U2, Coldplay - TV dictates the Glastonbury line-up


Johnny Dee: Champers and supermodels have changed the face of Glastonbury, but it still beats other festivals

BY Johnny Dee LAST UPDATED AT 07:48 ON Fri 25 Feb 2011

Earlier this week U2 confirmed that they would be performing on the Friday night at this year's Glastonbury Festival. The announcement completed the list of Pyramid Stage headliners which also include Coldplay - who have headlined the festival twice before - and Beyonce, who will follow in her husband Jay-Z's steps when she closes the festival on Sunday.

We won't learn the full line-up for a couple of months but so far, so yawn as already its apparent that Glastonbury's days as a gathering of outsiders, misfits and rebels are far behind it.

Glastonbury is now a mainstream festival with a running order that's dictated by the primetime TV audience rather than the people who actually attend. And if you are lucky enough to get there, the huge runways taken up by the BBC cameras leave you in no doubt who the artists are performing to.

For most of its history, Worthy Farm has been home to hippies, travellers and drop-outs; it was so left-leaning it called itself the Glastonbury CND Festival for nearly a decade and so carefree in its organisation that David Bowie's 1971 headline set began at 5am. In the early days the only reason you wouldn't bunk in for nothing would be because you'd miss out on a free pint of milk.

Today Glastonbury is home to ever increasing numbers of upper middle-class students, supermodels and people who work in the marketing departments of mobile phone companies. The car parks are full of Land Rovers, wicker picnic baskets are filled with Veuve Clicquot and the Wellington boots of choice are Hunter limited editions.

If a band goes so much as a second over its allotted stage time, plugs will be pulled; and a wall more impenetrable than the one that divided Berlin surrounds the site.

Meanwhile the acts headlining this corporate playground are ageing tax-dodgers, a pompous public school boy and his anonymous friends (pop quiz: name more than one member of Coldplay) and a mega-rich pop star who sees nothing wrong in entertaining Colonel Gaddafi's son for a fee of $2m. Right on.

All music events are expensive these days - as a nation we've strangely allowed promoters not only to overcharge for music but to levy booking fees on top - but the cost of Glastonbury seems gigantic.

In 1981 a Glastonbury ticket cost £8 (approximately six times the price of a paperback book then). In 2011 it's £200 (20 times the price of today's most costly paperback). If a Glastonbury ticket had simply gone up in line with inflation - according to the Office of National Statistics Retail price Index figures - it would cost £26. But of course, as Muatsim Gaddafi found out, Beyonce doesn't come cheap.

Even as recently as 2007, Glastonbury Festival was still part of the annual spiritual hippie trail. Increasingly these original Glastonbury tribes have become a sideshow, with people trudging to the far corners of the festival for the novelty of seeing some wizened old druid emerging naked from a teepee.

Now, the hippies have been edged out and the only teepees on the site exist under the banner of Boutique Camping, temporary homes to those willing to pay more for three nights in a wig-wam than most families spend on their annual summer holiday. Circling these upmarket arrangements another layer of camping privilege exists just beyond the festival boundary, where VIP visitors pay thousands of pounds to stay in luxury yurts.

Glastonbury may cling to its non-corporate reputation (it is the only major British festival without sponsorship) but nowhere will you find a finer example of raw capitalism at work. In 2009, just 45 minutes after Michael Jackson died, I wandered through the main market area and was amazed to see a stall selling 'I Was At Glastonbury When Jacko Died' T-shirts.

Despite all this, despite the fact that it has without doubt sold out to "the man" - that mythical beast cool baby boomers feared more than any other - and that the lunatic fringe who helped build its reputation are long gone, there is still something incredibly special and, yes, magical about Glastonbury.

In reality it doesn't matter who plays there - so much is going on and there are so many stages that everyone can curate their own private festival. And despite its soaring price, it still represents far better value than a Premiership football match or a West End play. And no matter how much you dislike U2 or feel uneasy about the hippie cleansing, little can change the atmosphere.

I used to think that headlining Glastonbury was an artist's career pinnacle - I'm not so sure if it is any more. It's rare that a band will play just one festival (indeed Coldplay are already scheduled for Glasgow's T In The Park) and a Glastonbury date is usually preceded by a show in Hyde Park or Wembley.

But for the audience, for all its faults, Glastonbury has become the Olympics of music fandom - but without the random drug testing. It's still the festival that beats all others and if you've only ever seen it on telly you really don't know the half of it. · 

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