The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, commonly abbreviated to Glastonbury Festival or Glasto, is the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world. The festival is best known for its contemporary music, but also features dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and many other arts. In 2005, the enclosed area of the festival was over 900 acres, had over 385 live performances scheduled and a predicted attendance of around 150,000 people. Glastonbury festival has been compared to Woodstock and the burning man festival, and shares some of the spirit of these events but many festival-goers consider Glastonbury to be unique.


Originally Glastonbury was heavily influenced by hippy ethics and the free festival movement in the 1970s, especially the Isle of Wight Festival. Organiser Michael Eavis claims he decided to host the first festival, then called Pilton Festival, after seeing an open air Led Zeppelin concert at the nearby Bath and West showground in 1970. The festival retains vestiges of this tradition, including the Green Futures/Healing Fields area and the reputation for drug taking.




Glastonbury Festival Stage 2003


Festival Site


The festival takes place at Worthy Farm between the small village of Pilton and Pylle, six miles west of Glastonbury town overlooking the famous landmark Glastonbury Tor in the mystical "Vale of Avalon". The nearest town to the festival site is Shepton Mallet, three miles north east, but there continues to be interaction between the people espousing alternative lifestyles living in Glastonbury and the festival itself. The farm is situated between the A361 and A37 roads.


Worthy farm is situated in a valley at the head of the Whitelake River, between two low limestone ridges, part of the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. On the site is a confluence of the two small streams that make the Whitelake River. In the past the site has experienced problems with flooding, though after the floods that occured during the 1997 and 1998 festival, drainage was improved. This did not prevent flooding during the 2005 festival, but allowed the floodwaters to disipate within hours. The Bridgwater branch of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway ran through the farm on an embankment, but was dismantled in the late 1960s and now forms a main thoroughfare across the site. Another prominant feature is the high-voltage electricity line which crosses the site east-west.


In recent years the site has been organised around a restricted backstage compound, with the pyramid stage on the north, and other stage on the south of the compound. Attractions on the east of the site include the accoustic tent, comedy tent and circus. To the south are the greenfields, which include displays of traditional and environmentally friendly crafts. In King's Meadow, the hill at the far south of the site, is a small megalith circle which, like Stonehenge, is coordinated with the summer solstice. The circle was constructed in 1990 with the appearance of age, and has no archaeological interest.


The backstage compound, restricted to normal festivalgoers, is populated almost entirely by bands and their support crews. The backstage bar, Lulu's, is, ironically, the cheapest bar at the festival, and hosts many charity functions and auctions.




Map for Glastonbury Festival at grid ref ST590397





The festival is organised by local farmer and site owner Michael Eavis, who has hosted the event since its inception. More recently, the Mean Fiddler Organisation, now controlled by Clearchannel, a US-based media conglomerate, have taken a 40% stake in the festival. Some sources now report that Michael's daughter Emily Eavis is taking a more proactive role in organising the festival, with Michael increasingly taking a back seat.


Several stages and areas are managed independently, such as The Left Field which is managed by a cooperative owned by the Trades Union Congress, and a field run by Greenpeace.


With the exception of technical and security staff, the festival is mainly run by volunteers. Stewards are organised by the aid charity Oxfam and the bars are organised by the Workers Beer Company, sponsored by Budweiser, who recruit teams of volunteer staff from small charities. In return for their help, typically around 18 hours over the festival, volunteers are paid in free entry, transport and food, while their charities are given donations by the organisers.


Catering, and some retail services, are provided by various small companies, typically mobile catering vans. The camping retail chain Millets, and many independent shops, set up makeshift outlets at the festival. Network Recycling manage refuse on the site, and in 2004 recycled 300 tonnes and composted 110 tonnes of waste from the site.



Glastonbury over time


This section is largely based on A Brief History of the Glastonbury Festival.




One of the sculptures at Glastonbury





The first festival, a smallscale event of 1,500 people called the Pilton Festival, was in 1970, followed by the larger scale Glastonbury Fayre of 1971. Performers in the 1970s were generrally jazz and folk artists. In 1971 the festival featured the first incarnation of the "Pyramid Stage", built from scaffolding and metal sheeting. The festival was not held again until an unplanned event in 1978, and a planned festival the following year which lost money. The festival and has been an annual fixture since 1981, albeit with breaks in 1988, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006.





