What does it take to transform a Somerset farm into the world’s largest greenfield festival, so sought after that it sells out in 26 minutes? As preparations began for this year’s event, Antonia Wilson visited the Glastonbury Festival site for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour
Photo: Welcome to Worthy Farm sign, one of the oldest still used.
Main photo: Signs in the workshop
When I visited Worthy Farm about a month before Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts was due to start, the famous fields were relatively empty. If you take a look at the webcam today, these fields in the Vale of Avalon have been transformed into a festival the size of a city.
The magical atmosphere of Glastonbury attracts people back year after year. For many it is an annual pilgrimage, come sunshine or mud, and this year tickets sold out in just 26 minutes. A lot has since changed since the festival began in 1970, and Glastonbury is now the largest greenfield festival in the world. The site is currently over 1.5 miles wide, with a 4.5-mile, 12ft perimeter fence. More than 1,000 acts perform in over 100 venues across the site over the five days, and its capacity has grown to 200,000 including staff and artists.
Photos: Inside Michael Eavis’s office, with useful numbers written on the wall; Stanley Donwood artwork used in the 2014 poster, hanging in the office above a She-Pee toilet sign; newspaper clipping of an ad from the original event in 1971
Glastonbury an enormous logistical operation. From infrastructure and operations, to finance and licensing, press and production, the new farmhouse-style ‘offices’ onsite – if you could call these lively, bright and art-filled rooms such – are filled with groups of people chatting around tables. These teams grow in size as the festival approaches, from tens to, eventually, tens of thousands, many of them volunteers who are rewarded with a free ticket. On the walls are large-format boards displaying newspaper clippings and early ads, photos of iconic moments, scrapbook montages, original artwork, and a collection of official festival posters.
Photos: Worthy Farm; inside an office; a wall of line-up posters
The Eavis family farmhouse (home to founder and farm owner Michael, his daughter and now co-organiser Emily, and family) sits just down hill from the new block, along with the old wagon shed, the former Glasto HQ where everything happened around a large kitchen table. Now used to store artwork for dressing rooms, old furniture, former layout maps, and other dusty delights, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the festival’s wild and wonderful history.
Photos (top row): Map found in the old wagon shed showing the former, much smaller site; inside the old signage shed. (Bottom row): Bins stacked and ready to be painted; infrastructure maps
There are several vast warehouses on site, including what will become the industrial-scale recycling shed, standing alongside some of the 25,000 bins, ready to be handpainted with colourful decoration. Nearby, there’s a large workshop for painting the 2,500 signs used across the site, all with the same distinctive lettering style, now copyrighted as a part of the festival brand.
Photos: Freshly painted toilet signs; stacked signage inside the warehouse
Venue sets are flat-packed, numbered and stored inside another warehouse, guarded by two of the Greenpeace polar bear statues. The yard is stacked with shipping containers, holding all sorts of props including banners from the Glastonbury ‘peace curtain’. And in front stands a dragon from the Kidz Field and some old airplane noses awaiting a new home in the night-time area.
Photos: Inside an onsite warehouse; the Kidz Field dragon in front of a Block9 shipping container
Despite its size, it’s only during the last few weeks before the event that the majority of the build takes place. But festival is never completely absent. Beneath the lush green grass lies 600 miles of cabling and three underground reservoirs, each holding a million litres of water. And there are several permanent structures including 23 sets of long drop toilets across the site, and the skeleton of the iconic Pyramid Stage.
Photos: The surprisingly small shed, home to the majority of the Kidz Field; shipping containers out in the field ready for building Shangri-la
Part of the what makes Glastonbury so unique is how each area of the festival has its own identity, both musically and visually – from the fiery night-time delights and ambitiously large installations of Shangri-la and Block9 in the southeast corner, to the ancient crafts and willow sculptures in the Green Fields.
Thinking about what the environments should look like for certain types of music or activity is carefully considered. But nothing is forced, it is the result of a journey – a layering of history and collaborations. Glastonbury has always been a melting pot of creative activity, and the skill and devotion of those running each area and their teams is vital to making the festival what it is today – and most do it for their love of the festival, not for money.
Photos: Flat-packed venue sets; walkway posts; crates containing Shangri-la installations
The incredible energy behind the creation of Glastonbury is dazzling. And at the festival itself, the spectacle of it all can be seductively overwhelming – but this sense of wonderment and escapism is part of its enduring appeal. If you are one of the lucky ticket holders, be sure to venture beyond the main stages, and lose yourself in all the unexpected and inspirational things happening around every corner.
Read more on the making of Glasonbury in July’s CR, the Live Entertainment issue out this week, including an interview with co-organiser Emily Eavis.
All photos by Antonia Wilson