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Glastonbury Festival History


Glastonbury Festival has survived riots, fires, mud swamps in its action-packed 43-year-history.

The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is a performing arts festival that takes place near Pilton, Somerset, England, best known for its contemporary music, but also for dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and other arts.

From humble hippyfest to music megabrand – Glastonbury has exploded into one of the world’s biggest and best-loved festivals.

It has survived riots, fires, mud swamps and the wrath of the local council throughout the years, to become an institution on the British summer calendar.

When Michael Eavis, a Somerset farmer, organized the first festival in 1970, he was inspired by the psychedelic delights of the Bath Blues Festival. In an attempt to create an even better event, Michael Eavis combined typical pop festival culture with a more traditional fair and harvest-type event.

The festival takes place in south west England at Worthy Farm between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle in Somerset, six miles east of Glastonbury, overlooked by the Glastonbury Tor in the “Vale of Avalon”. The area has a number of legends and spiritual traditions, and is a “New Age” site of interest: ley lines are considered to converge on the Tor. 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. The farm is situated between the A361 and A37 roads.

Michael Eavis stated that he decided to host the first festival, then called Pilton Festival, after seeing an open air Led Zeppelin concert at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music 1970; fourteen people invested everything they had to build the stage.

At the first Glastonbury in September 1970, around 1,500 people paid just £1 ($1.5) to see Marc Bolan and T-Rex headline the event, accompanied by free milk; just one detail that marks Glastonbury’s individuality from its start.

The first festival was influenced by hippie ethics and the free festival movement. The festival retains vestiges of this tradition such as the Green Fields area which includes the Green Futures and Healing Field. After the 1970s the festival took place almost every year and grew in size, with the number of attendees sometimes being swollen by gate-crashers.

A second festival was organized a year later, but this time the date was moved to coincide with the Summer Solstice in June. The first Pyramid Stage was built on the Glastonbury Stonehenge leyline for the event, which added a cosmic, mythical allure to the festival.

It was funded, in Michael Eavis’s words, by “rich hippies”, who wanted to ensure no one would miss out on the delights of Glastonbury simply because they could not afford to get in. That year, David Bowie played in front of 12,000 people, who had not paid a penny for the privilege. Characteristically, this festival came with only three rules: no alcohol sales, vegetarian food only, and no amplified music past midnight.

However, not everyone was happy with the new invasion of free-spirited souls descending on the rural communities surrounding Michael Eavis’s farm.

Glastonbury Festival has survived riots, fires, mud swamps in its action-packed 43-year-history

Glastonbury Festival has survived riots, fires, mud swamps in its action-packed 43-year-history

Some complained that they wandered around with seeming disregard for locals, with claims of people wearing nothing but a top hat at times. Michael Eavis also became increasingly concerned about the impact it was having on his livestock and business, so he vowed to end it for good. But it could not be stopped, and after a six-year break, an “impromptu” event was held in 1978, after 500 travellers arrived from Stonehenge for a virtually unplanned event. The stage was inventively powered by an electric motor in a caravan with the cable running to the stage.

The following year, the Glastonbury Fayre – as it was then known – returned as a three-day festival, but continued to lose the organizers money. In order to save the event, Michael Eavis persuaded the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament (CND) to help run the festival in exchange for any profits: £20,000 was raised, with tickets at only £8.

A new permanent pyramid stage was built, which would double up as a cow shed for the rest of the year, as the festival’s organization was stepped up. The event was to be a turning point in Glastonbury’s colorful history as it made a profit for the first time, which was handed over to a grateful CND.

The situation was not totally fixed though. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Michael Eavis faced yet more challenges from unwanted revellers and his fed-up neighbors, which again threatened to end the event.

However, the performers were ever more interesting, with people such as Van Morrison, The Smiths, The Pixies and The Cure making the event increasingly popular. For the first time in the festival’s history, he had to apply for a license from the local Mendip Council to stage the festival after a change in the law in 1983. Refused permission in 1986, 1987 and 1989, Michael Eavis took the authority to court and won each time.

Since 1981, the festival has been organized by Michael Eavis, through his company Glastonbury Festivals Ltd.

In 1990, on the festival’s 20th anniversary, travellers rioted with security staff after attempting to loot the empty site. Police made 235 arrests and the festival had to be cancelled the following year.


Nevertheless, it returned in 1992, having learned some tough lessons, and went from strength to strength – attracting bigger names and bigger crowds. The Pyramid Stage burned down in 1994, but a replacement stage was quickly provided by a local company as the event was televised for the first time. By 1997, tickets were £75, with 90,000 revellers.

In more recent years, the festival site turned into a giant mudbath in 1997, 1998 and 2005 – thanks to torrential rain and thunderstorms.

A £1 million “superfence” was finally erected in 2002 to beat the fence-jumpers and to boost security. After a one-year hiatus, 2007’s festival returned with new security features.

More than 140,000 people supplied ID photos for their tickets in an attempt to kill off the touts, who had grown rich off the booming demand for black market tickets. The festival failed to sell out in 2008 – which some put down to the fear of poor weather and a controversial line-up. But the brand bounced back in recent years and has repeatedly sold out with weeks to spare.

In 2010, Glastonbury celebrated its 40th year, a milestone dampened only by England’s painful World Cup defeat on the Sunday. Glastonbury has grown staggeringly over the years, with a huge range of performers making it the diverse and renowned institution it is today.

Glastonbury 2012 has been cancelled due to a lack of Portaloos and police officers caused by the London Olympics.

Michael Eavis ran the festival with his wife Jean until her death in 1999, and is now assisted by his daughter Emily Eavis. Since 2002, Festival Republic (a company consisting of both Live Nation and MCD) has taken on the job of managing the logistics and security of the festival through a 40% stake in the festival management company. Each year a company, joint owned by Glastonbury Festivals Ltd and Festival Republic, is created to run the festival, with profits going to the parent companies. Glastonbury Festivals Ltd donates most of their profits to charities, including donations to local charity and community groups and paying for the purchase and restoration of the Tithe Barn in Pilton.

Most people who stay at Glastonbury Festival camp in a tent. There are many different camping areas, each with its own atmosphere. Limekilns and Hitchin Hill Ground are quieter camping areas, whereas Pennard Hill Ground is a lively campsite. Cockmill Meadow is a family campsite and Wicket Ground was introduced in 2011 as a second family-only campsite. A disabled campsite is also available in Spring Ground. Campsite accommodation is provided in the cost of a standard entry ticket but festival-goers must bring their own tents.

Campervans, caravans and trailer tents are not allowed into the main festival site. However the purchase of a campervan ticket in addition to the main ticket allows access to fields just outside the boundary fence; and the cost includes access for the campervan or towing vehicle and the caravan; the car, or other vehicle used to tow the caravan, may be parked alongside it but sleeping is only authorized in the campervan/caravan and connected awning, not in the accompanying vehicle. One additional tent may accompany the caravan/campervan if space within the plot allows. Some people choose to bring or hire a motorhome, though drivers of larger vehicles or motorhomes may have to purchase a second campervan ticket if they cannot fit within the defined plot. The 2009 festival saw changes to the campervan fields; commercial vehicles were no longer classed as “campervans”, all campervans had to have a fitted sleeping area and either washing or cooking facilities, and caravans and trailer tents were allowed back at the festival. Prior to this only campervans were allowed on site, caravans and trailers being banned in the early 1990s after a number were stuck in the mud and abandoned.

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