Glastonbury – Not At Good As It Used to Be?

Queue here if you think Glastonbury’s Not As Good As It Used To Be…

So here we are, two days after Glastonbury tickets went on sale, and for the first time in Lord knows when, they didn’t all sell out in minutes. In fact, there are so many left that in a somewhat desperate measure, if you didn’t register first time round, now’s your chance to do so again. Should this be seen as a cause for celebration or a national disaster? Is the festival really, genuinely, Not As Good As It Used To Be?

The answer depends on the reasons behind the apparent lack of scramble for tickets. Many bloggers are blaming Jay-Z – a less than typical Glastonbury crowd-puller. Others shout out about the price – £155 (£164 with unavoidable booking fees and postage) plus travel, food and drink for the weekend makes it an expensive holiday.

You could get a week in Greece – or Ibiza – for less, and if your budget doesn’t stretch to both, that might not be a hard choice to make. It would be a desperate irony for Glastonbury to be one of the first casualties of climate change but perhaps successive years of bad weather have finally taken their toll.

As the mud becomes deeper, let’s not forget that we now have a generation of kids who have grown up under such an increasingly ludicrous and restrictive Health and Safety culture that many have missed out on the outdoor activities older music fans grew up enjoying, and as such consider it an affront to their human rights to be denied access to television, a PSP2 and a warm shower twice a day.

This last in particular has been cited by friends in recent years as the reason their teenaged kids choose to stay at home and watch Glasto on the telly instead. Free entry over the fence is also a thing of the past.

So, even more sadly, is the sense of freedom that once existed within Glastonbury’s hallowed fields. It used to be a place where the normal rules did not apply, where many a blind eye was turned and you could succumb to most indulgences safe in the knowledge that no-one was looking over your shoulder. That, too, went out of the window last year, as overbearing security guards whipped spliffs out of the mouths of anyone daring to light up (assuming, of course, they had survived the sniffer dogs on the buses en route and the bag-searches at the gate). This was not the Glastonbury we had come to know and love.

A knock-on effect of the weather last year was that atmospheric conditions contributed to the poor quality of sound on the Pyramid Stage. The Eavises could do little to help that, but there’s much they can do prevent the holy grail of festivals from sliding too far into the corporate mud. Friendlier stewards for one – people who might think about treating you like someone who’s spent the best part of a week’s wages coming to their show, rather than a crack addict on the lookout for their next murder victim.

I object – strongly – to being asked a second time whether my rucksack contains drugs by a steward who issues a warning that I am breaking the law if I lie after I have replied ‘no’ first time round. I object even more to being asked if I smoke and then, when I answer that I don’t, being lectured on where I can and can’t have a fag on-site regardless. Courtesy takes very little effort but makes a world of difference. Entering Glastonbury Festival should not be akin to a lecture from your prissiest maiden aunt. And in the UK, we are innocent until proven guilty.

Greater genuine accessibility to younger fans might also be another option to stop the rot. Rather than patronising nonsense such as making tickets available via mobile phone as well as the internet, what about a reduced rate for under 21’s or full-time students? £50 say, or something else they may be more likely to afford? A colleague is going for the first time this year at the age of 29 not only because it’s something he must do before he’s 30 but because this is the first year he’s been able to afford it.

Glastonbury used to be special. It used to be a weekend when you could expect to be transported to another planet, free from the mundane world outside, were there was a different (and often better) set of morals, and the doors of perception would open in more ways than one. That special feeling wasn’t there last year, and the rain and the mud wasn’t the only reason.

Of course, Glastonbury now has to compete with other festivals. Some smaller, some cleaner, some more family-friendly. Bestival does most things Glastonbury does, and in the most part does them better in all but size. But size isn’t everything. Other festivals still have the feeling of freedom you used to get on Worthy Farm before security was placed before it.

Finally, this year, more than probably any other, most festivals have better music. Deliberately trying to shove a genre of music you know is not your average customer’s favourite down their throats is not a clever business move. It’s as patronising and wrong-headed as trying to be down wiv da kidz by accusing them of being too stupid to use a computer.

Last year’s Glastonbury was, pretty much, hell. Bearable hell in places – Arctic Monkeys in the rain, Justice in the Dance Tent – but hell nonetheless. On a particularly cold, wet, miserable moment in the middle of Sunday afternoon, a thought slid into my head that had never shown its face there before: “If I don’t get tickets next year, it wouldn’t be the end of the world”. I pushed it out immediately, but if this year’s ticket sales experience doesn’t act as the wake up call it should be, next year I may have to listen.

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