For Aneesha Bangera, the annual festival of performing arts was an exhilarating mix of music, chance friendships and a fire-spitting monster.
There is a mysterious, magical universe deep in the fields of Somerset with colourful tents and people as far as the eye can see. Here, ancient tattooed hippies and head-banging teenagers discuss life, the universe and everything over endless pints of cider. The land crawls with superheroes and the cast of The Wizard of Oz, all heading for a secret stage behind a huge rabbit, and a breathtaking view of the valley. Rumours of secret gigs run rife, strangers share space and wisdom, and there is music in the air, everywhere.
And so, armed with my mother’s sensible advice (“if anyone offers you tablets, please say no because they are probably drugs”) and a pair of borrowed wellies that had made the epic journey before, my sister and I, with some friends, descended on Worthy Farm for the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.
The 900-acre farm in the Vale of Avalon transforms into a living, breathing mini-city every summer, as over 100,000 festival-goers set up camp for four thrilling days of living free and dancing with abandon. At about 50 venues, there are close to 2,000 performances of music, dance, theatre, cabaret and poetry. We were not happy campers on Thursday as we struggled with our tents in the incessant rain. Our amateur response to the torrential downpour (running for cover to the first tent we saw) turned out to be the best decision we made that day. A bit of peeking shamelessly into people’s phones revealed that Django Django and Alt-J, both scheduled to play the next night, were surprising Glastonbury at the William’s Green stage. Our first secret gig of the weekend kept us dry and toasty, and lured us into the festival’s irresistible melody.
We measured the next three days in verse. The sisters of LA’s Haim and their drummer took on the Pyramid stage, all scarlet lipstick and splashing hair and swapping instruments like they were born to rock. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra missed their flight and lost their costumes and still, in various stages of undress, managed to inspire and induce goose bumps as the sun emerged from the clouds. Palmer crowd-surfed her way through the audience, who gently passed her with her flowing cape from hand to hand as she continued, effortlessly, to sing ‘Bottomfeeder’. The Lumineers and Arctic Monkeys also had the crowd wrapped around their little indie fingers.
On Friday night we embarked on the journey to the infamous Shangri-La, a wonderland of wicked alleyways and secret night-time pleasures. At Stone Circle, one of the highest view points, little groups huddled around candle flares, strumming guitars, throwing flames and lying back to watch the lights of the festival rise and fall. We discussed the world and corporations and what we want to do with our lives, as the shadows danced around us, before stumbling into our sleeping bags at dawn.
The pocket guide to the festival says that every year thousands of people lose themselves at Glastonbury, literally. “It’s all part of the fun,” it says. And one of our friends did just that, just after The Rolling Stones made their Glastonbury debut with the songs we grew up to. When they came back on stage for the inevitable ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and ‘Satisfaction’, a mechanical phoenix above the Pyramid stage came to life, breathing fire, flapping its wings and snarling in rhythm. And in the massive exodus from the stage area, we lost our friend. While we worried about him being lonely and miserable, he was enveloped in the unconditional kindness of random strangers. They told him not to worry and invited him to join them at Fat Boy Slim’s secret set at Arcadia, a giant, fire-spitting eight-legged monster made of steel. They bought him drinks and at sunrise someone finally led him back to our campsite, through the maze of people and tents.
With the dreaded knowledge that it was our last night of living in the little bubble of insanity that Glastonbury is, we headed to the Pyramid one last time on Sunday night. Mumford and Sons, who have played Glastonbury every year since they’ve been a band, swept every single one of us off our feet. Just weeks after bassist Ted Dwayne had brain surgery, the band played every song like a celebration (“because Ted’s f***ing alive, isn’t he?”). We hopped up and down and sang along and waved our arms in the air as the sun set into the summer night.
After Mumford performed ‘The Cave’ as an encore, they called on Vampire Weekend, The Vaccines, First Aid Kit and The Staves to for the finale — a rendition of The Beatles’ ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. We had goose bumps and tears in our eyes as we hugged in the dwindling light.
And from now on, we will always talk about our lives as Before Glastonbury and After Glastonbury.