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ELO on the Pyramid Stage

What happens when 200,000 people gather annually in late June on a giant patch of farmland in Somerset, England, for several days of music and a general celebration of the arts?

Miracles.
It's called the Glastonbury Festival.
I never thought I'd see it firsthand. Glastonbury was always that elusive thing in the future I could never get to. Like the perfect house in the perfect location that you build when you retire. Like Shangri-La. Like the pirate ship you find by following the treasure map.
Like a dream.
It existed, but it would never be part of my reality.
Every year, my friend Andy would ask me. It was THAT sort of question: "WHEN are you coming to Glastonbury?" To him, it wasn't a question. It was a necessity. A command. You love music as much as I do? You feel it deep within? It moves you in ways you cannot explain? You must go to Glastonbury. It's a calling. Why?
Miracles.
I knew the Glastonbury Festival was great. I knew it was huge. I knew the performances were special because I had seen them. Just not in person.
I had never WITNESSED them. I didn't "get" it.
I do now.
Glastonbury isn't hype. It's the real thing. It's 200,000 people living in a communal space to experience something intangible - but palpable. It's all around. It's about people coming together. To celebrate. To make the world a better place. It's friendship. It's peace. It's love. It's respect. For your fellow man. For the environment. Everyone knows it. They feel it. 
The musicians feel it too. That's why they play Glastonbury when they get the opportunity. The rain doesn't matter. The mud (oh my, the MUD) doesn't matter. It's a calling. They know they must play there. Why?
Miracles.
Miracles happen everywhere at Glastonbury. Some of them are small. Some of them are show-stopping. You hear them. You see them. Most of all, you FEEL them. And when you leave Glastonbury, you are not the same person you were when you arrived. Your heart will be bigger. Your senses will be more acute. Your friendships will be stronger. And your mind will be wider.
Let's talk about those miracles. 
The first miracle was how we managed to get tickets in the first place. Let's just say it was a miracle. One of those karmic miracles. We never planned on going to Glastonbury this year. But when I found out Turin Brakes were playing, I said the right thing to the right person (that's you, Rob) and somehow, a miracle happened - a pair of tickets - landed in my hands. I will be forever grateful. 
The only bad news was we had a mere two months to sort out logistics.
The second miracle was how little we paid to get to England. After preparing to drop a huge chunk of cash on airfare with only a two-month lead-time, we found tickets to London from Toronto on Air Canada cost about half the price of flying out of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or Detroit. It was only a five-hour drive for a direct flight to Heathrow.
Now, let's get real - I have no idea how to navigate a festival, and thus, we needed massive help. We needed another miracle.
I took the standing offer to attend this thing with Andy and Caroline (they go every year). In retrospect, I can't imagine doing it any other way, and I will be forever in their debt for their generosity and help in packing, getting there, and getting around. Glastonbury was the greatest experience because of them. They ARE the third miracle.
Our last day - in the rain and mud, with our dear friends,
awaiting Coldplay on the main stage.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, Andy wrote daily, sending us information, links to videos of various bands, packing list advice. He and Caroline purchased food, drink, inexpensive day packs, air mattresses, and pillows for us. Andy even sent photos of the trolley he was building to carry our stuff to the camp site. I couldn't ask for better friends, and I feel happy tears welling up just writing about them.
So, let's talk camping.
It was nothing short of a miracle that we actually found a place on high ground to put our two tents. We had almost given up when we found a spot - a spot almost as far away as you could get from where we would need to be for gigs. But it was high ground - a small miracle.
We had to sleep on a slope - that's when we were taught one of the great festival lessons. Never sleep horizontal on sloped ground because you will roll into each other. Saved yet again by the wisdom of A&C - we never had to make that mistake.
Getting to Glastonbury with A&C via car also yielded some life lessons. I found out exactly what were the three most useful household items: gaffer tape (duct tape), cling film (plastic wrap), and cable ties. The fourth might be bin bags (trash bags).

