Glastonbury Festival 2008: Either very clever or very stupid

So, this is the first year since 1999 that I’m not going to Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts. Why? Well, I fancied a change, something a bit different, something European maybe, and something away from the hoards.

Well it may just be the case for the latter at least that Glastonbury 2008 would be a suitable alternative to Glastonbury. This year demand has seen a massive slump. Approximately 450’000 people registered for Glastonbury last year and that figure is down to 200’000 this year. In three years prior to this one Glasto tickets have sold out at an astonishing rate, all 130’000+ tickets in less than a day, and last year in a matter of hours.

So why is it that for Glastonbury 2008 I can still buy tickets for the event at 6:30pm on the day after they were put on sale? As one member of the efestivals forum put it “I look forward to walking into HMV to buy my ticket next year”. He/She is of course referring to the good ‘ole pre-fence days when the hippies were still on Radio Avalon (as it was known then, it has since been rebranded Worthy FM), and hell, you might have even spotted a dog on piece of string and a traveler kid in a wheel barrow.

Could it be possible that Glastonbury might not sell out this year? Michael Eavis doesn’t seem to think so given Sunday sales, “I think three years of mud may have taken their toll, but even so, 100,000 isn’t bad… It’s a nice little sale for a Sunday morning. And that’s without them even knowing who’s playing – we haven’t announced our line-up yet.”

However, that, Michael, is where you’re wrong.

Breaking the habit of a life time

The past three years Glastonbury has sold out well before this point and the line-up has never been announced for it. Yes of course there are rumours, but there are always rumours, but apart from the self-confirmed acts no-one knows for sure who is playing and Glasto HQ don’t say anything it’ll May.

What could possible have changed to make demand decline so much? Is it, Michael, because you actually have announced the line-up, or at least, the line-up in part – the headliners on the Pyramid stage for Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. This year Glastonbury has broken their silent tradition and has given us all a sneak peak of what they have in store for us in the final weekend in June.

And what a piss poor line-up it is. Jay-Z, what? Hip-hop? Outside of the Dance Village? Even Welsh wonders Goldie Lookin’ Chain had to make do with the Dance Tent, what makes this million record selling artist any different? Well, yes I concede the two aren’t comparable but lets face it, given the resurgence of the indie scene over the past five years and now French electro poking its nose into the British music scene Jay-Z hardly seems the most select of choices. And besides, I could have sworn three or four years ago he said he was leaving the ‘music biz’.

Next up, Kings of Leon. Who? What have they done in the past three years that has been of any significance since they played two of three places down the bill on the Pyramid stage. And besides, their live performance is wank, I hardly even noticed they’d come on.

The Verve? Yes a nice Sunday night closer I’d imagine. Nice like Moby. But nothing to get excited about.

The Weather, Europe and Trendies

Lets reiterate, Glastonbury breaks with tradition for the first time in yonks and announces some headliners and the masses, who came in the thousands last year, decide not to bother. Is this fall in demand down to anything else?

Some say the weather has had an effect, the past two years have been mud baths and really bad ones at that, but then the same happened in ’97 and ’98 but it didn’t stop people coming in ’99 and 2000, the latter of which had an estimated 200’000 people come by legitimate and illegitimate means.

Some economics wonks mentioned something about global recession, but I’m not sure how much of an effect that has on my desire to jump up and down with smelly people and spend 5 days in field. Nevertheless, English festivals have been getting more and more expensive and Glastonbury is no exception. Is this the cause of the recent trend to turn to the continent for the nations summer fix of live music and a weekend in a tent. Some 10’000 British people went Exit in Serbia last year, TEN THOUSAND! Thats a lot of Brits, and to Serbia as well, its hardly holiday destination number one.

I think the trend towards European festivals is at least in part due to the crowd looking for the next cool thing. I’d imagine the majority of those who went to Exit were students with lots of time and disposable income, I certainly noticed the the swathe of photos that were uploaded to facebook with at least some sort of reference to the festival last summer. And these are exactly the sort of people who are going to be looking for the next big thing, and when its big they’ll be off again. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, I’m not attaching any value to being fickle, hey I was considering a European festival or two to escape the masses myself.

However, Reading and Leeds still sold out this year, 200’000 tickets in 24 hours between them, so UK festival demand can hardly be down that much. So whats the difference between Reading and Leeds continued demand and Glastonbury’s apparent fall flat on its face? It has to be with this crazy change in tact regarding the line-up. And I think I know why.

Glastonbury is like the Nintendo Wii

Despite my rantings about the line-up above, Glastonbury has never been about the line-up, and I hope to a certain extent it never will. Glastonbury is so much more than a music festival. Its a place to go and visit, to explore and get lost in. For years I defended Glastonbury to my friends as they laughed at me when I having acquired a ticket they asked who was going, I of course replied, “I don’t know”. I probably spend most of my day time at Glastonbury wandering around the greenfields and the markets, the time spend stood watching bands is probably very little compared to other festivals. But thats part of what makes Glastonbury a special place.

What Michael and Emily Eavis have done is shot themselves in the foot, they have climbed up the wrong way of the proverbial marketing monkey puzzle tree. They have announced headliners to the festival as part of their media blitz when in fact healdliners play a much smaller part in the appeal of Glastonbury compared to other festivals. And what the masses have done is gone “Jay-Z, meh, Kings of Leon, meh, Neil Diamond, who?” and sacked Glasto off.

You don’t sell a Nintendo Wii on the premise of graphical capability, compared to the PS3 its highly inferior, instead you sell it on the premise of interactivity and playability. In the same vain you don’t sell Glastonbury by emphasising the line-up because festivals like Reading and Leeds are going to whoop your ass. Instead you sell Glastonbury by emphasising everything else that happends there, the randomness, the afterdark activities at Lost Vagueness, the people, the cider bus, the fact you can bring your own booze and light a fire, and so on.

From a commercial perspective Glastonbury has right royally buggered up. But then, lets remember, Glastonbury isn’t about making money is it? Michael Eavis wants to raise £2 million for charity this year, and artists are paid substantially less for playing at Glastonbury than they are for playing at other festivals. In which case, does Glastonbury really want to appeal to the masses, does it really need to be the market leader, does it want people, like my sister’s friend, who go to Glastonbury to say they’ve been to Glastonbury?

Not so stupid after all

Which leads me to believe that Michael and Emily might not be as incompetent as I originally envisaged. The Glastonbury faithful have long been moaning about
the rise in the festival’s popularity, the queue for the cider bus, the inability to get tickets, all that jazz. Michael himself was worried about the demise of the energy the festival had pre-wall and the fall in young vibrant people attending. I had certainly noticed a lot more middle class middle aged day trippers in their wax jackets attending to see what all the fuss was about.

So maybe Michael and Emily have in fact dealt a rather tactical blow to return Glastonbury to days of old. A reduction in the demand for tickets also means that people who have never had the chance to go to Glastonbury will be able to for the first time, another problem voiced by Eavis solved.

Of course the flaw in this argument is the possibility that the young and vibrant have flown the nest for good and having made their first annual migration to the continent an irreversible trend has been set. For the answer to that, only time will tell.

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