Tissues at the ready: Glastonbury’s benevolent overlord Michael Eavis will be stepping down from running the festival in 2020. But before he gets his commemorative carriage clock and knighthood for services to partying, he’s got six more years to make sure the Worthy Farm weekender remains the best bash in the world. He recently revealed his tactic for doing so to Music Week: pumping more cash into the grown-up fantasylands of Shangri-La and Arcadia. It’s a brilliant, typically Glastonbury answer to what Eavis sees as the ‘headliner problem’. As the 79-year-old festival founder puts it, there are only 20 to 30 bands capable of heading up the bill, and, well, he’s already booked most of them, from Bruce Springsteen to Arctic Monkeys by way of U2. “We’re moving away from the idea of the headliner being the whole story,” he told Music Week. “If we run out of headliners in three or four years’ time we’ll still have a hell of a show that people want to come to.”
Shangri-La is the lifeblood of Glastonbury, a direct link to 1985’s shocking Battle Of The Beanfield, when the traveller community was violently evicted by police from a site nearby. Eavis allowed them into Worthy Farm and a number of them went on to set up the Mutoid Waste Company, which has been behind some of the areas’ most lavish and impressively nutjob creations.
The place where the real magic happens, the best drugs are taken, the oddest friends are made and the drudgery of real life seems a million miles away, there’s nothing like Shangri-La anywhere else in the world – and yes, we see you, Burning Man. When the main stages shut down for the day, there begins the now traditional exodus to the fields where burning plane wrecks jostle for your attention with an interactive universe created by around 1,500 performers and artists. Over the past few years the area has seen secret DJ sets from the likes of Thom Yorke and Diplo as well as sweaty shows from Fat White Family. This year, Shangri-La’s sibling Arcadia had to move to a bigger field, in order to have more space for raving to Disclosure around a giant steampunk spider.
My own memories of Shangri-La have been rendered somewhat fuzzy by a spicy cider haze, but Pete Doherty handing me a Tupperware box of magic mushrooms before skipping off into the night like a scabby Pied Piper; swing dancing on tables at the rock’n’roll diner at five in the morning; and trading jokes for Nutella pancakes with jolly anarchists the year I foolishly turned up with only a tenner will stay with me forever.
Such is the lure of Glastonbury’s late-night party zones that T In The Park will be launching its own version next year; and Secret Garden Party is basically one massive homage to Shangri-La. But neither can compete with the original. Throwing money at what makes Glastonbury stand out can only be a good thing. If you want multi-million-pound headliners there’s Reading and Leeds and Isle Of Wight, whose hefty budgets will always entice the biggest and best bands in the world. But there’s only one Shangri-La.