Glastonbury Diary, Part Two: The Experience

by Gordon Elgart on July 2, 2009

Things can get a little crazy down front at Glastonbury

Things can get a little crazy down front at Glastonbury

When last I was writing a diary, everything was going swimmingly as far as getting to the Glastonbury Festival on schedule.  But then a funny thing happened while I was on the train.  It turned out that accidents on the M3 and M4 had blocked up traffic throughout the region, and the buses were running a bit behind schedule.  How much so?  I was told to expect a 3 1/2 hour queue.  And so, I’ll make “waiting in queues” the first of the Top Six Things That Define “The Glastonbury Experience.”

1.  Waiting in Queues

The 3 1/2 hour queue was definitely the longest one of my weekend, but it would not be my last.  There was a 30-minute queue for Brothers cider (absolutely worth it), a 30-minute queue for the Natwest ATMs (only ones that take U.S. ATM cards, so absolutely worth it), and a 1-hour queue for a hot shower (in the end, didn’t seem all that worth it).  I saw lines stretching into the 2-hour mark for charging a cell phone for free, tiny queues for delicious pizza, and all manner in between.  One of my campmates told me, “the British are great at queueing.”

2.  Flags

Just look at that picture above, and you’ll get a small idea of what I mean.  Maybe you’ve seen these on television (or Youtube).  Basically, there are hundreds of people who walk around for three days straight carrying around a giant flag.  The majority of these flags represent the places where these people are from, but there’s also custom flags representing  a campsite, special ones for specific artists (giant pink knickers saying “I <3 Tom Jones” or a flag that says “Give Madness they’re f’ing Brit already”), but then there’s the ones that irk me.  These are straight-up advertisements.  There’s ones for VW, Jagermeister, and the now legendary “I Love Sausages” which spent most of Saturday night obscuring Bruce Springsteen.  I got excited at the Bloc Party set when I saw a Republic of California flag. I made my way over to it, and said “Hey you’re from California?”  He said, “No, I’m from Manchester.  I just like California.”

There’s some anti-flag sentiment from some people, and you’d think I’d be one of those people, but I think they’re kinda cool.  People who carry them around are dedicated to them in a way I could never be.  I just don’t like the advertising ones.  And also, some advice to the flag wavers.  If Damon Albarn jumps into the crowd during “Popscene,” don’t hit him with your flags!  This makes you a dick.   Don’t be a dick.

3.  24-Hour Party People

The people at the Glastonbury Festival have come to party.  A lot of it is partying in the way that drives me crazy.  “Whoo hoo!  Party!”  But most of it is participatory.  There’s tons of dancing, singing, drinking, drugs, dancing, singing, drinking and drugs.  There aren’t many opportunities to sleep, but nobody seems to mind.  Sleeping is an afterthought.

One campmate came out of her tent one night, and said “Hey guys, I’m going to sleep so if you wouldn’t mind keeping it down.”

“Seriously?”  she was asked.

“Of course not.  It’s Glastonbury!”  This would be a recurring theme.  Someone would say “that’s Glastonbury” or “it’s Glastonbury” to explain any sort of oddness that might happen.  (This might be a good time to explain the pronunciation.  It’s “Glaston-brie,” like the cheese.)  It’s the ultimate excuse, but it also reminds you not to take anything too seriously for the 5 days you’re there.  You’re only going to halt your own enjoyment.  Someone at the tent a hundred feet away throwing an impromptu oldies dance party when you’re trying to sleep?  You could complain about it, but you’re better off joining in.  It’s Glastonbury!

At Glastonbury, the security spends much of their time handing out water to the people up front.  No $3.50 Dasani here!

At Glastonbury, the security spends much of their time handing out water to the people up front. No $3.50 Dasani here!

4.  Walking

Nothing anyone told me prepared me for how big the festival site is.  It’s huge.  It’s gigantic.  Even me telling you this will not prepare you for how big the festival site is if you ever decide to go.  Take how big you think it is by my description, now double it.  Double it again, and you’re close.  This is one huge place.  I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it’s 3-4 miles from one end to the other.  I probably logged 40 miles of walking during the 5 days I was there.  After a couple of days, I started planning routes based on how little walking I’d have to do.  But then something would come up, and next thing I knew, I’d be walking another mile or two out of the way.  It’s ridiculous, really.  It’s not so bad, though, when you’re walking in the sun, but if it were to ever rain really hard, it would be a pain in the ass to walk this far in the …

