And badgers outside. Glastonbury Abbey, a short walk from Tordown, is alleged to be the place where King Arthur is buried, while the Chalice Well is supposedly the hiding place for the Holy Grail. Though since the latter story is circa 1200, unlikely. King Henry VIII personally supervised the tear down of Glastonbury Abbey. You can rent the room he stayed in for 100 pounds a night. I was happy at Tordown for half that!
On Friday morning friends picked me up and off we dashed to the legendary Glastonbury Festival which began forty years ago as a folk music celebration until the Smiths played in 1984 and nearly caused a riot. Now all manners of music grace the stages, and this night U2–their only festival appearance ever would be playing. There were also rumors of a tax protest involving a huge balloon during the band’s set.
The whole day and night were muddy and wet, but fun. Access to the VIP food tents and VIP loos (which were much cleaner, though on Saturday, Christopher Shale, a British Conservative government official and close friend of the PM died in one after a memo he wrote critical of his his party was slated for release in the Daily Mail; no tin foil here…oh no at at all) helped with the overall experience. Mud was thick, molasses-like and treacherous. I slipped a couple times.
The fest, attended by over 170,000 people in a two mile square collection of areas–including dance tents, alternative life style camps and my favorite, the Billy Bragg curated Leftfield–benefits Oxfam and Greenpeace. In Leftfield I spent time with the Bhopal Medical Appeal which was creating art projects to inform fest goers about the ongoing need for long term medical aid in the Indian city which was devastated by the 1984 release of poison gas from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Half a million people were exposed to gas, while 25,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident. The subsequent pollution at the plant site has polluted ground water, and the site itself has never been cleaned properly, leading extreme exposure to mercury and cancer-causing chemicals. I’ll be writing more about Bhopal in the future.
I loved seeing Bright Eyes and Fleet Foxes play on the Other Stage, and then as night fell (around 10pm), the Pyramid Stage exploded with a Damien Hirst video of skulls and butterflies for U2’s entrance “Even Better than the Real Thing.” The band played a a two hour set of the best songs, and during an interlude Bono sang an a cappella version of William Blake’s “Jerusalem,” an ode to England’s green fields.
The Art Uncut planned tax protest deflated when Glastonbury security shut down the air pump for the balloon. I never saw it go up, but there are photos. Basically a 24 foot high, 9 foot wide balloon would have blocked people’s view, and announcement of the protest got plenty of press, which, I suspect was really the goal, to drive dialogue and get people thinking. Otherwise why announce it? The element of surprise would have worked nicely, except then the issue would not have had months to marinate in ink and would not have drawn the attention it has…
Saturday July 25 I wandered again through Glastonbury, stopping to eat at Burns the Bread, an award winning bakery, and for a stroll to the Chalice Well Trust, which is actually two wells, one with “red” heavily mineralized water, the other white, or clear. Lovely and restful, and a few sips from the Red Well my jet lag and fest fatigue (12 hours of mud and rain and rock and roll) dissipated.
Dublin post-fest was awesome. Spirits were high over the results of We the Citizens, a self-governance initiative funded by Atlantic Philanthropies with regional roundtable discussions which culminated in a weekend National Citizens Assembly June 24 to 26. More details to follow this weekend on how the process worked and what came out as a result this weekend. Ireland has a population of 4 million–I wonder if such an process is possible here?