The history of the Glastonbury Festival is as entertaining as the event itself. From that first festival in 1970 right up to Glastonbury 2022. Worthy Farm has witnessed some incredible times. From free milk to Sir David Attenborough, I will list some of the festival’s highlights over the years.
Glastonbury shouldn’t really work. Creating a new city every year on a farm in the middle of Somerset is madness. But work it does and we wouldn’t have it any other way. There is something magical about those fields of Avalon.
(For a more in-depth look at the history of Glasto, buy this brilliant book by Michael & Emily Eavis.)
Starting in 1970 at the tail end of the hippy dream, the first Glastonbury was held at Worthy Farm on Saturday 19th of September. It was called the Pilton Pop, Folk and Blues Festival. Inspired by a Blues festival just up the road at the Bath & West Showground, Michael Eavis decided to put on his own festival at the family farm.
It began on the day Jimi Hendrix died and cost £1 to get in. For that, you got free camping, free milk, a hog roast and the chance to see T-Rex and Marc Bolan headline. The Kinks were the advertised headliners but they pulled out at the last minute. Michael Eavis posted out the 1,500 invites himself. It’s a bit different today with over 200,000 people rocking up to the festival!
Glastonbury Fayre 1971
In 1971 the festival changed its name to Glastonbury Fayre. It was a free event done in the style of an old English medieval fayre. There was music, dance, poetry, theatre and other entertainment. This was also the year the first Pyramid Stage appeared. It was built on the Stonehenge/Glastonbury Ley line. Designed to replicate the Great Pyramid of Giza, the stage was one-tenth the size of the original and was built using scaffolding and metal sheeting.
12,000 people attended the festival. An album and film were made of the event. They got to see Hawkwind, David Bowie, Traffic and Fairport Convention perform.
Between 1971 and 1979 there was no official festival but people would turn up to Worthy Farm and create their own one!
In 1979, the festival became a 3-day event with Peter Gabriel as one of the headliners. The first children’s area appeared and a children’s charity called Children’s World. This charity still exists today and works in special schools throughout Somerset.
Tickets cost £5 and 12,000 people attended.
Glastonbury Festival in the ’80s
Glastonbury became an annual event in the 1980s. It was held every year apart from 1988. The festival became bigger and edgier. At the start of the decade, Glastonbury teamed up with CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). Starting a tradition where the festival connects with charities. This is still in evidence today with the 3 main charities of Oxfam, Greenpeace and Water Aid.
1981 the capacity was 18,000. By 1989 it had increased to 65,000. Some of the acts that played during this decade are:
New Order, Van Morrison, The Smiths, Curtis Mayfield, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, and The Wonderstuff.
In 1985 the then government forcefully and violently moved off some of the travelling community from Stonehenge. This event became known as The Battle of the Beanfield. They were there to witness the summer solstice and had been doing it for years. With nowhere else to go they headed for Worthy Farm and Glastonbury 1985.
Michael Eavis let the convey in. Coincidently he had purchased another 100 acres of surrounding farmland that year making the festival site bigger. What happened to those travellers? A lot of them now run some of the best areas of the festival like Shangri-La, Block 9 and The Unfairground.
Glastonbury Festival in the ’90s
This is the era when the festival became a right of passage for most British music lovers. Helped by the first live transmissions on TV, first with Channel 4 and then the BBC. Glastonbury in the ’90s went from strength to strength.
Kate Moss basically invented the festival look, Radiohead performed one of the most iconic sets in 1997, and Robbie Williams was on the lash with Oasis. These images still crop up even though they happened more than 25 years ago.
There was still a bit of anarchy going on at the festival throughout the 90s. People climbing in, looters, and a shooting incident! In 1994 the second Pyramid Stage burnt down not long before the festival was about to open. Amazingly, they managed to get a new stage up before the gates opened.
Between 1990 and 1999 attendance increased from 70,000 to 100,000. Indie and Dance music became the flavour of the ’90s. In 1995 the Dance Tent made its debut with the likes of Massive Attack, System 7 and Eat Static. Some of the acts that played during this decade are:
Happy Mondays, PJ Harvey, Velvet Underground, Bjork, Oasis, Portishead, Radiohead, The Prodigy, Blur, Bob Dylan, REM and Blondie.
Glastonbury Festival in the 2000s
This is the decade that saw a massive change at the festival. In 2000 the current Pyramid Stage made its debut. David Bowie returned to christen it just like he did back in 1971.
This was the year that also saw way too many people gatecrash the event. Some estimates say there were around 300,000 people there. The festival was not as large as it is now so the situation was dangerous. In fact, not long after Glastonbury 2000, at Roskilde Festival in Denmark, 9 festival-goers sadly lost their lives in a stampede during Pearl Jam’s set.
Clearly, something had to change at Glastonbury after that. So by 2002, we had the super fence! A £4 million ring of steel around the whole site. Love it or loath it, this fence kept our beloved Glastonbury going.
Attendance rose again from 100,000 to 203,000. The area got bigger too with the Dance Village, The Park Stage (first run by Emily Eavis), Shangri-La (previously Lost Vagueness) and many more stages added.
Tickets now sell out within 30 minutes and are becoming more and more like gold dust. To stop the ticket touts from selling tickets at inflated prices, Glastonbury created the registration system. Every ticket sold has a photo of the person who brought the ticket on it. I don’t know why other events don’t do this.
Some of the acts that played during the 2000s were Chemical Brothers, Coldplay, De La Soul, The English National Opera, Paul McCartney, The Killers and many more.
Like all places, Glastonbury has changed since those humble beginnings. Some people hate change and will moan that things ain’t like what they used to be. For me, that is the opposite of the Glastonbury spirit. This festival embraces change with open arms. After all, it was a dairy farmer from Somerset that created the world’s greatest festival.