A mediocre Glastonbury line-up is an opportunity, not a drawback, argues columnist Mark Beaumont
I’m starting to believe that the internet is much like Pete Doherty eyeing up a fried breakfast. Never satisfied. Netflix original movie, socialist politician, well-intentioned spoiler, regretful A-list racist; there’s nothing it won’t tear apart when its blood’s up.
Case in point: Glastonbury. Glastonbury. Literally the best thing ever created by mankind that you can’t insert into yourself for fun. Yet when the line-up poster emerged last week, the response was varied at best. Many hailed its varied and vital cornucopia of acts as an unrivalled snapshot of contemporary pop culture. Others sobbed into their partially paid deposits that there was so much Ezra, Cyrus and Monae and so very little Noel. Janet Jackson even believed she could improve the bill by unilaterally making herself a headliner, no doubt worrying the Eavises that she’ll turn up demanding the Pyramid Stage be clad in pristine puppy fur.
Most reasoning Glastonbury-goers, meanwhile, just checked that the festival’s name was still at the top of the poster and went back to sewing wrap-smuggling pouches into their kaftans. Because if you’re complaining about the line-up at Glastonbury, you’re going to the wrong festival. It’s like stamping on an unopened iPad because the postman delivered it whistling ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille. Me, I rejoice when I see the Glasto bill stuffed with rubbish. When U2 played, I had NYC Downlow to myself. If Ed Sheeran’s on, I’m wanger-out with the naked mud druids all the sooner. Most of the time, watching bands is wasting time you could otherwise spend being at Glastonbury.
With repeated glances, the 2019 poster is a gift that keeps giving – a Low tucked in this corner, Pond popping out over there, The Streets tucked away in row 37. Names like Vampire Weekend and Tame Impala – acts that would be headlining any other festival – are almost thrown away in passing, like Frank Turner trying to underplay how many royals he went to school with. Compared to – ooh, I don’t know, let’s say, totally at random, pffft – Reading & Leeds, it’s an embarrassment of musical riches.
It’s also a good time to get out there amongst the warlocks, Mad Maxes and badger god cults and remind yourself what a properly immersive weekend is supposed to be. Because there’s been, of late, a subtle turning in the tide of UK festivals. HMS Bestival is sunk, it’s checkmate for Festival No6, The Secret Garden Party has tucked away its glittertits and the surrealist boutique festival concept appears to have hung up its mermaid tail for good. There are still plenty of thriving localised weekends – Green Man, Latitude, Kendall Calling – but the municipal one-dayer is the new king of summer. The British Summer Times and All Points Easts, with their titanic A list headliners and curated support bills, taking over major city parks for weeks and weeks of one-off gigs-in-a-field, there to service the immediate festival needs of the casual non-camper who simply doesn’t have time to watch anything they don’t already like, let alone get on anything as grimy as a shuttle bus to do it. They’re like industrial-sized, heavily branded robot brothels compared to the fleshy fling of a Glastonbury weekend.
Brilliant gigs and all that, but the gig is all there is. These events don’t demand anything of their audiences beyond turning up, undergoing intrusive internal drug searches, tapping the card machine before checking the price of the lager, succumbing to subliminal advertising and leaving in a manner least likely to endanger next year’s licence. Beyond the name on the ticket there’s nothing to buy into, no shared uniform or attitude or philosophy or ownership or belonging. You’re a guest for a day, but you’re never home.
With even R&L courting the pop-minded day-trippers these days, there’s fewer and fewer weekends to feel truly devoted to with the dedication of whatever it is that makes people like football. So, Glastoaners, stop seeing Ezra as a drawback, he’s an opportunity. Go walk on fire, commune with Mother Drug, drink in bars that appear to have been fever-dreamed by Noel Fielding, get yourself gong bathed direct to nirvana or offer up your soul to the flame-spewing Arcadian spider god Fzzzsnaaaark. Go guzzle up Glastonbury 2019 – it’s still yours.