As a Glastonbury Festival virgin, I had no idea what to expect at this massive and world-famous music festival!
Unlike last year’s sunny festival that I didn’t attend but had a pre-festival guided tour around, this year Somerset is receiving a deluge of rain prior to the festival.
Not only is there flooding to the Steward’s campsite in many areas, parts of the festival grounds are under water days before the start. The BBC’s weather coverage for the week ramping up to the festival is nothing compared to what’s installed…
Although on the Fire Stewards’ reserve list for a while, we only received the call to arms 11 days before the festival.
We’re in! You only get short notice so remember this if you have other plans in mind.
Completing the 3.5-hour training in Street on the Sunday, that same evening, the email arrives asking if we’re still interested in stewarding and if so, we’d better get a move on and complete the training. Our tickets and info packs would be in the mail once returned from the stewards that pulled out at the last minute. Stewarding is voluntary.
Armed with our info packs, tickets, and a vehicle pass, we’re ready to take Reg (our home away from home) to England’s biggest 4-day rave!
Reg would be more comfortable than a soggy tent, especially during more rain and mud – wise decision. Plus, without tent gear, the need to fork out cash for a once-off event isn’t really appealing.
Arriving – Tuesday evening
The apprehension is growing daily with the rain not letting up.
Deciding to go earlier to beat the hoards of festivalgoers, off we drive on Tuesday night to Pilton’s Worthy Farm – festival’s site – and arrive at around 19:30hrs.
After checking Reg in, getting several stickers plastered on his windscreen, someone checking inside Reg for any freeloaders from where he stood in the mud, we’re waved on…but to where?
It seems no one knows where we need to park as stewards.
After driving around the festival site for almost 2 hours and asking almost everyone on site (exaggerating), the guy in charge of the staff’s campsite advises to park Reg opposite the “Staff Campsite” on a concrete path.
This luxurious spot is right next to a smelly slurry heap – great!
As this particular campsite houses a mix of staff and security, you’d think the sign could at least display a list of all staff groups allowed on site. I’m sure this would save a couple of hours of wandering around aimlessly.
Reg can’t enter any of the camping sections inside as the mud is too wet and deep at each entrance. The hope is that the rain will stop overnight – yeah right, it always rains in England – and entrances will at least drain or dry up a little.
Rain persisted throughout the night and conditions are even muddier.
The morning finally arrives but no one is allowed to drive into the staff campsite as all entrances are impassable to vehicles.
Told to head for Orange (West) 37 outside the festival’s perimeter, which is in the public car park, things are not going too well.
On arriving at the entrance, we’re moved on to Orange (West) 38 as the entrance to 37 is bogged and impassable. This carpark is even more further out than 37 and not on the festival grounds’ map. This is our home for the duration of the festival.
From this carpark it takes around 45 minutes to walk to the Silver Hayes stewarding area, about 30 minutes to the steward showers, and is really a pain in the butt. Needless to say, as more and more rain persists during the festival, which turns all pathways into ever-growing mud pits, this trek takes even longer…
Unless you volunteer to do more shifts, every steward must do 4 shifts over the 4 days. I’m allocated 4 shifts of which 2 aren’t great and sadly, I’m not on with anyone I know.
One shift is from 3am-7:30am (following the previous day’s 11am-4pm shift). Another sift is from 9pm-2am.
At least I got to see Muse and what a brilliant performance it is as usual…my 3rd time seeing this band live.
Apart from the obvious hassle of trying to get in and out of the festival from the never-never carpark, which also means checking in/out and obtaining a new pass out each time we leave the festival grounds several times a day, and the long walk to the stewards’ showers and ‘cleaner’ long-drop toilets, the festival is still a blast!
As stewards in Area Patrol, we’re treated extremely kind by festivalgoers.
It isn’t unusual to answer a couple of hundred questions in a 5-hour shift. Especially on the last festival day when my shift ended at 2 am. “Where is Gate A?”, “where do I catch the bus from?”, where is this or that car park, are typical questions in the last few hours. Although, “where is the nearest bar?” is also common as the diehard festivalgoers just don’t want to leave or go home too early!
You can always tell when a big act finished at the Pyramid Stage. I’m told this area has seen up to 130,000 people. A swarm of people like a wall of locusts move together and towards you – all you see is a sea of approaching heads approaching.
As my shifts are in Area Patrol and typically placed along the walking pathways opposite or near the Sonic Stage, loads of questions are asked: “Where’s the nearest toilet?”, “Where’s the nearest cash point?” – hundreds of times. With a smile – as we’re stewards – we answer politely. For those too inebriated to grasp the initial directions, I walk these guys to an area then point out actual paths. A laugh a minute though.
As a steward, you can’t turn up for a shift if you’ve been drinking and you can’t drink during a shift. Seeing most festivalgoers at differing levels of ‘happiness’ is hilarious and very entertaining!
Last shift before getting out
The walk back from my last shift is slow through the ever-increasing mud depths.
Finally, at around 4:30am Reg is towed out of his sunken muddy spot, which became worse over the 4 days. A massive tractor tows us first by the rear, then again by the front and onto the metal track – shame I don’t have time to take a photo.
Thought it’s touch and go there for a minute, but the young skilled driver is amazing and whizzes his tractor around like a Ferrari.
Driving Reg back from Pilton to Street in the early hours of Monday morning is surprisingly very quiet and calm – even ghostlike. Leaving the drive to later today means chaos on the roads, let alone trying to get a tow out as thousands of other cars also need towing out of mud pits.
I really enjoyed the whole festival experience and did get to go out with mates on one night for loads of fun and frivolity. There’s just so much going on at the festival that it’s mind-blowing.
Shangri-La is amazing and so unique with such varied and bohemian-style stalls. Everything from life drawing to SHITV sessions, great crew bars, and so much more – all within easy reach of sludgy mud once you’re in the festival grounds. Just wished I had more time to see more of what’s on offer.
I’m continuously in awe of how 175,000+ people can merge together on one site to experience and enjoy music, arts, and parties under the influence of any substance but without violence. For me, this is what makes Glastonbury Festival. And in particular, as a steward everyone’s incredible tolerance and politeness under the muddiest, tiring, and rainy sodden conditions, was humbling.
What an incredible vibe and mass energy this festival experiences!
Loved it so much that indulged in 2016’s festival.
The next plan? Head to Italy of course. For how long? Who knows…as long as it takes!