‘Long May It Last’: Glastonbury Miraculously Turns 50

Michael and Emily Eavis. Sitting around the kitchen table in the family
Matilda Temperly
– Michael and Emily Eavis. Sitting around the kitchen table in the family
Some great names in music have slept, eaten and performed in the old farm house.
The greatest stories are often written by the most inconspicuous characters. The story of Glastonbury, for instance, may have been a completely different one, had it not been for a young girl from Liverpool, who rang Michael and the late Jean Eavis’ farm in 1988 to inquire about the dates of next year’s festival. 
What the girl did not know at the time was that both Michael and Jean, the father and mother of Glastonbury, had basically decided to discontinue the festival, which is what Jean told the girl on the phone. But when the girl said in an adorable Liverpool accent that her mum had allowed her to go for the first time that following year, it melted Jean’s heart, and she gave her the dates. 
Let your flag fly:
Andrew Allcock
– Let your flag fly:
Although Glastonbury has come a long way since its tribal, spiritual beginnings, those who have been involved since say the vibe hasn’t changed.
Michael and Jean Eavis often contemplated abandoning the festival and returning to a peaceful life as dairy farmers, because organizing it had always been stressful, uncertain, and often terrifying. 
Stressful, because most of what festival promoters accept as a given today – be it operational, regulatory or health and safety related – had to be invented, conceptualized and implemented on the fly by the Glastonbury team; uncertain, because it took years for the festival to sell out in advance and offer financial security; terrifying, because the free spirit and open-mindedness of its creators was sometimes abused by guests on their worst behavior. 
“There were so many times that the festival could have fallen apart,” wrote Michael Eavis, now 84, in the official “Glastonbury 50” book out this year. And he’s not kidding. 
Two Glastonbury Festival-goers in 1971
PA Images / Getty Images
– Two Glastonbury Festival-goers in 1971
That year, the festival was still called the Glastonbury Fayre.
“My dad would say every year that this would be the last festival, and people thought it was some kind of scam to make headlines,” adds Emily Eavis, his daughter, who runs the festival now together with her husband, Nick Dewey. “But my parents did genuinely think that. The festival wasn’t being run like a long-term business, and it was a hugely stressful and time-consuming thing to organize.” 
Elsewhere she says it’s also part of the excitement, “that we don’t quite know how long it will go on for. In many ways it’s like walking a tightrope, trying to keep everyone happy: the crew, the local community, the neighboring farmers, the council and the emergency services.”
The list of times when Glastonbury’s future was hanging in the balance is endless. Over the years, Michael Eavis had to come up with creative ways to make up for the losses the festival suffered in its early days, defend the festival numerous times in court against prosecution for breaking licensing conditions, plead with guests who thought they should get inside the festival for free. 
He’s had to appease many an angry farmer who had their fields occupied and possessions looted by hippie travelers without any regard for personal property, fight back a full-fledged riot of travelers against security in 1990, build a new Pyramid Stage after the original one burned  down in 1994, 10 days ahead of the festival, as well as less aggravating tasks like convincing his first ever act, Marc Bolan, to ride his huge American car that was covered in velvet down a muddy lane and through thorns to reach the site.
Selling the farm.
Jason Bryant
– Selling the farm.
Glastonbury in Somerset County is made up of some 22 farms, run by 22 individual farmers.
And the truth is, organizing Glastonbury is also beautiful, exciting, and often exhilarating. Beautiful, because the free spirit of its creators allowed for an unparalleled variety of art and culture to sprout across Somerset County’s vast lands; exciting, because most of the guests actually share the spirit of freedom on which this festival is built; and because the performing artists don’t come for the money. And it can be exhilarating when a great artist gives the performance of a lifetime, when you stumble into a tiny magical venue you had no idea even existed, or when you just lie on the ground to soak up the energy from the fields, which have been designed according to ancient sacred geometry.
Whatever it is, there’s a reason Michael Eavis at one point put his whole farm, the now world-famous Worthy Farm, which has been in possession of the Eavis family for more than a century, on the line to secure a £15,000 loan and keep the festival running.
Topless hippies at Glastonbury Fayre
Ian Tyas/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
– Topless hippies at Glastonbury Fayre
The festival has always been about the free expression of the soul. These wearing body paint were captured dancing in the audience at the Glastonbury Fayre, June 22-26, 1971.

The idea to host a festival on farm grounds came 50 years ago, in 1970, after Michael and Jean had visited the nearby Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. Seeing Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd inspired Michael to launch his own festival. 

