A Primer On Glastonbury, One of The World’s Biggest Music Festivals

By Zachary Swickey

Here in the U.S. we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the number of music festivals being offered ever year, and the size and scope of some of them are nothing short of impressive … unless you know about the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, known to most simply as Glastonbury. You’ve seen the name and you’ve probably heard by now that Radiohead just announced a “surprise” appearance for tonight’s kickoff, but you may not be familiar with its history and sheer awesomeness.

Located in Pilton, England, Glastonbury was founded by a now 75-year-old dairy farmer, Michael Eavis, who concocted the idea after seeing Led Zeppelin perform at a music festival. The very next year, in 1971, 1,500 fans showed up on Eavis’s farm for what would become the first iteration of the iconic fest. Just one year later, there were 12,000 in attendance with David Bowie headlining! By 1990 – the year before Lollapalooza came into existence – the festival had swelled to 70,000 fans and featured top billing from The Cure.

Before headliners (U2, Coldplay and Beyonce) were even announced for this year’s festival, all 137,500 tickets sold out in less than four hours – three times faster than last year, and it would’ve been even quicker if servers could have handled the traffic. An eclectic group of some other notable artists scheduled might indicate why it sold out so fast: Radiohead, Queens of the Stone Age, Morissey, Wu-Tang Clan, Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes, Lykke Li, Kesha, Cee-Lo Green, Big Boi, James Blake, Cold War Kid, and Crystal Castles. Over the last decade, many big-name artists have headlined the festival, including Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M.

The grounds of Glastonbury are unlike anything you could ever see at a stateside music festival. Glastonbury dwarfs all U.S. fests, covering over 900 acres – an 8.5 mile perimeter. Can you say, “Dude, where’s my tent?”

Over 1,200 volunteers work the festival, but there is surely no shortage of willing participants.

The site also features some outrageous art, akin to the craziness we see every year at Bonnaroo or in a Terry Gilliam flick: a theatre, “dance village” and, of course, a circus. Graffiti artist and Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Banksy is known to make appearances … or at least leaves evidence of it.

Oh, and did we mention you can stay in tipis? Yes tipis!

Eavis has already stated he has no plans of retiring anytime soon, but he’ll inevitably have to hand the reigns over to his daughter, Emily, who already helps her father maintain the festival. Glastonbury takes a break every five years to allow the land to recover, which will come in handy next year since there is an expected porta-potty shortage due to the Olympics being held in London next summer.

But don’t worry, you can already register for 2013.