The Music Festival That Almost Wasn’t
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
We all know about Woodstock in 1969, so instead, OZY would like to travel across the pond and look at the first Glastonbury Festival in 1970.
Coachella and JazzFest have passed, Bonnaroo is upon us, and we still have Lollapalooza and Outside Lands to look forward to, among many more. It’s festival season, folks!
While flower crowns, jean shorts, multiple bracelets and hundreds of people frolicking around in green fields listening to a medley of musical acts has become quite common, it was not always such a routine feat to pull off.
My agent called me up one morning and said ‘Fancy a gig on a field in Somerset?’
On September 19, 1970 — the day after Jimi Hendrix died — 1,500 people flocked to Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, about 2-3 hours outside of London. This was the very first Glastonbury festival; tickets cost £1 each and included free milk from the farm. (Because that is what you think of when you think of an outdoor music festival in the ’70s. A nice glass of milk.)
The two-day event, originally called Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival, was organized by Michael Eavis – an interesting man to have started Glastonbury. The son of a Methodist preacher and farmer, he is anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-drugs. But when he and his future wife Jean Hayball snuck through a hedge to see Led Zeppelin at the 1969 open-air Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, he was struck with inspiration.
“Something flashes down and you suddenly change,” he tells The Guardian. “Bit like St Paul; do you know what I mean? There’s a change of attitude, a change of purpose.”
“My agent called me up one morning and said ‘Fancy a gig on a field in Somerset?’” recalls Mick Ringham, a professional DJ known as Mad Mick. Ringham ended up playing the first record at the festival. The next day he started researching and calling agents to book bands to play at his family farm.
The Kinks were originally booked to headline, but at the last minute pulled out. Eavis says Ray Davies was so upset that an article had described the event as a “mini-festival” that he got a doctor’s note asserting he had a sore throat and couldn’t sing. “I was ready to give up,” says Eavis. “I woke up every morning before milking time worrying about how much it was costing me, thinking it was doomed to failure.”
His ten-year-old daughter told him she would “look such a fool” if he cancelled. Luckily, Eavis found Marc Bolan’s band T. Rex to replace The Kinks as the main act.
On September 19, music fans descended on to Worthy Farm. The stage was created out of scaffolding and plywood, tied to two apple trees with rope. Bales of hay sat on stage with the musicians, and Bolan leaned against one while singing Deborah. Other acts included Quintessence, Al Stewart, Stackridge and Keith Christmas. There was an ox-roast and Hell’s Angels people working security, and a reporter recalls a good dose of “naked youngsters riding around on Harley Davidsons.” Musicians at the festival remember people getting high and making out all over the place.
Eavis still likes to think of it as only a small group of people at the festival doing drugs. (Mm-hm.) He ended up losing £1,500 on the first festival and was worried he might lose his entire farm. Now, decades later, Glastonbury is one of the most well-known festivals in the world. And Eavis is quite the happy cow farmer.
“I’ve got the best life anyone could possibly have,” says Eavis. “I’m not moaning. This whole festival thing is better than alcohol, better than drugs. It’s marvelous.”
Yes, Eavis. Yes it is.