Scenes from packing and camping:

Packing the car
See what I mean about useful
household items?

The view from our camp site,
watching the sun go down on Wednesday
Our temporary home for five days.

Now, let's talk about the mud...
It rains in England. A LOT. And Glastonbury 2016 was not just a music-fest, it was a mud-fest (officially dubbed "the muddiest Glastonbury ever" by The Guardian). I received my PhD in mud and mud navigation this year at Glastonbury. I now know all the different consistencies of mud. I know how to tell the depth of it. I know how to walk in it so it doesn't splatter all over me or the people around me. I know how not to get stuck in it (although this was the hardest lesson and needed the most practice). And I know that no matter how much mud you have on your wellies (rubber boots), you can always add another layer, especially if you creatively mix it with hay, wood chips, or confetti.
There was no patch of ground free of mud. At times it was more than ankle-deep, and often had a cement-like consistency. If you stop moving for an instant, your boots (and you) will stay in the mud. I got stuck while waiting for Travis to come on stage. But you know what happened? You guessed it - another miracle. People I didn't know all around me helped pull me - and my boots - out of the mud. This happened several times during the festival.

Scenes of mud around the fest:

The main entrance gate was treacherous
Pyramid Stage
The Other Stage
The Park Stage
Selfie with mud 
This was in the Croissant Neuf tent,
where I saw Travis 

On Monday they had to tow cars with giant tractors
because of the parking in mud
The mud created a living hell from the car to the gate to our camp site. I swear it took us two hours to cart our stuff about two miles. By the time we reached the top of the hill where we camped, the trolley wheels were coated with about an inch of mud all around, and the four of us were soaked in sweat from the exertion. It felt like the last mile of a marathon. It was truly a miracle we made it with all our stuff. In fact, the whole journey from the car was littered with deceased trolleys and bags - victims of the mud.

Most of the mud came from rain early in the week, but the weather forecast continued to predict a lot more rain DURING the festival than we actually got. But as luck would have it, the sun came out often and gave us many more miracles in the form of relief from the cold and wet conditions. 
I never appreciated the miracle of a blue sky more than I did at Glastonbury.

This guy was as happy as I was about the blue sky

There were so many things I learned at Glastonbury that I would never have learned. Here are some of them:
It IS possible to put 200K people in one place without violence breaking out.
It IS possible to go without a shower or bath for five days if you have wet wipes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and dry shampoo.
I learned new words at Glastonbury. (1) out-trolley, verb, used in a sentence, "Andy was out-trolleyed by the guy who installed mountain-bike wheels on HIS trolley." (2) Glastonbury is an adjective as well as a proper noun. In a sentence: "Brighton has a very Glastonbury vibe" - or, better, when someone offers to help his fellow man: "That's a very Glastonbury attitude."
Now, let's talk about the flags.
Flags are everywhere at Glastonbury. In fact, it seems like there's an unwritten competition going on  - the best flag competition. You can make a flag for ANY reason: country, county, football club, motto, musician (lots of Prince and Bowie flags), family, and my personal favorite of the weekend, the flag that just said "Flag."

Yes, there were GoT flags also.
And finally, let's talk about the performances, since that's the primary reason for the festival.
Every musician's performance at Glastonbury rises to a new level. Each show is no less extraordinary than the one you saw previously. Granted, it seems to reach a crescendo Sunday night (Coldplay blew everyone out of the water, so to speak), but the artists all seem to understand what you're expecting and what you've endured to get there - the traffic, the camping, the rain, and especially the mud.
Travis played the tiny Croissant Neuf Tent
for the venue's 10th anniversary
Fran Healy of Travis
Travis in Croissant Neuf Tent
Muse fireworks
Muse on Pyramid Stage
Hell Stage
KT Tunstall played an amazing set
in a tiny bar at the top of a hill.
Madness played to a monstrous crowd on the main stage 
Beck was the last gig before Coldplay
and tried to whip up an exhausted rain-soaked crowd
ELO played on the main stage Sunday afternoon
but couldn't bring the sun out even with "Mr. Blue Sky" sing-along
I'm going to use Turin Brakes as an example because of their unique and unfortunate time slot Saturday night up against the biggest acts of the weekend. Their tent stage was packed solid. They stood on stage in awe of US - their fans who gave up the opportunity to see one of the biggest acts in the world - Adele - headline the Pyramid Stage (not to mention New Order on The Other Stage). They were acutely aware of the crowd expectations and, wow, did they deliver a stunner!! There was not a single disappointed fan in the audience.

