A true icon of British culture, Glastonbury remains an unmissable festival experience 50-plus years on from its inception.
Chosen for: Sustainability, Innovation and Long-Term Impact.
One of the biggest festivals in the world, each edition of this long-running event held at Worthy Farm in Somerset attracts tens of thousands of attendees, with tickets selling out in record time year after year. The five-day event has come a long way since its very first iteration back in 1970 under the name of the Pop, Blues & Folk Festival, when tickets cost £1 and included free milk from the farm. Now, a map is required just to navigate the sprawling site, which continues to evolve via the use of jaw-dropping stage designs that transcend the usual festival experience. Take, for example, Block9's 65-foot IICON stage which debuted in 2019. Featuring an anonymised head with a huge LED screen over its eyes, the stage is complimented by 360-degree sound, bespoke three-dimensional video content and projection mapping across the surface. The brainchild of Steven Gallagher and Gideon Berger, the pair have also in the past recreated a six-storey council block with a tube train crashing through the fourth floor. And then there's the revered NYC Downlow, Glastonbury's first queer club that opened in 2007. Coming to life once a year, this legendary queer haven is a recreation of a New York Meatpacking District warehouse party, combined with a gay sauna and filled with drag queens, butchers, performers and strobes. To reflect the ongoing conversations around sustainability, last year Shangri-La built its stages from the objects around them, such as scrap metal and wood.
Despite evolving into a colossal-scale production since those early days, Glastonbury has retained its community-minded essence, which was originally inspired by the hippie and counterculture movements of the late 1960s. Since 2000, each year the festival has paid over £1 million to charities and local causes. As well as partnering with international groups like Greenpeace, Oxfam and WaterAid, since 2007 over £6 million has been spent on local companies and suppliers based within 25 miles of Worthy Farm. Support projects for the local community have included building the new Pilton Working Men’s Club, the completion of a housing project providing affordable rent for villagers who cannot afford Pilton prices, and the renovation of the child’s play area in the Pilton Playing Fields. The years when Glastonbury doesn’t take place, known as fallow years, are deliberately planned in order to give the land and local population a break. The energy, waste and sustainability policies like ‘Love Worthy Farm – Leave No Trace’ strive to ensure that a minimal imprint is left on the site and surrounding areas.
Performances at Glastonbury also have the power to shift societal attitudes, such as the legendary performance by Orbital in 1994 which helped steer dance music towards mainstream acceptance. In 2019, Stormzy became the first Black headliner of the festival and cemented grime's place in the mainstream via his politically-charged performance on the Pyramid Stage. The artist sampled David Lammy, used his platform to speak about the bias of the justice system and incorporated a ballet performance into the set. Kylie Minogue, who was forced to cancel her Glastonbury set in 2005 due to breast cancer, made a momentous debut at Worthy Farm 14 years later after beating her diagnosis. In 2022, Kylie took over the Sunday Legends slot and became the most viewed Glastonbury performance ever. This history-in-the-making aspect is just one example of how the festival has become a major cultural influencer, and alongside the mammoth line-up and otherworldly spectacles, there's a plethora of installations and secret parties to stumble into.
As Stephanie Phillips of the feminist punk band Big Joanie pointed out in an article for The Guardian last year, there’s still work to be done in terms of attracting more ethnically diverse audiences that better reflect the true diversity of British culture. The Glastonbury team worked on booking diverse line-ups to make the event feel more inclusive and welcoming to Black and brown communities. As a major cultural influencer, Glastonbury is a force for change – one that continues to evolve.
Glastonbury takes place at Worthy Farm on 21-25 June 2023.