'It doesn't feel right': how festival regulars are filling the Glastonbury void

Traders, locals and regular punters hope to be back next year after Covid-19 crisis is over

Usually at this time of year Hannah Bennett’s hair is bright purple. “But because there’s no Glastonbury, I’ve kept it natural brown,” she said. “It’s OK but it just doesn’t feel quite right.”

Bennett is a familiar face – and hairdo – on the music festival circuit. If coronavirus had not struck she and her Rainbow Rebel stall would be at Glastonbury this weekend selling “hippy” clothing from Nepal and India.

The cancellation of this year’s extravaganza has hit her financially. Her base within a disused brewery in Shepton Mallet just three miles from the festival site is heaving with stock, from swishy “psychedelic trance” tops to “pixie” wrap-around skirts and fleece blankets – she normally sells 600 of the latter at Glastonbury. “Business-wise it’s massive,” she said.

But not being there also leaves an emotional emptiness. “There are so many happy people in one place and the vibe is wonderful. It’s like a great family getting together. Most of us won’t see each other now until next year.”

Charlotte Grant, who first went to Glastonbury as a punter in 2003 when she was 16 and in recent years has been refreshing festival goers with cordials, smoothies and teas made from foraged ingredients on the edge of the theatre and circus fields, is to be found this weekend near Bath selling her drinks and ice lollies from a canal boat.

Charlotte Grant
Charlotte Grant: ‘We’re having to diversify as best we can.’ Photograph: Charlotte Grant

“We’re absolutely gutted not to be at Glastonbury – it’s a total highlight for us,” she said. “It really is such a special place.” To fill the void, she has been venturing into the virtual world, streaming a Friday night cocktail hour. “We’re having to diversify as best we can.” But it’s not the same.

The Glastonbury faithful are spread far and wide. The team behind Macshac, which should be dishing out stomach-lining pasta this weekend, have instead set up a pop-up delivery service in Leeds.

Guerilla Archaeology, an archaeology/arts/science collective from Cardiff, is putting out videos on how to make Viking-style rings out of antlers rather than running workshops in the Green Fields area.

And meanwhile Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet and Pilton, which transforms from a sleepy village into a heaving metropolis at festival time, are eerily quiet.

Dawn Wartski, manager at Wildwood, which sells crystals, anointing oils and other new age paraphernalia on Glastonbury High Street, described the atmosphere this year as muted.

Dawn Wartski
Dawn Wartski: ‘Normally people from all over the world are here.’ Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

“Normally people from all over the world are here,” said Wartski. “The festival is a great thing, an amazing event but it obviously couldn’t happen this year. It will be back and we’ll look forward to it.”

Clare Charlton, who runs Pilgrims B&B, usually has a full house of festivalgoers who like to retreat to a comfortable bed after a day and evening of revelry. “We’ve lost all that and all the visitors who normally come for the summer solstice. Fortunately our regulars have rebooked for next year already. Everyone is missing the festival, very much so.”

Ali Lobb, the owner of the Mocha Berry cafe, said the weeks before and after the festival were busiest for her business when the stage crews, the water supply experts, the security guards, the cleaners, packed the town. It’s been so quiet this year,” she said.

Ali Lobb
Ali Lobb: ‘It’s tough for a lot of people.’ Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Lobb feels sorry for local organisations that raise money at Glastonbury, from the carnival clubs to the rugby team and children’s charities, who miss out on a financial boost this year. “It’s tough for a lot of people.”

Glastonbury fans across the country were holding their own mini-festivals in back gardens or front rooms. Some hired in portable toilets to recreate one of the earthier festival experiences; others have been busy building their own ribbon towers in honour of the festival’s iconic structure.

The Rees family – mum and dad Fiona and Matt, and 11-year-old Dylan – set up a mini-Glastonbury in their Worcestershire garden complete with mini-pyramid stage, bar, camping area and toilet tent. They were planning to settle down to watch streams of previous festivals.

And though there is no Glastonbury festival this year, 2020 souvenirs are still selling well. Some of the official charity merchandise including a tea towel showing a sunset and a poster featuring the motto “Hope shines brightest” have sold out.