The packed Avalon Stage for Turin Brakes

And, ok, let's talk Coldplay. 

Whether you like him or not, it's undeniable that Chris Martin - who has one of the biggest hearts in showbiz - is on a crusade to save the world. Every single word he uttered and every move he made on the main stage Sunday night illustrated his dedication to giving his audience their greatest memory of the 2016 festival. And it WILL go down in history as one of the most epic.

Chris Martin went it alone on "Everglow"
when his piano was out of tune with Will, Jonny, and Guy

As for my best...
The singular most memorable moment I had at Glastonbury was not in the music or the weather or the logistical miracles. It was a tiny little statement by Andy as we were walking back to the tents one afternoon. 
He said to me, the world is looking everywhere for peace and love and people living together with tolerance and respect for one another - and it ALL happens RIGHT HERE.
 At Glastonbury.

Sunday at Glastonbury was a more relaxing day as we slept in and decided to plant ourselves at the Pyramid Stage. We caught sets by Laura Mvula, ELO, Beck, and the headliner, Coldplay.

All I can say about Sunday's gigs is that my expectations were blown away. The only one that suffered was Beck who struggled more to whip up a tired rain-soaked crowd. It rained most of the day, but I enjoyed every second of it.

Beck:



ELO - which happened to be my first concert ever in 1978 - brought me to tears with memories of my youth.

ELO:



And what can I say about Coldplay's set? There are just no words. I cried through "The Scientist" and was thankful that Caroline put her arm around me and pulled the four of us together. It was one of the greatest single moments I've experienced - a deep feeling of community and love and friendship.

Andy declared Coldplay's set the best thing ever done at Glastonbury (and he goes every year). It included no less than three show-stopping moments. The first was a heartfelt tribute to Viola Beach, letting them "headline Glastonbury in an alternate future." The second was Barry Gibb joining them on stage for "To Love Somebody" and "Stayin' Alive" (which Chris Martin declared "the greatest song ever"). And the third was Michael Eavis himself joining them on stage to sing "My Way." I couldn't take much more. It was stunning to say the least.

All I know is that when Coldplay throws out "Yellow" as the second song in their set, you're in for something special indeed. It was beautiful and full of heart. And there were lasers and light-up wristbands and star-shaped confetti and giant balloons everywhere.

Coldplay:






And then it stopped raining. Yet another Glastonbury miracle.


Once I properly compose myself and work out all my emotions (and take a shower), I will make my best attempt to summarize what these past five days really meant to me.

Here's a photo that captures some of it:


Sunday at Glastonbury was a more relaxing day as we slept in and decided to plant ourselves at the Pyramid Stage. We caught sets by Laura Mvula, ELO, Beck, and the headliner, Coldplay.

Saturday I woke up to a downpour. I wasn't worried at first, but then I looked over at Jim and noticed his sleeping bag was getting wet. I looked up to see our tent was leaking from water pooling up on the outer fly. I quickly woke him up and then found water dripping into several areas along the bottom of the tent. Jim put on his rain gear and went out to construct a cover for our tent using bin bags over the mesh window at the top. It was quick and dirty but did the job while I dried up all the water drops on the floor.  

The rain stopped soon after and the sun came out and we were able to get back sleep. It was 5 am. 

