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the insider one daily report

Soggy But Happy At Glastonbury 2005

Neumu Creative Director Emme Stone reports: It was Thursday evening, June 23, and the sun was setting over the valley that is home to Worthy Farm — a working dairy farm in the southwest of England. I had arrived, having caught a bus from the London township, with numerous other decidedly clean humans. On any other day this valley would look like a green patchwork quilt of grass (with assorted cows) stretching out as far as the eye can see, but for one week every year (or two) it is transformed into a small town, population 150,000. As I entered through the cattle stalls (in a manner not unlike the way our bovine friends may have exited days earlier) I was given a "Make Poverty History" bracelet, which, during the course of the festival, gradually transformed color from pristine white to a slightly less-pure beige.

One third of Glastonbury attendees are in some way employed there, either as performers or as supporters making it all happen; the remaining folk are spectators. They'd all committed themselves to waking up early one Sunday morning months earlier, queuing up on the Web site or phone to purchase tickets. Added security measures meant that whosoever bought the ticket (and whose name was on it) needed to present photographic identification, which successfully deterred scalpers and touts. This year the legendary festival sold out within three hours. And that is, in fact, what makes this temporary town so special. Everyone who goes there really wants to be there.

As the sky started a-twinkling, crowds continued to pour in, pitch their tents and explore the expansive festival grounds. Anticipation glowed from the passing faces and the star-shaped lanterns alike. I pitched my tent strategically close to the new bands tent, which this year had been renamed the John Peel stage after the much-adored Radio One DJ. A part of the Glastonbury furniture for many years, having championed and launched so many artists' careers, Peel died last year and was the subject of many heartfelt tributes throughout the weekend, on this stage and others.

Friday, June 24

In the early hours of Friday morning, just as the weather-folk had predicted, lightning lightened the dark sky and the valley filled to the brim with unsinkable water. We awoke to find newly formed streams, ponds and lakes in the lower parts of the land. Lightning had struck the main Pyramid stage, preventing the first two bands of the day from playing. Meanwhile hundreds were forced to leave their flooded tents, some swimming back to collect their possessions.

But there was something strange that took place in the aftermath. Glastonbury's inhabitants — mainly English folk who are genetically pre-programmed to complain about the weather — were undisturbed. People smiled at each other as they slowly waded through the wettest parts of the ground. So imagine numerous feet housed in Wellingtons or plastic bags masking-taped to their legs. Imagine people — many people — slipping in mud and emerging as swamp creatures. Imagine tents sailing away on small brown rivers and people canoeing to the facilities. And then imagine smiles, the rain having no hope whatsoever of erasing them.

As the people walked through the waterlogged fields, it did not take long for the ground to become muddied, and the going to become snailishly slow. The first song that reached my ears happened to be John Peel's favorite song, "Teenage Kicks," performed by The Undertones. It seemed like an apt beginning.

Wandering among the seven main stages, across to the green fields (an area dedicated to those with environmental sympathies), past the healing fields (a field dedicated to those offering alternative/complementary therapies), up to the circus field and past the children's field, I started to get my bearings — and understand how vast and wide a range of offerings there was. While walking around, I managed to catch The Thrills, M83, Secret Machines, M.I.A., and Willy Mason. M83 in particular quite mesmerized me; their analog electronic washes lingered like white mist in the steamy canopy of the surrounding tent and then slow-dove into my awaiting ears. "Run Into Flowers" was a beautiful thing that left me swaying quietly in the fashion of an ancient tree.

The evening ended up with the White Stripes. Jack White appeared on stage like a gothic American preacher, with a Prohibition-era mustache and a black top-hat atop his sweaty dark locks. He was full of vim and vigor, playing the marimba one minute and pounding feverishly on his piano the next. Meg White sat at her set posing coyly and drumming tidily, her dark red hair long and cascading and twirly-ended, in the manner of a satanic mermaid with tail hidden behind bass drum. She interjected into the proceedings a number of times the chorus from "Passive Manipulation." The massive stage, decorated in black and luminescent red, was beautiful and striking. White plastic palm-like plants stood eerily still while the music shook all around them.

As I left the muddy fields on Friday and headed back to my tent, stopping to take a look at the outdoor cinema field and indoor cinema tent, a huge clean-up operation had begun. Some 3 million liters of water were pumped out of the grounds, and lorries of hay were laid to try and soak up the mud.

Saturday, June 25

When Saturday morning came, however, the previous night's operations had made little difference to the landscape. A day of decisions — I'm not completely sure I made the right ones. Such is the nature of a festival where there are10 or more different things to see at any one time.