In 1981 the festival was organised with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). That year a new Pyramid Stage was constructed from telegraph poles and metal sheeting (ironically, ex-Ministry of Defence), a permanent structure which doubled as a hay-barn and cow-shed during the winter.


In the 1980s the children's area of the festival (which had been organized by Arabella Churchill and others) became the starting point for a new children's charity called Children's World. 1981 was the first year that the festival made profits, and Eavis donated 20,000 of them to CND. In the following years donations were made to a number of organisations, and since the end of the Cold War the main beneficiaries have been Oxfam, Greenpeace, and WaterAid who all contribute towards the festival by providing features and volunteers who work at the festival in exchange for free entrance.


Since 1983 large festivals have required licenses from local authorities. This led to certain restrictions being placed on the festival, including a crowd limit and times during which the stages could operate. The crowd limit was initially set at 30,000 but has grown every year to over 100,000. In 1985 the festival grew too large for Worthy Farm, but neighbouring Cockmill farm was purchased.




Another sculpture at Glastonbury





In recent years the festival has grown with new tents and stages included a Dance music tent, the Jazz and World music stage, the Glade - an open air dance area which has now spawned an independent festival - and The Leftfield - a tent organised by Trade unions which also appears at a number of other British festivals. Since 1994 the festival has also been televised, first by Channel 4 and now by the BBC.


A few weeks before the 1994 festival, the Pyramid Stage burnt down. A temporary main stage was used until a new permanent structure was constructed in 2000. The 1994 festival also saw the introduction of the 150kw wind turbine which provides some of the festival power.

During the 1990s the festival suffered from increased overcrowding and crime due to a culture of gate-crashing. By 2000, a significant proportion of those at the festival gained entrance to the site 'unofficially' (common estimates put the number of 'fence jumpers' at around 100,000, which pushed the total attendance up to 250,000 people).


In 1997 the site became famous for its mud, but 1998 was even worse after several days of heavy rain hit the West Country before the festival opened, and the site flooded. 1998 was also the first year that attendance broke the 100,000 mark.





Acts: Chemical Brothers, Moby, Travis, Morcheeba, Basement Jaxx and David Bowie

In 2000 the third Pyramid Stage was introduced, a 100ft silver structure, also doubling as a winter barn, and a new area, The Glade was also added. Widespread gatecrashing led to the festival taking a break during 2001 while new anti-gatecrashing measures were devised.







Headline acts: Coldplay, Stereophonics, Rod Stewart

In 2002 the festival returned after a break with a substantial surrounding fence (dubbed the 'superfence') that reduced numbers to the levels of a decade earlier. The lower attendance led to a much more relaxed atmosphere and massively reduced crime levels compared to previous years. There were some incidents outside the fence involving frustrated individuals who arrived at the festival assuming they would be able to jump the fence, but despite this the event was hailed as a great success.





Headline acts: REM, Radiohead, Moby

By 2003 people got the idea that it was no longer possible to crash the festival and hence it is recognised as one of the most successful years to date as well as selling out within hours of tickets going on sale. The number of tickets available to the public was increased slightly over 2002, partially in response to criticism that the 2002 festival was underpopulated and lacked atmosphere. This was the first year that tickets sold out before the lineup was announced.

From the ticket and commercial license sales charities received more than 1million, half of which went to Oxfam, Greenpeace and Water Aid.









Headline acts: Oasis, Paul McCartney, Muse


In 2004 tickets sold out within 24 hours amid much controvesy over the ticket ordering process, which left many potential festival goers trying for hours to connect to the overloaded telephone and internet sites. The website got two million attempted connections within the first five minutes of the tickets going on sale and an average of 2,500 people on the phone lines every minute. The festival was not hit by extreme weather, but high winds on the Wednesday delayed entry, and steady rain throughout Saturday turned some areas of the site to mud.


Headline acts: The lineup for the 2004 Festival was officially announced on 2004-06-01. Oasis, Paul McCartney and Muse headlined the Pyramid Stage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively, whilst the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx and Orbital headlined the Other Stage. Other bands appearing included the Raveonettes (New Tent), Simple Kid (Acoustic Tent), Baghdaddies (Avalon Stage) and Sister Sledge (Dance Tent). In addition 2004 was the inaugural year of the festival's Unsigned Performers competition to play main stages. The Subways took the title and played the Other Stage.


After the 2004 festival, Eavis commented that 2006 would be a year off - in keeping with the previous history of taking one "fallow year" in every five to give the villagers and surrounding areas a rest from the yearly disruption. This was confirmed after the licence for 2005 was granted.





