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The Road to Glastonbury

The largest music festival in the world is a platform for political discourse
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By ADRIENNE CAMPBELL  |  Moonshine Ink

The journey to Glastonbury Festival starts a full year before festival doors open, tickets go on sale, or the lineup is even announced. In fact, just to be allowed into the ticket pool you are required to register with a photo and basic personal information. Once your registration is confirmed you are granted the opportunity to try your luck at getting tickets.

Everyone in our group was accepted and we had all hands on deck when ticket sales opened. My husband sat at his laptop in Kazakhstan, my sister-in-law positioned herself behind two computers with fast internet at her home outside London, and I was ready to pounce in Truckee with, well, you know, Truckee-speed internet. The 150,000 tickets sold out in 20 minutes. Thankfully, my sister-in-law got through and was able to purchase tickets for the whole group.

After much planning and uncertainty, we were heading to Glastonbury, the biggest music festival in the world! Taking place on a dairy farm outside of London, the event welcomes music lovers every other year for five days — to put that number into perspective, that’s around twelve-and-a-half times the population of Truckee.

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks prior to our journey overseas unsettling events unfolded in England including terrorist attacks at an Ariana Grande concert, the London Bridge, and the Westminster Bridge. My husband, who is from the U.K., called from work in Kazakhstan to gauge my feelings about traveling with all the horrific attacks in London. I must admit it made me nervous, but even more so, angry — I would not be stopped from enjoying my freedoms the terrorists sought to take away. “We’re going!” I said. My husband agreed.

We arrived in London a week earlier to enjoy the sights and were immediately confronted with the unrest when we were required to evacuate the London tube due to an unattended-bag threat. It freaked me out to have to turn and run; it was just like you see in news loops after an attack. Luckily, the threat was a false alarm, but the evacuation forced us to walk over the London Bridge — an area we had planned on avoiding.

The tributes and flowers for the victims of the June attack made me cry and the anguish they brought up left me even more resolved to embrace Glastonbury, because not only is it a music festival, it’s an opportunity to come together and learn about amazing international nonprofits.

It’s a platform for world causes and subtle protest, but it is also a place and time for celebration, fun, and music.

We drove to Glastonbury listening to a playlist of the artists performing at the festival, with a car full of camping supplies and plenty of beer — it is a music festival, after all! I really enjoyed hearing new artists ahead of time and discovering some favorites along the way.

Glastonbury thrives through its music, but is also fertile ground for political and social activism. Michael Eavis, the founder of the event, donates more than $2 million to charitable causes. He then uses the rest of the profits to cover expenses. Lastly, he pays himself, around $60,000 a year.

The contemporary performing arts festival serves as a platform for political discussion and draws nonprofits like Greenpeace, WaterAid, and Oxfam, as well as powerful speakers. This year, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joined; a British politician who is very popular with the younger generation. He spoke on the main Pyramid Stage and the aptly named Left Stage about environmental issues, immigration, and, of course, Brexit. Later in the day an organized protest broke out that included signs, music, and a naked protester on stage.

The political presence was more intense this time because of Brexit. Great Britain leaving the European Union directly affects Greenpeace and Oxfam because of environmental regulations that are based on the EU agreement as well as deals regarding people fleeing war-torn countries. Many concert-goers held signs for the Oxfam campaign Stand as One for Refugees, to show support for helping keep refugee families safe, together, and protected. WaterAid gained the backing of more than 30,000 people as they asked attendees to join The Water Fight, a global campaign with a mission to make clean water and decent toilets a normalcy for every child in the world by 2030.  

But at the end of the day, it’s definitely the music that unites everyone through a common interest. It opens hearts and minds to appreciating different styles, people, and cultures from all around the world.

Glastonbury offers something for everyone, featuring a variety of artists and genres, from major headliners like Katy Perry, Foo Fighters, and Radiohead to old favorites like Barry Gibb and Chic. Even the younger crowd was dancing and singing to all the old Saturday Night Fever songs and Chic’s Freak Out. Interestingly, I didn’t meet any Americans while there and some seemed surprised that I came from so far away, saying things like, “You came to England to go to this?”

With all the tragedies England has experienced in the past year a week of carefree fun is all part of carrying on and not letting these issues stop the music. Security was tighter than in previous years, but as a security guard said while rummaging through one guy’s stuff, “Four cases of beer? Well, go on through, mate! This is Glastonbury!”

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December 13, 2018