Glastonbury - Ageing Dinosaur or Sage Dynamo?

Kelly Fagan Robinson | Sunday, 25 April 2010

Glastonbury - Ageing Dinosaur or Sage Dynamo?

I have a confession. I am 32 and have never, ever been to Glastonbury. Will I ever get there? And if I finally do, will it even mean anything anymore? Surely one day of Lovebox will keep me current!? So, what role does Glastonbury play in the current international festival landscape? The only way to really determine this is to look beneath the hype and PR deluge and examine the festival next to its counterparts. How does it compare in terms of line-up, kudos and draw?

Let's start with something relatively fundamental in any festival-goer's book of pre-requisites: the line-up. Every festival has a headliner and most of them seem to be touting Vampire Weekend as the main finale to an 'unforgettable weekend'. But Glastonbury is undeniably the leader in cutting a different shape with their billing. From U2 to Snoop Dogg, Jackson Browne to the Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson to the Pet Shop Boys, there are some serious members of musical royalty standing up to be counted this and every Glasto year.

And no less noteworthy are the somewhat younger set, established but current: Vampire Weekend but also the Magic Numbers, Dizzee Rascal, Muse, and Editors. Then the new kids on the block: These New Puritans, Locals Natives, The Drums, Delphic; the list goes on and on. Add in Flaming Lips, LCD Soundsystem, We Are Scientists and you've pretty much got yourself a veritable Who's Who of the music industry.

Glastonbury still draws a caliber the likes of which Reading, V, Latitude and the many can only dream of. Glastonbury's the only festival which doesn't use stupid cool-fonts to announce their acts; the sheer volume and name-power of their line-up makes for an exciting proposition for any festival fan. And given the possibility of seeing the XX, Phoenix, Delphic and Muse in a single evening is enough to give anyone goosebumps!

What, then, of young up-and-coming bands? What does a slot at Glasto herald for their careers, if anything at all? For newer acts such as Local Natives, Mumford & Sons, and These New Puritans, Glastonbury also seems to say, 'hey, you've well and truly arrived'. Sure, they've already had an outstanding and life-changing year, but playing Glastonbury for the first time must be a watershed moment in any band's career. Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig summed it up quite nicely for the Telegraph: ''The first time we played Glastonbury was totally a high point for us. It was incredible.''

And it does seem that Glasto can, more so than any other festival, provide that crossover from critically acclaimed to audience favourite to instant number one within a few crucial live-music moments. It certainly seemed to be the glue that stuck for MGMT in 2008. And look at the exposure Jay Z got over his headlining slot that same year. It also seems that Vampire Weekend went from being cult favourites to oft-heard radio darlings in a festival abra-cadabra.

Meanwhile, for the ageing rocker set, Glastonbury provides a rare opportunity to play to some of the youngest audiences they're likely to see. Given that a ticket for one evening with Stevie Wonder will usually run upwards of £70, while U2 can hit the dizzy heights of £200, the £185 for a weekend ticket for hundreds of bands seems almost too reasonable.  This may be a one-time opportunity for a lot of people to see those acts live; the excitement it creates is palpable.

While festivals like Truck and Latitude pride themselves on their smaller, boutique-ish vibe, Glastonbury thrives on the sheer scale of the endeavour. And truly, at this point, it seems that the space that Glasto takes up in the national, indeed international, consciousness is equally as important. There are few festivals which have withstood the test of time, that still stand strong as the musical world constantly chops and changes.

And as I ponder the possibilities of Black Keys alongside acoustic Jackson Browne, Delphic, Ash and Gang of Four all picnicking whilst Toots & the Maytals play away, I posit that it's the willingness of Glastonbury to place the veterans hand-in-hand with the newbies that enables it to maintain its relevance.

The truth is that Glastonbury is, by virtue of its size and age, a veteran in and of itself and for that reason alone, attendance, either on stage or in the fields, is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Can I still buy a ticket?