Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Glastonbury 2014, Part II - What I Learned

From the Top of the Ribbon Tower
First off, there is no shortage of blog posts and articles out there offering advice and guidance on Glastonbury.  The best of the best is probably GlastoEarth, with an FAQ that answers every question you could possibly have.  His descriptions of the different areas and campgrounds are almost as good as being there.  Others are more funny than helpful, like this one, and still others are funny and helpful, like this one.  I've seen lots of blog posts about what to and not to bring and I think this is an especially good one - particularly if you're camping.  Even with all that information though, there are a few things we learned over the course of our five days at the festival that I thought might benefit another lucky duck who manages to snag one of the 170,000 tickets available to approximately 1,000,000 registrants. So here goes...
The Tipi Field
1.  Stay on site, or at least as close as possible.  We stayed at a really nice "glamping" campsite just outside the car parks on the east side of the festival. I can't say I regret it, especially since it was our first time. We had no idea what we were doing, and we weren't going to pack a tent and sleeping bags in our suitcase in any case.  Even so, I found myself wishing we were staying inside the fence by about the 2nd day.  It really is an immersive experience, and we wound up spending about an hour of each day getting to and from the Festival grounds, whether we walked or drove.  If pitching your own tent doesn't sound fun or isn't practical, the Festival offers Tipis in the Tipi Field, and pre-set up camping in Worthy View, conveniently located just above the Stone Circle.  You'll still need to bring your own bedding and whatever else you need for the interior though.  Camplight offers pre-pitched tents as well as air mattresses and sleeping bags inside the event in a pre-selected location. They repair and recycle tents left behind in past years and rent them out for between 100-400 pounds for up to 9 people. Medium-level glamping options like Zooloos and Tangerine Fields set up just outside the fences with showers, breakfast, and different levels of accommodations from two man tents on up to bell tents.  If you stay in a place that doesn't have power outlets, pack a solar or battery powered phone charger, because charging stations are few and far between.  You probably won't have much data service inside the event anyway though (luckily the app with the lineup and map doesn't require data service to run.)
The Bimble Inn
2.  Don't worry too much about the lineup.  Before we went, I read a lot of comments to the effect that the lineup doesn't matter, the festival is about more than that, yadda yadda...  Since the lineup is all you hear about from the outside, I didn't understand what that meant, and I was a little concerned that I wasn't super jazzed about the lineup going in.  In the end though, I was glad I felt free to explore rather than knocking myself out running around to the stages.  The truth is the festival is so huge that the big stages are only part of what is going on at any given time. What I enjoyed most was walking around and ducking into the smaller venues -  like the Bimble Inn, Avalon Cafe & Beat Hotel - to hear the huge variety of smaller acts performing. It was so much more intimate and comfortable than standing outside in the rain at the larger stages - though that experience had its charms too.
Huge crowds surging up to Arcadia & the Park after Arcade Fire on Saturday night
3.  Surf ahead of the crowds and get to the late night areas early. One thing that was not fun about the big stages was the crowd surge after they let out.  I snapped this picture from the Railway Line on Saturday night.  All of the stages had let out and everyone was trying to get to the late night areas - The Park, Arcadia and Shangri La - to party 'til dawn.  We were headed the other direction to Silver Hayes to see Fatboy Slim and just had to give up.  It wasn't too big a deal since we were planning on going back on the early side anyway but we learned a lesson.  Especially on Saturday night, don't get involved in this mess - get where you're going by 10:30 or 11 and stay there. Even during the rest of the day, the stages have about a 45 minute to hour break between artists, during which everyone tries to go get a beer or use the loo.  If you go too deep in you could spend an hour trying to get out and back in for the next set.
Glastonbury Long Drop

