Glastonbury is the hottest ticket in town. They don’t call it a music lover’s paradise for no reason. As a festival virgin and someone who only ever camped with the girl guides, I had no idea what to expect. Of course I was going for the music, and the lineup looked incredible, but Glastonbury is meant to be far more than just the music. And it did not disappoint.
My friend Bobbie and I volunteered for Oxfam in return for our tickets. The night before signup went live I read an article called “How to Go to Glastonbury for Free” which said applications to volunteer for Glasto went live the next morning at 10am. As luck would have it, Bobbie was coming over then anyway, so I dropped her a text about it—and the next thing you know, our applications were accepted, our places confirmed. Only 3 months prior to the festival, the route we took was about as spontaneous as getting access to Glastonbury could be, with tickets selling out months in advance.
We arrived at the evening before regular ticket-holders—the hottest day of the year thus far—giving us the perfect opportunity to set our pitch and chill out before the festival began.
We had a slow start that first morning, (sleeping in 85-degree heat in a tent isn’t the dreamiest), but we dutifully arose and headed on site. Wow. Just wow. If you’ve ever seen any pictures of the festival, let me tell you it is bigger than you can imagine. As we explored the place, we walked over 30,000 steps each—no mean feat on the hottest day of the festival. But it was so worth it: seeing all the beautiful sets and stages before they were full of people was such a privilege, each and every venue was inspired.
There are so many different themed areas, from Arcadia with its spider stage—the DJ sits in the body as festival-goers dance all around the legs—to the aptly named “unfair ground” with its creepy rides and unfair games. Then, of course, there was Shangri-La—a revolutionary’s paradise, covered in left wing propaganda, artwork and artists. And these were just a few of many: no matter your preference, there was the venue and music to cater to you, cementing Glastonbury’s reputation as every music-lover’s paradise.
We couldn’t wait to get started. We spent our first evening on the hill by the Glastonbury sign admiring the view and the sunset over the festival, and c’or, it was quite the sight. Of course, we wouldn't have been doing it right if we weren't head to toe covered in glitter. Bathed in sunlight the whole festival had such a magic glow to it, and not just because it was summer solstice.
Now, as for the music: I should mention that Bobbie and I have quite different music tastes. She knows the hottest/new artists, and I am a fan of the old-school classics (think Chic, Jools Holland and Barry Gibb). Between us, we saw a lot of acts and different genres—which made for an epic weekend. The first acts we went to see were the two TBA acts at William’s Green on Thursday night, which turned out to be Circa Waves followed by Everything Everything. I’d never heard of either of them, but after getting to the barrier for Everything Everything I am now in love and hotly anticipating the release of their next single Ivory Tower, which they previewed in their set and are releasing on the 18th of August. We rounded out Thursday night watching the metamorphosis show in Arcadia and dancing the night away with the rain pouring down while the spider sprayed fire into the air. It felt like starring in a movie.
Friday night, we got off shift at 22:00 just in time to see Dizzie Rascal, a firm favourite of ours from when we were at school. He did not disappoint. He played some new stuff to start, but then he brought out banger after banger after banger. Such a buzz to start our Friday night! We then headed up to Shangri-La, exploring the unfair ground, block 9 and the common. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by amazing music, and we just kept hopping from stage to stage dancing and getting a vibe for the different spaces. We chilled out in the gas tower watching the left-wing political films roll round our head on the 360-degree screens. Glastonbury creator Michael Eavis and his team weren't shy about sharing their political views, and it went down a treat. With cries of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” being sung to the tune of “7 Nation Army” by the White Stripes all weekend. As we headed back, we stumbled into a tent playing ‘80s hits and spent the early hours of Saturday belting out “Africa” by Toto and other classics. So far, so epic.
Saturday we awoke to the smooth sounds of Jazz God Jools Holland playing the pyramid stage just down the hill and everything felt golden. We got ready (read: covered in glitter) and headed over to catch the end of his set and belt out the classic “Cool for Cats”. He was swiftly followed by Craig David, whose set had the whole crowd going crazy at only 3pm—right at the beginning of an incredible Saturday line up.
Next came a personal highlight for me: seeing Jeremy Corbyn speak live. I’m a politics nerd, and hearing someone rally a crowd like that with just a speech on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury was something I’ll never forget. He opened for Run the Jewels, an act neither Bobbie and I had heard of before, but they were the first act we listened to in the car on the way home! Their energy was sensational, the banter they brought to the stage made them instantly loved, and it goes without saying their music was the bomb.com. We then made our way to the front for Katy Perry, an artist we’d both loved when we were 10 but which neither of us had listened to lately. For your information, she brought it. Katy told the crowd she was going to play the classics, and she did so with showmanship and style. We both got quite emotional during “Thinking of You”, and we belted our hearts out to “Firework”: a solid Saturday thus far.
Next, we headed to the other stage for two massive acts: Wiley and Stormzy. We only caught some of Wiley’s set, but Stormzy was on another level. Not only did he get the crowd in a frenzy, starting the biggest mosh pit of the weekend, but he dedicated his set to his mum and those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Such a gent. We grabbed some food and chilled before one of Bobbie’s favourites, Alt-J, took the stage. Their staging and soulful voices killed it—such a strong set and a fabulous new discovery for me. Our final act of the night was Fatboy Slim. We only made the final part of his set, but he had the crowd dancing till the end. On the way back, we stumbled across the pussy parlure venue, where the DJ supporting Mykki Blanco was whipping up a storm. We danced and sang until the call to get chips and head to bed became too strong to ignore.
The tunes of Jamie Cullum provides the soundtrack to our morning. (For those who hadn’t been out as late as we’d been the night before, it was probably around lunchtime.) First act of the day was Rag ’n’ Bone Man, whose powerhouse of a voice washed over the crowd in the best way possible. As a huge fan of his, I got everything I hoped from his set and more.
Then came the big guns, the two acts I had been waiting my whole life (and weekend) to see. I was brought up on disco music, so seeing Barry Gibb followed by Chic feat. Nile Rogers on the Pyramid stage made for the perfect Sunday. Barry Gibb can still hit those high notes, and I sang along to every word of his set. When he sang “You Should Be Dancing”, the entire field already was! A true classic, he nailed it. After a set like that, I was nervous that Nile Rogers—one of my all-time favorites—wouldn't meet expectations. But I needn’t have: he exceeded them by a country mile! The sun was shining, I was having the time of my life, and Chic brought the fire. It truly was “Good Times”, and I could have danced there forever.
We closed out our festival experience seeing Biffy Clyro perform before we headed out to our final volunteering shift (sadly missing Ed Sheeran). I now know why people fall for rockstars: having limited knowledge of their stuff, I was blown away by how many of their songs I knew, their stage presence and of course their singing.
I couldn't have wished for a more perfect first festival. Leaving was the hardest part—it truly is a little paradise. It’s no wonder that, over a month later, I’m still feeling the Glastonbury blues.
Ting Ting Chen