'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.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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