The independent Festival Postcards team, who have been attending the festival since 1981, have produced a wistful “Wish we were there” image.

GLASTONBURY 2020 POSTCARDS NOW AVAILABLE! Shop online https://t.co/fBmUnmLMjk 📮❤️ pic.twitter.com/9Jz9Hjg8IS

— GlastoPostcards (@GlastoPostcards) June 5, 2020

In Pilton, villagers Pat Sumner and Peter Cheetham were reminiscing about festivals past.

Cheetham, who first came to the festival in 1981, is missing old friends, from the guys who make sure there is a supply of fresh water on the site to small army of media types.

He lives so close to the site, that one year he popped home and made tea and toast for a New Zealand festivalgoer who had a sudden craving. “I popped home, made tea and toast and took it back to the site for him – he couldn’t believe it.”

Peter Cheetham and Pat Sumner outside Peter’s home in Pilton
Peter Cheetham and Pat Sumner outside Peter’s home in Pilton. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Sumner, who grew up in the village, said: “Every summer this amazing collage of sound and images happens in a field behind our house one week in June”

Over the years he has worked in the ticket office and DJ’d in the dance village. “Glastonbury for me is not the headliners; it’s about being with friends. You can be in a field with 200,000 people and you’ll still bump into your friend you went to West Pennard primary school with.”

The Glastonbury blues usually hits a few days after the festival. “This year there’s a much bigger Glastonbury blues feeling. We’re already looking forward to next year.”

The vast majority heeded the festival’s plea not to be tempted to turn up in Somerset. But a few could not resist the pull and were to be found hanging around Glastonbury town or trekking up to the tor.

Jim Jones, from Bristol, was on top of the tor gazing out towards the site at Worthy Farm. “You miss the music, the buzz, the community, the cultural conversations,” he said. “I feel as if there’s a big hole inside me at the moment.”

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Glastonbury and Hay festival organisers press on despite coronavirus fears
Most UK events, theatres and museums yet to be affected by outbreak

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

08, Mar, 2020 @4:05 PM

Article image
Glastonbury 2020: festival cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak
Festival confirms 2020 event due to feature Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar will no longer take place

Lanre Bakare and Steven Morris

18, Mar, 2020 @1:14 PM

Article image
Glastonbury tickets sell out in 34 minutes
Record 2.4 million fans tried to secure ticket for festival’s 50th year next June

Lanre Bakare

06, Oct, 2019 @9:03 AM

Article image
Taylor Swift to headline 2020 Glastonbury festival
Swift is the first female headline performer since Adele in 2016 and the sixth solo female headliner in the festival’s 50-year history

Laura Snapes

15, Dec, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Michael Eavis: Glastonbury could go bankrupt if it can't be staged in 2021
Exclusive: Founder says another cancellation would ‘be curtains’ for festival and has hopes for testing scheme, with daughter Emily saying they will ‘mutate to survive’

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

25, Jun, 2020 @11:32 AM

Article image
Diana Ross to play 'legends' slot at Glastonbury 2020
Former Supreme will make first appearance at the festival in Sunday teatime slot

Laura Snapes

10, Oct, 2019 @6:59 AM

Article image
Glastonbury defies coronavirus threat to announce lineup with Kendrick Lamar
Over 90 more names including Pet Shop Boys, Dua Lipa and Noel Gallagher have been announced for 50th-anniversary edition of the festival

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

12, Mar, 2020 @7:00 PM

Article image
Paul McCartney confirmed as Glastonbury 2020 headliner
After dropping heavy hints, the former Beatle confirms he will be playing the Pyramid stage on Saturday night, making him the oldest headliner ever

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

18, Nov, 2019 @11:46 AM

Article image
V&A and Glastonbury festival to launch new digital archive
Memories from the public – however hazy – will form part of an online archive charting 50 years of the music festival

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

18, Sep, 2020 @5:01 AM

Article image
Glastonbury festival: 'huge improvement' in clean-up operation
Good weather speeds clean-up of festival site, with more than 99% of tents taken home

Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

05, Jul, 2019 @9:44 AM