At 9 am, the alarm went off and we quickly jumped up to prep for the day. The guys in the tent next to us were frying up bacon like they do every morning, I'm sure just to make us hungry and jealous.

Selfie with mud: 


Our first gig was on the other side of the festival - KT Tunstall was doing an acoustic set in a bar called The Crows Nest. It was at the top of a huge hill in the area known as The Park. We hoofed it to arrive just in time. She played a short set of all new songs from the album due in September. This set alone was worth the trip to Glastonbury. Jim got her autograph and a photo and she even remembered him from Twitter. I know it was a little bit of heaven for him.



Next, we grabbed breakfast and I had to run back to the tent because I forgot my glasses. I needed them for later when we would split up and communicate via text.

The high ground was starting to dry out, but the mud was becoming more like cement and walking and watching gigs was becoming a serious workout.


We met up with Andy and Caroline at The Other Stage for St. Paul & The Broken Bones, a band we didn't know from Alabama. We only caught the last few songs, but they were all stunners! We will most definitely be checking out their music when we get home.




We walked a bit, grabbed some ciders, and realized it was getting close to 3 pm - time to split up. I went alone to see Travis at Croissant Neuf (solar-powered tent celebrating its 10-year anniversary), and the other three went to see Madness on the Pyramid Stage.

The Croissant Neuf tent was stifling hot and packed solid, but I was able to weave my way up close to the stage. I got stuck in the mud but was helped out by fellow Travis fans, showing me the Glastonbury hospitality is something special.

The mud:


The highlight of the Travis set for me was their cover of The Band's "The Weight." I have always wanted to see them do this particular one and finally had my chance! (and got it on video). I stayed 45 minutes then left after "Selfish Jean" to meet up with Jim, Andy, and Caroline for the end of Madness.

Travis:




When I got to the Pyramid Stage, I was blown away. Madness completely packed the lawn. It was even bigger than Muse. I got there just in time to hear "One Step Beyond," "Our House," and "It Must Be Love." Hearing Jim singing all the lyrics made me realize he made the right decision to miss Travis.

Madness was madness:



Then we had some time to kill before my most-coveted gig of Glasto - Turin Brakes. We quickly rushed over to catch some of John Grant on the John Peel Stage. Wow. I was very impressed, but unfortunately we had to leave after only a few songs as we had plans to grab a quick dinner and meet up with Turin Brakes before their gig.



We quickly made our way back to the tents to get clothes for the evening. The weather has been ridiculously unpredictable and kept going from hot sun to really cold wind and overcast with sprinkles. Who knew what to wear?!?

Then came my personal main event: Turin Brakes headlining the Avalon Stage. It was one of the best Turin Brakes gigs I've ever attended. The sound and lights were stellar. The venue was packed with die-hard Turin Brakes fans who gave up seeing Adele headline the Pyramid Stage to be there. 

On the way was a rainbow - there are miracles everywhere here:


Turin Brakes:










We ended up the night at Arcadia to see the giant spider with its lasers and flames and light show with music. It was spectacular! My eyes still hurt - hopefully it didn't burn out my retinas.



The mud on Saturday was so bad that we kept getting stuck and needed help getting out. It was ankle deep in places and like cement. Getting from one place to another was nothing short of painful.



Getting back to the tent was way more difficult than it should have been as Jim and I both almost slipped in the mud several times and I kept getting stuck in it. By the time we got to sleep, everything hurt but my mind, which was all abuzz from the best day of music I can ever remember having. Seriously, I am running out of adjectives to adequately describe this experience.
Saturday I woke up to a downpour. I wasn't worried at first, but then I looked over at Jim and noticed his sleeping bag was getting wet.
We were up early enough to catch the Glasto milk truck (who knew? on Twitter as @GlastoMilk), and got milk and orange juice.



Then checked the weather to see major rain in the forecast. We cleaned up, packed rain gear, packed our other stuff in plastic, and left at 10:30-ish to trek to William's Green to see an amazing dance-music-playing-acoustic-guitar duo called The Showhawk Duo.


