This weekend is set to be burning hot and no mud in sight. In other words, the perfect weekend for Glastonbury which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Except there will be no snake-long queues for the toilets or the bar, it won’t cost £270 a ticket and more people than ever before will be enjoying the festival. And the hangovers might not be so bad.
But Glastonbury won’t be taking place in its usual spot in Somerset; the farm is having an enforced fallow year due to Covid-19. Instead, starting this Thursday the BBC is rolling out “The Glastonbury Experience”, a long weekend of best bits, unseen footage and multi-platform celebrations of the festival’s rich cultural history.
The 130,000 ticket holders (and the rest of the country) can tune into Channels Two and Four to revisit classic Glastonbury performances, iPlayer will have over 60 iconic sets available to stream and on the radio, you can hear interviews with Glastonbury organiser, Emily Eavis, and a deep dive into the music of debut artists on the festival’s line up.
There are definitely upsides to being able to enjoy Glastonbury sets from the comfort of your own home, proximity to a clean toilet being the first to spring to mind. The Covid-forced rise of virtual events makes festivals more accessible for those who do not have the financial means, physical capabilities or time luxury to normally attend. BBC reruns can’t replace the real thing, no sound system or high-definition screen can capture the atmosphere of live music, the euphoria of singing in unison with your favourite artist, or the ethereal escapism only a festival can provide. But if a virtual festival means not spending a fortune on a measly portion of chips, shivering in a sleeping bag as you try to sleep or waking up to someone mistaking your tent for a toilet, this might be a compromise some of us are willing to make.
Earlier this month, the cancelled Isle of Wight Festival attempted to pull off something similar, streaming sets from the last ten years on Sky Arts and collaborating with Absolute Radio to play a programme of pre-recorded live music from the line-up. Ticket holders booked the Friday off work, set up tents in their gardens and cheersed slightly warm beers to the cancelled event, making the best of a bad situation. The magic only slightly dampened by adverts playing between songs on the radio and the anti-climax of being surrounded by a maximum of five friends.
Junction 2, the dance and techno festival that usually takes place at Boston Manor Park under the M4, is taking the experience a step further with 3D virtual festival “J2V”. The interactive experience will take place on the 11th of July, having been postponed once during lockdown whilst they made efforts to further diversify their line up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Six-hours of exclusive DJ sets will be accompanied by “mind-bending” 3D visuals as festival goers access different stages through the website.
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Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and the vast majority of other festivals have rolled over tickets and line ups till 2021. It remains to be seen whether festivals later in the summer will follow suit with virtual experiences as placeholders for the real thing or whether, like Junction 2, they will continue to push the bounds of innovation to bring alternatives to loyal fans. Either way, festival tickets will be hot commodities this time next year, and watching BBC’s “The Glastonbury Experience” with a tent pitched up in the garden will have to do for now.