For the first time since 2019, Glastonbury’s tent city sprawls again across the fields of Worthy Farm and the relief is visible everywhere. Two years late, the 50th anniversary celebration is here. It may have been people arriving earlier than usual due to excitement, or the rail strikes, or just memory loss after the long absence, but on Thursday the repeated topic of conversation was how much busier the site seemed than in years past..
Those who had erected tents on Wednesday or earlier on Thursday returned later in the day to find that their imagined seating area had sprouted six more dwellings. Logjammed crowds formed at major crossroads. The Shiva Eye clothing stall, home of highly patterned clothing and Indian throws, was one of many that opened a day earlier than usual because there was so much custom available. With 138,000 tickets sold and 67,000 staff on site, the largest capacity ever for the event, it’s no wonder it felt hectic.
Although the main stages remained fenced off, it certainly didn’t look like the festival hadn’t started properly yet. On Wednesday night, a fireworks display and the burning of a large wooden phoenix was a fitting symbol of renewed purpose. On Thursday there was plenty of music being performed in smaller spaces, all of which were packed well beyond capacity.
Bradford dance rappers Bad Boy Chiller Crew were visible only as distant bobbing heads between the roofline of the tiny Rabbit Hole marquee and the heads of an audience that spilled far into the Park area. A new outdoor stage for this year, Lonely Hearts Club, looked like a derelict cinema and hosted the latest TikTok-friendly electronic sounds. Young duo Piri & Tommy suited the warm weather with their floaty, poppy take on drum & bass.
The obvious place for the masses to be was the William’s Green tent, where the first big name of the weekend was Melanie C. Wearing a T-shirt that read: “Alexa, play Spice Girls,” she did just that on the DJ decks, as well as Dua Lipa and Nirvana. It proved so popular that the information boards across the site were soon displaying the warning: “William’s Green extremely busy please seek alternative.”
That stage remained the big draw on Thursday afternoon thanks to a set by the original Glastonbury veteran, festival founder/farmer Michael Eavis himself. If his wasn’t the finest voice of the weekend it didn’t matter, as everyone else was singing his Elvis and Sinatra covers at top volume too. He was followed by the first unannounced set of the weekend: Bastille, last seen doing their crowd-pleasing pop-rock on the Pyramid Stage in 2019, this time in William’s Green backed by the brass band Old Dirty Brasstards.
Another large, highly visible crowd formed under the large tree near the Pyramid Stage for the “World Famous Thursday Afternoon Piss Up”, organised on a Glastonbury Facebook group with a plan for everyone to wear pink.
Meanwhile the Shangri-La area, usually the place for night owls to flock once the main bands have finished, was already rammed with ravers dancing to serious techno by Thursday teatime. A separate entity from Glastonbury overall, it ran its own virtual festival during lockdown, Lost Horizon, and opened a venue in Bristol. Here it mixed hedonism with politics and futuristic thinking by hosting a large structure that has been used in protests to block roads, a bus satirising greenwashing by energy companies, and a robot artist that can paint portraits. The area’s Truth Stage, framed by political slogans, hosted the Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra this afternoon.
As the bands began on Friday, Volodymyr Zelensky appeared on the big screens of the Other Stage with a special message for Glastonbury goers, urging them to “prove that freedom always wins.” Soon afterwards, Pete Doherty of The Libertines was leading the crowd in a chant of the Ukrainian president’s name.
Emily Eavis, Michael’s daughter and the festival’s co-organiser, was spotted posing for selfies beside a new addition to the proceedings: the 100% Electric stage in Block 9, hosting performers from the Notting Hill Carnival. “People ask me what other festival is most like Glastonbury and I aways say Carnival because there are so many different creatives moving around,” she said. “I really wanted to bring it here this year.”
As the weather gods umm-ed and ahh-ed over their main look for Friday, Ziggy Marley gave a vote for sunshine as the opening act on the Pyramid Stage, easing people into the day with his warm roots reggae.
As the day goes on, though social media now makes it much easier to keep track of rumours, there’s still plenty to worry about. Are Wolf Alice in the country and able to make it to their Friday afternoon Pyramid slot, having tweeted a desperate request for anyone with a private jet in LA on Thursday? Will the Chemical Brothers solve their Covid issue in time to DJ beneath Arcadia’s giant mechanical spider on Friday night? Why does the programme say “Doja Cat” when it’s meant to be Sam Fender? Where oh where is Harry Styles? All good reasons to keep exploring this wild temporary world for the rest of a weekend that has been far too long in coming.