Headline acts: The White Stripes, Coldplay, Basement Jaxx

As in previous years, the 112,500 2005 tickets sold out rapidly - in this case in 3 hours 20 minutes, leaving many thousands of potential attendees frustrated.




Friday morning floods



The Sunday headliner was originally scheduled to be Kylie Minogue, but she pulled out in May to receive treatment for breast cancer. Basement Jaxx were announced as a replacement on June 6. Other notables who performed include New Order, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs, Doves, Kasabian, Interpol, Athlete, Razorlight, Bloc Party, British Sea Power, Primal Scream, Ian Brown and Brian Wilson.


2005 saw a big increase in the number of dance music attractions, with the multiple tents of the Dance Village replacing the solitary dance tent of previous years. This new area contained the East and West dance tents, the Dance Lounge, Roots Stage, and Pussy Parlour, as well as a relocated G Stage, formerly situated in the Glade.


The opening day of the festival was delayed after several stages, and one of the bars were hit by lightning, and the valley was hit by flooding that left some areas of the site under a foot of water, flooding several campsites and seriously disrupting site services.


Following the death of DJ John Peel in the previous autumn, the New Bands Tent was renamed the John Peel Tent, in homage to his encouragement and love of new bands at Glastonbury.





The Glastonbury Festival is under way after suffering serious disruption when storms tore across its site at Pilton, Somerset, on Friday morning 24 June 2005.


Heavy rain flooded parts of the site, with dozens of tents lost under water, while lightning strikes affected the stages and knocked out power lines.  Bands such as The White Stripes, Doves and The Killers are due to play at the event, with 112,500 people expected.  No serious injuries were reported, but conditions are expected to stay muddy.

Ambulance staff reported nine emergency cases, but none of the people involved turned out to be seriously injured.  Organisers said under 100 tents had been washed away, and facilities had been set up to hand out clothing and new tents for those affected.





Sinking toilets


Streams running through the site burst their banks at the height of the storm, with some gates to the site closed because of waterlogging. Portable toilets sank in the mud, as did one of the bars.

One festival-goer was even seen swimming to his tent to retrieve his belongings - something medical staff are advising against.  Festival-goers have also been advised to wash their hands after using the toilets, and not to eat food which has been in the water, because of the risk of bacteria from the sunken toilets.

Broadcasters were also affected - the set constructed for BBC Three's coverage from Glastonbury was flooded while Radio 1's Jo Whiley had to abandon her live broadcast after a river close to the corporation's compound burst its banks.  Local fire crews assisted in pumping the water off the site.





List of music festivals in the United Kingdom

The official site of Glastonbury Festival

So, what is Glastonbury Festival?

A Brief History of the Glastonbury Festival: 1970 to date

Glastonbury Festival BBC Music

Glastonbury Festival on eFestivals

Guardian Unlimited Glastonbury Festival from The Guardian newspaper

Glastonbury 2005 @ Playlouder

Avon and Somerset Constabulary Glastonbury Festival

Glastonbury - a film by Julien Temple and Glastonbury 2006 at Internet Movie Database

Glastonbury the movie  


Glastonbury Festival, 2004. "So, what is Glastonbury Festival?."

Glastonbury Festival, 2005. "Glastonbury Festival Line-Up 2005."

Smith, David, 2005. "Far-out Man." In The Observer.

BBC News, 2005. "Crime is down at Glastonbury site."

Glastonbury Festival, 2005. "King's Meadow."

The Leftfield Cooperative, 2005. "About the Left Field."

Glastonbury Festival, 2005. "The Greenpeace Field."

Glastonbury Festival, 2004. "Composting First for Glastonbury Festival."

Glastonbury Festival, 1997-2005. "A Brief History of the Glastonbury Festival: 1970 to date."

BBC News, 2004. "The Glastonbury Years."

Bishop, Tom, 2004. "Glastonbury spirit defies the rain". In BBC News.

Guardian Unlimited, 2004. "Glastonbury 2004 full lineup and timings."

The Guardian, 2005-05-17. "Kylie diagnosed with breast cancer."

Glastonbury Festival, 2005 "The Dance Village: Welcome To Our Field of Dreams."

The Guardian, 2005-04-04. "Ten sales a second: Glastonbury tickets go in record rush."

 BBC News, 2005-06-24. "Soaked Glastonbury gets under way."


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