Most of my decisions were right, though. Such as trekking over to the acoustic stage to see Martha Wainwright sing sweetly and provide the syrup for my organic buckwheat pancakes.

After wandering around aimlessly for some time, I then headed to the Pyramid stage to join in the Make Poverty History moment. Just before 4 p.m., the founder of Glastonbury, Michael Eavis (who describes himself first and foremost as a farmer) took to the stage, immediately capturing the attention of a field full of people. He proceeded to introduce Bob Geldof, who in turn made a short speech about the campaign to encourage the G8 leaders to relieve the burdens of the world's poorest nations. Geldof then suggested some good old fashioned hand-holding, with which the audience happily complied. Afterwards I watched Roisin Murphy (former singer from Moloko) on the Jazz World stage, but I must confess to talking to friends the entire time.

The absolute highlight of my day came when I returned to the John Peel stage to see the Magic Numbers. They came on stage to massive applause that didn't seem to cease for the entire performance. They were so ON! Mere audience members at last year's festival, they made no attempt to disguise their joy at performing. The quadruplets (made up of two brother-sister pairs) played their wonderfully intricate guitar melodies and conjured up the harmonic ghosts of the Mamas and the Papas.

Afterwards, in a moment of confusion, I decided to skip the Go! Team to join the crowds swilling towards Coldplay. I suppose I envisioned myself being motivated to see the Go! Team outside of the Glastonbury experience, whereas the festival's momentum drew me back to the Pyramid stage to see a band I respected but probably wouldn't find myself in front of anytime soon. Coldplay were predictably good, possibly even brilliant, but try as I might to feel moved I think my heart was in the House o' Peel.

Sunday, June 26

By Sunday, the moist grounds slowly became less moist. My first adventure was to the Pyramid stage to see Van Morrison. He sang "Moondance" and "Brown Eyed Girl" and all of those classic songs that are filed in the heart under Sad Yet Beautiful. However, the way he sang them, not so much carelessly as happily… the joviality caught me off guard. 'Twas a listening experience both pleasing and distressing at the same time. What came next, though, was magic.

It was no coincidence that neither seepage into earth nor evaporation into sky truly occurred until the moment, three days after the storm, when the Californian sunshine followed Brian Wilson on stage. His performance was a spiritual experience for me; as I stood in the sun surrounded by thousands and thousands of music-loving people, I slowly but surely felt what I think might be true fulfillment. Although his demeanor was measured and expressionless, Brian Wilson's voice was near perfect! I had been anticipating the voice I had heard on post-40-year-absence documentaries, but what he delivered that day was the '60s reincarnate. Within each note he sang, memories came flooding back to me of summer holidays on the beach, of sandcastles and birthday parties, gum leaves and hula-hoops and mud pies and ice cream. The smiles spanned thousands upon thousands of faces. Hearing my favorite songs from Pet Sounds and my all-time favorite Beach Boys song, "In My Room," somehow completed me. It was rainbows-in-sprinklers-on-green-grass good! It was an inner completion!

The pleasure continued with Rufus Wainright on the Other stage. I lay down on the drying earth and listened to him sing Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" and do it justice. His baroquely beautiful music wafted into my tired but appreciative mind. His sister, Martha, joined him on stage for a few songs, which pleased the crowd.

Wanting to end the weekend at the John Peel stage, I waited for LCD Soundsystem to end and Bright Eyes to come on. I had been quite anticipating hearing the wares of Conor Oberst, but what followed was quite a let-down. He came on stage quite late, and then hissed antagonistically between songs, and then paused for long spells, citing technical difficulties. He also appeared to be struggling with other concepts, such as the price of vegetables in England and the earnestness of the Make Poverty History campaign. He radiated an aura of negativity as he repeatedly told the crowd to "clap [their] credit cards together for John Peel." In a statement later issued exclusively to NME, Conor Oberst offered his formal apology for his comments about John Peel, but I think he may have lost a fan or three, as hundreds left the tent mid-show.

I was on such a high from Brian Wilson that I couldn't quite bear to be subjected to such a cynical set, so I took off for the Stone Circle via the Healing Fields. People sat with candles and by fires to gaze over the lights of the miniature town below and reflect on their experiences over the weekend. I imagined the grass shooting back through the mud and the cows returning to graze on it. I wondered what they would make of it all if they could see their home right then. Some Palace lyrics sprung into my head:

The cattle were lowing, they cried for your feet.
The clouds were your arches, the cows were asleep.
And they spoke of you, they spoke of you
As they laid there and mooed, as they laid there and mooed.

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