We ate breakfast (toasties) and got rained on as we made our way toward The Other Stage and caught the end of James (also amazing) while we walked. The Other Stage was PACKED! 

Scenes on the way: 



James on The Other Stage



Then we headed to the Pyramid Stage to hang out on the grass. And the sun came out. And it was glorious.




Sun!!


We stayed to see Two Door Cinema Club who came on just as the rain hit. It didn't dampen our spirits though, and they were really fun and danceable even with full rain gear.

Rain!



Just as they finished, the sun came out and it got warm and glorious once more. We grabbed an early dinner and headed back to the tents to eat, drink, and change clothes for ZZ-Top, Foals, and Muse on the Pyramid Stage.

Sun!!



My face even got sunburnt:


On the way back, we realized how fortunate we were to be on high ground, as the rain now left muddy puddles and rivers of mud flowing down through the tents one level below us.

We got back to the Pyramid Stage for ZZ-Top:



More mud:


Foals and the ever-increasing sea of flags and humanity:



The sun went down. And Muse came on:






And my tiny little mind was completely blown. 


Time to sleep. More music tomorrow, including Turin Brakes.



We were up early enough to catch the Glasto milk truck (who knew? on Twitter as @GlastoMilk), and got milk and orange juice.
Our first full day at Glastonbury Festival was Thursday. I finally got a decent night of sleep, but not before needing headphones to drown out the constant talking, laughing, and sometimes even yelling. I was awakened in the morning by someone playing mandolin in the next tent. Jim and I decided to get up and go find coffee - which happened to be right down the hill from our camp site. People were eating gigantic sausages at the breakfast tent, but all I could think of was getting coffee. Andy and Caroline slept in, and we couldn't even "text them up" with a coffee offer. 

Just after noon, everyone was up and we prepped for the day. Not much music happens on Thursday so we made use of the time sightseeing, and Jim and I were finally able to pick up our wristbands from the Avalon/Glade production office (as guests of one of the performers).

We made our way to the other side of the festival from our camp site. We saw the green crafts including a bike-rider-powered lathe, the Glastonbury Stone Circle, and the area known as The Park. I cannot believe how HUGE this place is. It's almost unfathomable.

Later Thursday evening, we made our way to the South East Corner to an area called Shangri La to see Correspondents and Kate Tempest on the Hell Stage.

There's still an enormous amount of mud everywhere. I slid on a steep incline and fell, but managed to catch myself just in time and only my right hand got muddy. I received several compliments on "the save."

The day can be best summed up in photographs:














Our first full day at Glastonbury Festival was Thursday. I finally got a decent night of sleep, but not before needing headphones to drown out the constant talking, laughing, and sometimes even yelling. I was awakened in the morning by someone playing mandolin in the next tent.

We woke up Wednesday morning to warnings to stay away from Glastonbury due to huge traffic delays - in fact, the number one trending topic on Twitter was "Glastonbury Traffic." We decided to wait and hope the early arrivers would help us by drying out the mud on their way to the campgrounds. Yes the mud!! We were also flooded with Twitter images of people slogging their way through ankle-deep mud.


I wished I had known this before waking because anxiety had kept me up most of the night, and I was now on about four hours of sleep in two days.

So we waited. 

While we waited, Andy completely reworked packing his trolley several times, likely from nervous energy.

And we waited.

Then Caroline ran out to the grocery, and she came back and cooked breakfast.

And we waited.

Some time around noon it was time to pack the car. Andy had rigged up a rack to put some stuff on top of the car. And we somehow jammed ourselves, two tents, four large backpacks, four sleeping bags, two trolleys, food, drink, and six cameras all into a tiny car. 




Caroline used Google Maps to find a route that was longer but bypassed the worst traffic - until the final queue into the festival. We hit the traffic jam about 1.5 hours after we left.