5.  Mud

Glastonbury mud is famous.  It’s possibly the thing the festival is best known for.  When the rains come down, as they did Friday morning, the rest of the day turns into a muddy mess.  Nearly every step you take sloshes around, covering whatever footwear you’re wearing, and splashes up onto your clothes.  You can deal with this by wearing “wellies,” classic rubber boots, or you can do what I did.  You can wear waterproof trail shoes and throwaway cargo pants and just grin and bear it.  It’s Glastonbury!  There’s really no point in getting down about the mud, because it’s just the thing you deal with on the way from one amazing thing to another.  Dancing around in the mud isn’t as hard as you’d think it would be.  It’s the jumping up and down that’s tough.  And climbing the hills is no picnic in the park.  (A lot of people go jumping into the mud; this is crazy, and I don’t recommend it.  You can do it if you’d like, though.)  I think the waterproof trail shoes are the way to go. Walking around in 10-pound wellies is not kind to your feet.  And it’s pretty funny to see people take steps, only to find their boots aren’t taking the steps with them.

6.  Say Yes to Everything

I got some advice from someone who’s been to Glastonbury:  say yes to everything.  This is the kind of advice that goes against the grain of how I usually am, but why would I turn down advice?  And where would this lead me?

Thursday night, we had an Efestivals meet at the Cider Bus.  (EFestivals has an amazing forum which is where I learned everything I needed to know about going to the festival, and met the amazing people that made up my camp, Camp Triangle.  The Cider Bus is a double decker bus that sells cider.)  Then we decided to walk into an area of the festival called Trash City.  This was closed, so we decided to try somewhere else.  It was a bit rainy and muddy, so our leader yelled out some place to meet in case we got separated.  I got involved in talking to two nice young ladies, so I got separated.  Next thing I knew, I had lost the group.  After a bit of searching, I thought it was time to go back to the campsite and recharge for another day.

But then, some random stranger said “Hey!  I know you!  You’re the first person I’ve seen twice!  What are you doing?”  I explained I had lost my group and was heading back to the campsite.  He said, “No, mate, come with us!”  So I had to say yes!  Next thing I knew, I was at a backstage private bar, drinking half-price drinks and partying with the staff.  And I had a membership card that got me into the backstage bar all weekend (which I never got around to using.)  This was a fun night of lots of drunken dancing, and I stumbled back to my campsite around the sunrise.  This is Glastonbury!

In my next diary entry, I’ll give a band-by-band breakdown of my Glastonbury music experience.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Marie Carney July 2, 2009 at 9:23 am

Natwest was the only ATM you could use? That’s weird, I’ve never had that problem and I used all sorts of weird atms in England and Scotland… Is it a new thing? Well, I remember there being a problem with a more than 4 digit pin number, but mine’s four digits so no problem!

It sounds awesome though, can’t wait to hear more!


Gordon Elgart July 2, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Natwest was the only ATM on the festival site that I could use. There’s tons of ATMs around London that work. There’s just some sort of ATM vendor that manages all the ATMs on site but this one group of Natwest machines.


Joby July 2, 2009 at 9:32 am

Hey, I was googling to find out if Anti-Flag were playing in California soon, and I came across this page instead. What the heck is a Glastonbury Festival? (P.S. They’re not.)

And “Say yes to everything” is not just the concept of a mediocre Jim Carrey movie. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”


Caroline July 2, 2009 at 4:26 pm

How did your foot hold up through all that walking? Showers, while invigorating and hygienic, are always expendable. Was there at least hot water?


Gordon Elgart July 8, 2009 at 1:15 pm

As far as my foot goes, I had moments where I was thinking “wow, should have brought the brace,” but overall it was fine. Blisters were more of an issue than joints.


Caroline July 2, 2009 at 4:28 pm

p.s. “Say yes to everything” conjures up images of rapists.


Joel July 5, 2009 at 9:47 am

For me it conjured up images of Gordon doing lines of Coke off the stomach of a pole dancer.

I, too, was wondering how you’d be able to walk that much, but it sounds like it has worked out for ya. Is it easy to be a vegetarian there?


Chris July 8, 2009 at 9:51 am

It’s very easy to be a Vegetarian there. Some of the best food on site is vegetarian.

Being a vegetarian myself – the food is one of the things I look forward to when heading to Glastonbury.

Well.. that and the drinking, dancing, partying, drugs, music, drugs and drinking.


timespeedsup July 19, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Get yourself some army boots for next time Gordon – the mud then no longer exists!

Glad you enjoyed camp, great from-the-heart review, see you again sometime 🙂


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