Influenced by Europe’s free festival movement, Glastonbury is one of England’s most respected events for its huge crowds and counterculture aesthetic. This year’s festival will be held from June 24–28, with headliners including the Foo Fighters and Kanye West, a controversial choice that garnered petition signatures and death threats for co-organizer Emily Eavis. Also set to headline is The Who, celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band.
Glastonbury, Somerset, has always been a musical town, starting with a series of Glastonbury Festivals held in the early 20th century. Organized by the socialist composer Rutland Boughton, his concerts and lectures attracted a bohemian crowd interested in the arts.
Toward the end of the 20th century, England was experiencing a surge in the free festival movement, which were gatherings involving music, art and culture with free admission lasting for days and usually involving camping out in a remote area. Isle of Wright and Bath Festival were already popular events, and, in fact, were highly influential on founder Michael Eavis, who organized the first Glastonbury after seeing Led Zeppelin’s open-air performance at 1970’s Bath Festival.
The first few gatherings were held intermittently during the 70s before becoming an annual event in 1981, save for a break every five years, called “fallow years.” As the original festival was born out of the hippie generation, Glastonbury has always had a political edge. When Eavis took control in 1981, right in the midst of the Cold War, he organized the festival in conjunction with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Since then, organizers have made donations to a number of organizations including Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid.
This community spirit continues today, with the annual Left Field program featuring concerts, seminars and debates centered on activism and radical politics. This year’s guests include Reni Eddo-Lodge for Feminism without Borders, Jasmine Stone of the Focus E15 housing campaign and representatives from Greece’s SYRIZA party and Scotland’s Radical Independence Party.
To learn more about this year’s festival, visit glastonburyfestivals.co.uk.
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