And we waited.

I slept.


And we waited.

We talked about festivals and music and concerts. We watched the people with backpacks walking to the festival grounds.

And we waited.

Around 5:15 pm, we got our first glimpse of the festival grounds. Wow! All of a sudden, things got REAL. Really real. We were actually DOING THIS. As Andy would say: "This is happening!!"

And we waited.

And then...

We were in the car park.



And I found out what exactly are the most important two household items: duct (gaffer) tape and plastic wrap (cling fim). And a trolley.




Then came the mud and the trek.. And the mud trek






And then, there it was, the legendary Pyramid Stage. My heart skipped a beat.


By the time we found a camp site, we were all exhausted, hungry, thirsty,.... 


And ready to party. Cheers.


Our view from the tent:




We woke up Wednesday morning to warnings to stay away from Glastonbury due to huge traffic delays - in fact, the number one trending topic on Twitter was "Glastonbury Traffic." We decided to wait and hope the early arrivers would help us by drying out the mud on their way to the campgrounds.

When I started writing this, it was 2 pm and we're on our way to Toronto. From Toronto, we're flying to London, England, and from there heading to Exeter by train to meet up with our great friends Andy and Caroline to begin the adventure of a lifetime - and something I never thought I'd do.

We're going to the Glastonbury Music Festival in Somerset, England.

We left the house around 12:15 pm. The entire city of Cleveland was in the midst of celebrating the Cavaliers' NBA Championship that ended "The Curse" - a 52-year drought of a Cleveland sports team winning a national championship. We'll be missing the parade and revelry of the week, but I'm ok with that.

Glastonbury is on my bucket list.

As we drive, I tell Jim "It's too late now to worry about what we forgot to pack." In the back of the car is a huge duffel bag containing our tent, sleeping bags, camping pillows and lamps and tent stakes. It also contains two new pairs of rubber boots (known by the English as Wellingtons, or "wellies").

The last time we did a festival was way back in 2004. We were young(er). It was the Coachella Festival in California. We went to see Radiohead. And the Pixies. The crowd was 55,000-strong. It was great. But we said: "Never again."

Coachella suffered from being in the desert. It was hot - 106 degrees F at midday. As soon as the sun came up, our tent turned into a sauna. Jim and I almost killed each other to get out of the tent at 7 am. I got sick from tainted festival food and spent almost the entire return trip - six hours of flying - in the airplane loo (yes, using the English slang now).

The Glastonbury crowd is more than double that of Coachella - over 100,000 people - and the weather is usually the exact opposite. Cooler (70s) and raining. That's why we bought the wellies. For the inevitable MUD.

But you may ask: why did we decide to do another festival? 

The answer is quite simple. Glastonbury is legendary. And we got tired of the constant prodding from Andy to "please come to Glastonbury and let me show you the greatest place on earth."

And Turin Brakes are playing.

It was time. Time to say yes. Time to experience this thing while Jim is still in his 40s and I'm... Well... Not getting any younger.

After my comment about forgetting something, Jim says: "The only things I'm worried about are getting there and getting our tickets."

He's more practical than I am. We can BUY a toothbrush. We can't buy tickets at the door.

The tickets are being shipped to Andy's house to arrive the day before we leave for Glastonbury. And, as I said, we're flying out of Toronto (it was half the cost of flying out of Cleveland, for crying out loud!) - a five-hour drive. We're flying into Heathrow and taking the train. We have two and a half days to get to Exeter. We know that giving ourselves extra time is no guarantee that everything will happen on time. I trust you've seen the movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."

So, why worry about forgetting my underwear or sunscreen? 

And thus, the adventure begins. Stay tuned.

Day 1 photos:


Which way to Canada?


First (short) delay:


Tent and luggage has been checked, sitting down, relaxing and celebrating with airport hops - our waiter said "yay Cavs!!"


When I started writing this, it was 2 pm and we're on our way to Toronto.
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