As a Glastonbury Festival virgin, I had no idea what to expect at this massive and world-famous music festival!
The infamous reputation of bygone years of the festival’s mud pit was to become a reality!
Unlike last year’s sunny festival that I didn’t attend (but had a pre-festival guided tour around), this year, Somerset received a deluge of rain, prior to the festival. Not only was there flooding to the Steward’s campsite in many areas, but parts of the festival grounds were under water days before the start. But BBC’s news coverage the week before the festival was nothing compared to what was to come…
Although we were on the Fire Stewards’ reserve list for a while, only received the call to arms, 11 days before the festival. We were in! You only get short notice so remember this if you have other plans in mind.
Coincidently, we completed the 3.5-hour training in Street on the Sunday. That evening, the email arrived asking if we were 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 when returned from the people that pulled out at the last minute. Stewarding is voluntary.
Armed with our info packs, tickets, and a vehicle pass, we were 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 wasn’t really appealing.
Arriving – Tuesday evening
The apprehension was growing daily as the rain really didn’t let up.
Deciding to go earlier to beat the hoards of festivalgoers, off we drove on Tuesday night to Pilton’s Worthy Farm (festival’s site) and arrived at around 19:30hrs.
After checking Reg in, getting several stickers plastered on his windscreen, someone checking inside Reg from where he stood in the mud to check for any freeloaders, we were waved on…but to where?
It seemed no one knew where we had to park as stewards!
After driving around the festival site for almost 2 hours and asking what seemed to be everyone on site, the guy in charge of the staff’s campsite told us to park Reg opposite the “Staff Campsite” on a concrete path. This luxurious spot was 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 have saved a couple of hours of wandering around aimlessly.
Reg couldn’t enter any of the camping sections inside as the mud was too wet and deep at each entrance. The hope was that the rain would stop overnight (yeah right, it always rains in England) and entrances would at least drain or dry up a little.
No chance…rain persisted throughout the night and conditions became even muddier.
The morning finally arrived but no one was allowed to drive into the staff campsite as all entrances were impassable.
Told to head for Orange (West) 37 outside the festival’s perimeter, which is in the public car park, things were not going too well.
On arriving at the entrance, we were moved on to Orange (West) 38 as the entrance to 37 was impassable. This carpark is even more further out than 37 and not on the festival grounds’ map – where we remained for the time of the festival.
From this carpark, it took about 45 minutes to walk to the Silver Hayes stewarding area, about 30 minutes to the steward showers, and really, a pain in the butt. Needless to say, as more and more rain persisted during the festival, which turned all pathways into ever-growing mud pits, this trek took even longer!
Unless you volunteer to do more shifts, every steward must do 4 shifts over the 4 days. I had 4 shifts of which 2 weren’t great and sadly, I wasn’t on with anyone I knew.
One shift was from 3am-7:30am (following the previous day’s 11am-4pm shift) and the other from 9pm-2am.
At least I got to see Muse and what a brilliant performance it was as usual…my 3rd time seeing this band live.
But apart from the obvious hassle of trying to get in and out of the festival from the outer carpark, which also meant checking in/out and obtaining a pass out each time we left the festival grounds (several times a day); the long walk to the stewards’ showers and ‘cleaner’ long-drop toilets, the festival was still a blast!
As stewards in Area Patrol, we were 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, were questions in those last few hours. Although, “where is the nearest bar?” was also common as the diehard festivalgoers just didn’t want to leave or go home…too early yet!
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 heads approaching!
As my shifts were in Area Patrol and typically placed along the walking pathways opposite or near the Sonic Stage, loads of questions were asked: “Where’s the nearest toilet?” or “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 actually walked them to an area that I could 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, so seeing most festivalgoers at differing levels of ‘happiness’ was quite funny and very entertaining!
Last shift then getting out
The walk back from my last shift was slow through the ever-increasing mud…if that is at all possible.
Finally, at about 4:30am, Reg was towed out of his sunken muddy spot, which became worse over the 4 days. A massive tractor towed us first by the rear then again by the front onto the metal track – shame I didn’t have time to take a photo. Thought it was touch and go there for a minute, but the young skilled driver was amazing and whizzed his tractor around like a Ferrari!
Driving Reg back from Pilton to Street in the early hours of Monday morning was surprisingly very quiet and calm – even ghostlike. Leaving the drive to later that day would be chaos on the roads, let alone trying to get a tow out, as thousands of other cars also wanted 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 was amazing and so unique with such varied and bohemian 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 was on offer.
I’m continuously in awe of how 175,000+ people can merge together in one site to experience and enjoy music, arts, parties, and much more, under the influence of any substance, and without violence. For me, this is what made the 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! Check out the abundance of activities and line-up from 2016’s festival.
The next plan? Head to Italy of course! For how long? Who knows…as long as it takes!