4.  Bring wipes and kleenex packs* - Ahh the long drops... an unpleasant but necessary evil.  Go when you can, especially if there isn't a line, and go early.  They get exponentially worse as the evening wears on.  The bank of long drops near Gate C was especially clean and uncrowded - the ones along the railway line are the worst since they are the busiest.  Regardless, there will be no toilet paper.  I am told you can get some at the property lockups, but I just bought mini Kleenex packets at the sundry stands.  There are no hooks in the stalls, but you can hang your bag on the door fastener hook.  I figured that out on the last day - until then I was hanging my purse around my neck. Carrying your own hand sanitizer or wipes is a good idea too - it's not always easy to wash your hands.  Oh, and one last tip - if you're the kind of person who beer or cider goes right through, hard liquor is the way to go.
The Green Fields
5.  Explore explore explore - then explore some more. There is so much to see - and there are things you will never find no matter how much you look. I really enjoyed the Green Fields and Park areas, they're pretty with a crunchy hippie vibe and look out over the rest of the festival - the high ground, if you will. There are magical little hidden spots -  little dug out resting spots with firepits, the secret area of the Rabbit Hole (that really isn't a secret anymore) and the hidden "underground" piano bar.  There's a club with an entrance behind a water fall, a bar and dance club in a tree complete with disco ball dappling the leaves, a sauna in the Tipi Circle, a venue high on the hill above the Park, the list goes on. Just spend some time wandering - chances are the best moments you'll have will happen when you least expect them.  Talk to people too.  People were hugely amused by us Americans coming all the way to Glastonbury "just for this??" One thing Glasto does not lack for is conversation starters - ask people about their favorites places and things, who they saw, how many times they've been, where they're camping, the list goes on. People are generally very open and friendly - it's that "Glasto Spirit!"
The Diner in Shangri La
6.  Eat and drink on site. I wrote a whole separate post about the food, but it bears repeating.  Even if you are camping, you don't need to bring food, except maybe some minimal snacks.  If you're on a budget then sure, bring booze - but if you're not, you won't lack for choices or access in the festival. There are bars everywhere you look.  Many of the food stalls offer full breakfast - some all day - and there are literally thousands of choices for meals throughout the day. There are even some sit down cafes in the festival, like the Diner in Shangri La, the Tree House in the Park and the Avalon Cafe, if you get tired of eating standing up or balancing a plate on your knee (it does get old.)  DO pack lots of ibuprofen, blister bandaids and whatever hangover cure works for you. (Pink Lemonade Emergen-C with added Vitamin B12 drops for me!)
Wellies at the ready
7.  Prepare for all kinds of weather -  We packed wellies and rain gear and were afraid it wouldn't rain.  HA.  It started right after I took this picture, and my boots were never this clean again.  They were absolutely covered with mud by Sunday.  I read some advice list that said don't bring an umbrella.  That's bunk - I really wished I had one.  You can get by with the plastic ponchos they sell at the sundry stalls if you have to, and you should buy them even if you have a rain coat - they're a good top layer and are great for sitting on when things get muddy.  The big problem with the mud is that it gets on things, and then it gets on you.  You sit on it or put your hand in it, and suddenly it's all over you.  God forbid you should fall in it.  I packed a change of clothes in my bag on Sunday just in case - then wound up putting them all on when it got cold late at night.  You really don't need Hunter wellies, but make sure whatever you are wearing fits, because you'll be walking in them a LOT.   James' didn't fit very well and he was miserable by the third day, while I was totally fine.  I also saw a lot of people in hiking boots, which are a good choice as long as they keep your feet dry.  Don't worry too much about fashion at Glastonbury.  Unless you're Kate Moss or Alexa Chung nobody will be paying much attention - take care of your comfort first!  Wear layers and carry a jacket or sweater since it gets chilly at night.  They sell warm, fuzzy ponchos for around 15 pounds if you need one.  You'll want a sun hat and high SPF sunscreen too - we saw a lot of sunburned people walking around on the 2nd and 3rd days.
The Dandy Lion Vintage Shop - Field of Avalon
8.  If you see something you like, buy it.  Don't assume you'll be able to find the time to come back and look at something later, or that it will be there if you do.  The vintage and flea market shop stalls have the best displays and selection on Wednesday and Thursday before the bands start.  If you see something you like, you better grab it there and then.  The Festival is so huge you may never make it back there, and you'll have too much going on later to prioritize shopping.  If you don't want to carry it around you can check it at the property lockup.  (Can you tell I regret not buying that red jacket?)
Elbow at the Pyramid Stage
9.  Spend at least one sunset at the Pyramid Stage. Maybe it was just a lucky break, but the sunset behind the Pyramid stage during Elbow's set on Friday night was so spectacular that it turned their set into a true Glastonbury magic moment.  I suspect that sunset behind just about any band would have a similar salutary effect - it's that beautiful.  Glastonbury involves a lot of choices, but should one of the bands on your list be scheduled around 9 PM at the Pyramid Stage, take that into consideration.
The Healing Field
10.  Make time for the Healing Fields.  Even if you've paced yourself well and you're feeling good, five days is a long time to be on the go, and you'll need to take care of yourself.  I had heard about the Healing Fields and I vaguely knew they offered massages, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect.   It turns out it's a field where individual practitioners of the healing arts set up in yurts and tents and offer their services in exchange for donations.  You make arrangements with them individually - mostly by just walking up and speaking to them quietly while they are already working on someone else.  There's also a larger yurt for craniosacral work that you can just wait in line for.  I moseyed up there at about 5:30 on Sunday and found that most of the practitioners were already closed for the weekend - so getting there earlier would be a good idea.  I got a massage from a woman who it turns out I had met when at the Tipi Circle camp fire on Friday. I didn't remember her until she recognized me, which she did because I was American. They have a nice little chill out garden and shelter in the center where you can relax for a while if you just need a break  There are also two saunas you can seek out - Sam's near the Railway Line, and the Lost Horizon Sauna in the Tipi Field (aka the "naked sauna.") Both were recommended, but I didn't get a chance to try them.  Next year, for sure. :)

* - I didn't take a picture of the loos, so I pinched this one from the Guardian (photo cred:  Matt Crossick.) If they object I'll take it down, or I could just forward all of my profits from this post to them as payment. ;)   (p.s. - I actually saw that Korean band and they were amazing.)

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