By Oli SCARFF with James PHEBY in London
The iconic Glastonbury Festival opened its doors on Wednesday, with a torrential downpour threatening to turn the famous site into a mudbath for the 200,000 music fans set to descend on a farm in southwest England to see acts including Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’Roses and Elton John.
While able to draw the biggest performers from every genre and generation, the long-running annual festival is equally known for hosting thousands of small acts and for the leftfield events across the huge Worthy Farm site, and for the mud.
Ancient local legends add a sense of mystique, with the first day coinciding with the Summer Solstice, when thousands descend on nearby Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge to greet the sunrise on the longest day of the year.
Early birds arrived through Tuesday night, dragging tents, rucksacks and booze as they waited for the gates to open.
They quickly suffered a heavy dose of Glastonbury’s notoriously fickle weather. but the forecast for the next five days is more promising.
The main acts will start performing on Friday, with UK indie giants Arctic Monkeys headlining that evening on the main Pyramid Stage.
The coveted Saturday night headline slot this year belongs to veteran US rockers Guns N’Roses.
– ‘Mother of all send-offs’ –
After Paul McCartney closed out last year’s show, the festival will again roll back the years with Elton John headlining on Sunday.
The 76-year-old singer-songwriter said he “couldn’t be more excited” to make his debut at Britain’s best-known festival as he winds down a glittering live career.
John last month played his final gigs in the United States as part of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” world tour, which is due to end in Stockholm on July 8.
“This will be the final UK show of Elton’s last ever tour, so we will be closing the festival and marking this huge moment in both of our histories with the mother of all send-offs,” said organiser Emily Eavis, whose father Michael started the British event in the 1970s.
More than 100,000 standard tickets for this year’s festival sold out in just over an hour, despite the price rising to £335 ($427) this year.
Other headliners on the Pyramid Stage include singer Lizzo, rapper Lil Nas X, post-punk icon Blondie and “rickroller” Rick Astley, highlighting the festival’s eclectic and light-hearted ethos.
Other big-name performers on the bill are Lana Del Rey, Queens of the Stone Age and Kelis.
Dairy farmer Eavis first organised the festival in southwest England in 1970, the day after Jimi Hendrix died, and fans who came to see acts including Marc Bolan and Al Stewart paid £1 each for entry and received free milk from the farm.
The festival was held intermittently in the 1970s and it wasn’t until the 1990s that it really began to acquire its current status.
– Controversy –
Glastonbury was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020, but those plans were put on hold by the Covid pandemic.
A virtual event was held two years ago, and it finally returned in person last year.
Despite being firmly in middle age, the festival still has huge cultural power and moments of controversy.
A successful headline spot can catapult bands to superstardom.
Legendary performances from Radiohead in 1997, Coldplay in 2002 and Muse in 2004 helped elevate them to their current heights.
There was controversy in 2008 when rapper Jay-Z was given a headline slot, but doubts were dispelled after he delivered one of the most memorable sets ever.
The festival has had its darker moments, with 235 people arrested in 1990 after travellers started fighting with police.
Integral to the festival’s development was the late Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, who set up and then ran the Theatre and Circus fields at the event.
As a result, the festival developed a diverse reputation and the 900-acre (360-hectare) site now encompasses various thematic areas. — Agence France-Presse