The world doesn’t look like it did in 2019 — the last time fans of every sort of musical genre filled a field in Pilton, Somerset, England to embrace the annual Glastonbury Festival.
It’s been three years since the sounds of referential laughter and canned beers clinking filled the cars of the Great Western Railway trains transporting fans from London up to a field in Pilton, Somerset for Glastonbury Festival.
The performances taking place this weekend — headlined by Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively — weren’t those originally planned to commemorate the 50th year of the fest.
In those days, when COVID-19 was still just the peculiar coronavirus that most believed would stop punishing our world in a matter of weeks, Taylor Swift was supposed to headline along with Lamar and the former Beatle. Now, the 32-year-old “cardigan” singer — who dropped two hit albums mid-pandemic — is nowhere to be seen on the lineup.
Even so, the Pyramid Stage this weekend will be graced by plenty of icons, both those with well-established legacies like Robert Plant & Alison Krauss and Diana Ross — performing in the slot for Sunday’s Legends — and those still influencing young audiences in real time like Olivia Rodrigo, Lorde, Megan Thee Stallion and HAIM.
But for those traveling on a Friday morning, in the midst of a landmark rail strike, to get to Glasto, this signifies more than just a sprawling five-day concert for the ages. For Holly Parsons, attending the festival for the sixth time, her last experience there in 2017 might as well have been another lifetime.
“I guess it means a lot because everything changed so much since then. I mean the world’s changed, but I’ve just changed a lot too. I’ve married and had kids. I’m going back quite different to how I was five years ago,” Parsons, 34, told the Daily News aboard a train full of festiva-goers.
Getting to the festival is a journey of sorts — after arriving at the Castle Cary train station, people are shuttled off to the grounds. Or for those not braving the camping atmosphere, they catch a crowded bus from elsewhere, like the local Tesco, that at this inflated size bears a striking resemblance to Walmart, minus the soul-sucking fluorescent lighting.
As the bus pulls in, tents overtake the grass as far as the eye can see.
Libby Nash and Maria Torres are two such festival-goers who prefer the convenience and cleanliness of their own toilet and bed to that of the communal options.
“I’m quite nervous actually because it’s like I forgot how big it is,” Torres, 25, who previously worked the festival and now manages Dublin-born Sinead O’Brien, performing this weekend, told The News. “So there’s that, but then there’s the excitement of being back at familiar territory. I love [the stage] The Park. … I’m ready to be back home. … It’s calling my name.”
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Nash, a 23-year-old manager of a music producer, said this is her inaugural time at the fest. She’s a “little overwhelmed but very excited. Ready to do some networking.”
While the majority of festival goers got their tickets in late 2019, some — like Rosa Amato, of nearby Bristol — managed to snag the coveted passes just a day before arriving. “It means absolutely everything mainly because we’ve been inside for two years. And to be around so many … brilliant people is a rite of passage in the U.K.,” Amato, 32, told The News.
But for some of those who run booths at the festival, giving it a great deal of the character that keeps people coming back year after year, the festival isn’t an annual escape, but their sanctuary.
For Alex and Lynn, partners who co-own festival boutique SHRINE — which has had a rent at Glastonbury since 2015 — and prior to COVID spent much of their year traveling, the latter said it “feels like we never went away.” That is, except for the universal affliction of supply chain issues.
”This is home,” said Alex. “This is what we live for, really. And Glastonbury’s the mothership, really.”
And, as Crowded House front man Neil Finn, promised the crowd at the famed Pyramid Stage, those at Glastonbury are “opening up the pathway … to love.”
Highlights of the festival can be watched stateside on BBC Music’s YouTube channel.