Britain’s largest music festival got off to a traditionally muddy start Thursday as thousands of campers arrived at Glastonbury in pouring rain for three days of music headlined by veteran rockers the Rolling Stones.
The event that started as a retreat for about 1,500 hippies on a dairy farm in rural Somerset in 1970 has grown into the world’s largest music festival, featuring about 2,000 acts on 58 stages and attended by more than 135,000 people.
Gates opened early Wednesday and by late Thursday nearly 120,000 people had flooded into the 900-acre site about 130 miles southwest of London, turning the working farm of festival founder Michael Eavis into a tent city.
But while Glastonbury is known for megastars performing alongside eclectic acts, it also has a reputation for falling afoul of Britain’s fickle summer weather, and this year was no exception, despite forecasts for dry weather.
By mid-afternoon Thursday the rain was falling heavily, continuing into the night, with revelers in raincoats and rubber boots — known as wellies — negotiating muddy tracks.
“The forecast was fine so I am glad I did bring clothes for all weather,” said Grace Murphy, 23, an Irish social work student, dressed in a bright pink raincoat and black wellies. “We’ll still have fun. It’s a great atmosphere and there’s no other festival as awesome as Glastonbury.”
Meteorologists from Britain’s national weather service, the Met Office, had forecast largely dry weather, but even in the rain the music fans descending on Glastonbury were determined to have fun, having paid 205 pounds ($315) each for tickets.
“You’ve got to expect some rain at Glastonbury. It’s part of the experience,” said Amanda Delve, a retailer aged in her 40’s, browsing some of the 350 food stalls on the site.
The resources needed at Glastonbury are staggering, with 13 miles (20 kms) of fences ringing the site where there are about 198 pubs and bars, and 4,500 toilets. The festival was not held in 2012 as the London Olympics needed so much of the equipment.
An army of workers spends weeks preparing the site where the Rolling Stones play Saturday, their first performance at Glastonbury, marking their 50 years in the music business.
The headline act on Friday is Britain’s Arctic Monkeys and on Sunday it is British folk band Mumford & Sons who confirmed this week that bassist Ted Dwane was well enough to perform after undergoing surgery for a blood clot on the brain.
While the big names grab the spotlight, Eavis has ensured the event stays true to its alternative roots with music of all genres as well as dance, circus, and workshops in meditation, willow sculptures, and shamanic drum-making.
Thursday the Gyuto Monks, a group of Tibetan monks, chanted from a stage in the pouring rain. The Grammy-nominated group live in Dharamsala, north India, with the Dalai Lama who they followed when he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Over the years the festival has not only grown in size but it has also started to attract a different crowd, with research showing the average age of revelers at Glastonbury is now 36 and it does not have to be too rough an experience.
Campers can opt for a more glamorous stay known as glamping with companies offering ready-pitched tents, golf carts to get around, champagne, private toilets and showers.
“The type of people here this year are totally different from when I first came in 1995, much older, but I guess at 205 pounds a ticket that’s to be expected,” said Mark Bignell, 45.