He had the green fields, the motivation, but no experience. He liked the Kinks, found out who their agent was, and booked the band for £500. The band pulled out at the last minute, but their agent also represented Marc Bolan from T. Rex, who Eavis got for the same price. He sold tickets for £1, thinking he’d only have to attract 500 people to break even.
And even though 2,000 showed up and had a great experience, Eavis couldn’t pay his headline act in the end. “I had to tell his agent that I’d pay him £100 a month for five months from the milk profits. And that’s what I did.”
The event caught the attention of Andrew Kerr, who wanted to launch a free fair in Glastonbury. Because Eavis liked the idea of continuing the festival, and because he could use the rent to pay off his debt from the first edition, he agreed to let it happen on his land. 
The Glastonbury Fayre Manifesto, which is printed in the book “Glastonbury – An Oral History of the Music, Mud & Magic” by Crispin Aubrey and John Shearlaw, reads: “Glastonbury Fair [sic] (…) will be a fair in the medieval tradition, embodying the legends of the area, with music, dance, poetry, theatre, lights, and the opportunity for spontaneous entertainments. There will be no monetary profit – it will be free. Man is fast ruining his environment. He is suffering from the effect of pollution; from the neurosis brought about by a basically urban industrial society; from a lack of spirituality in his life. The aims of Glastonbury Fair are, therefore: the conservation of our resources; a respect for nature and life; and a spiritual awakening.”
The manifesto also laid out the sacred geometry of the site, which “lies on the solstice axis of the Zodiac.” Today, the festival features a sacred space with a stone circle that mimics the shape of the star constellation Cygnus the Swan, designed by Ivan McBeth and inaugurated in 1992 by the Glastonbury Order of Druids. The first Glastonbury Fayre took place June 20-24, 1971.
Glastonbury Festival
Leon Neal/Getty Images
– Glastonbury Festival
A boy sits on a stone in the Sacred Space as he watches the fireworks at the end of day one of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, June 26, 2019
The lineup featured, among others, Terry Reid, Traffic, Hawkwind and David Bowie, whose set got pushed way back because of overruns. After killing the hours at the kitchen table in the farmhouse, chatting to musicians Reid and Linda Lewis, getting drunk and stoned, Bowie finally took the stage at 5 a.m. to a mostly sleeping crowd. He returned in 2000 headlining a show considered one of the greatest Glastonbury performances of all time.
Bowie at Glastonbury
Andy Willsher/Redferns/Getty Images
– Bowie at Glastonbury
David Bowie performing at the Glastonbury Festival, June 25, 2000.

The most important factor for the festival’s success is the team assembled over the years. Among them are Richard Able, who managed the festival site from 1989 to 2000; Sheelagh Allen, Michael’s personal assistant since the late 1980s; Tony Andrews, who ran the main stage sound for more than a decade; Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn, who took over operations management in 2001 for 11 years (when the council didn’t trust Michael Eavis); infrastructure managers Robert Kearle and Bob St Barbe; main stage producer Mark Cann, and Chris Howes, head of medical services, and many more.

There’s all the folks who created new sites: Liz Eliot, who manages the Green Fields at Glastonbury; Roy Gurvitz, who launched Lost Vagueness area in the southeast corner of the festival, now known as “the naughty corner” and which developed into Shangri-La, now run by Chris Tofu of Continental Drifts; and the late Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, who created the theater and kids areas. “She was one of the most important people in the festival’s history,” Michael Eavis writes. 
The most fascinating aspect is the freedom with which everyone involved is empowered to do their thing. “That’s the most amazing thing about Glastonbury, about festivals, it’s many different parts, thousands and thousands of different people doing their things,” says Tofu, who’s been involved in the Lost Vagueness/Shangri-La field for nearly 30 years. 
The creation of Lost Vagueness in many ways exemplifies the spirit of Michael Eavis: Glastonbury was increasingly visited by new age travelers in the 1980s. Travelers, in the U.K., is a term for poor, working-class nomads that hate the government and capitalism. They used to regularly visit the nearby Stonehenge Free Festival, which got shut down in 1985, involving a violent altercation with police. 
The travelers subsequently set up shop at Glastonbury, which wasn’t fenced in at the time. Many arrived on site early, breaking in before the festival crew had arrived and taking up space intended for paying guests. They also stayed around for much longer, and often took over fields not owned by Michael Eavis. 
Eavis tolerated much of it; he never sent anyone home that genuinely couldn’t afford a festival ticket. But over the years, the travelers basically set up their own events, with vendors and entertainment, some went around looting, tearing down fences, and behaving in other ways that threatened Glastonbury’s license. What is more, drug dealers started battling each other on site. By 1989, Eavis was forced to let police inside in order to secure a license.
Things had gotten so out of control that local council refused to grant another license in 1990. Eavis came up with a plan: he got one of Arabella Churchill’s circus acts, Archaos, to headline the main stage, and told the politicians that it was now a theater festival, rather than a music event. The name was also changed to Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, which is its official name to this day. 
Also in 1990, Michael Eavis opened up the southeast corner of the festival for the travelers, to have them on his land and off other people’s. This area, led by Roy Gurvitz, became “Shangri-La,” as it is known today. 
Glastonbury Festival 2014.
Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
– Glastonbury Festival 2014.
Shangri-La is the after-hours epicentre of Glastonbury Festival, a largely indescribable, ephemeral and interactive world that really comes to life after dark.
“Glastonbury’s always been so fantastic, because it provides this experience beyond the main stage. Some of us haven’t visited the main stage in 10 years. Although you get to check some of the best bands in the world, David Bowie’s been there, and Pink freaking Floyd, all that sort of stuff, everything, the ability to go off and lose yourself in places that you’ve never been, and be more intimate with the band, really creates a certain magic that Glastonbury excels at,” says Tofu.
“I’m talking about crazy brass bands, Ska, and things with so much vibe and soul, people at festivals are actually addicted to that. It’s not what you’re going to hear on the radio by any means, but it is actually designed to make a festival person go crazy.”
Nothing has changed in that regard. Tofu estimates the total number of stages on the entire Glastonbury site at close to 80. Shangri-La alone involves some 2,000 artists each year, if you counted everyone on stage doing something, and that’s just one field. Tofu recalls, “when we first started Lost Vagueness, that was the only thing in that area. However, the whole area of the south east corner there, including the incredible Block 9, the Common, the Fair Ground, and then of course into the Green Fields, have created this kind of peer pressure that makes us all want to be as brilliant as possible. And then there’s Joe Rush’s stuff, Arcadia stuff, it’s bloody complex.”
Glastonbury Festival 2019
Leon Neal/Getty Images
– Glastonbury Festival 2019
The Arcadia Pangaea area puts on a pyrotechnic display as festival-goers dance to a DJ set on day four, June 29, 2019.
Block 9, alongside The Glade, are the favourite Glastonbury areas of Rb Wilmshurst, CEO of See Tickets, which has been Glastonbury’s exclusive ticketing partner since 2000. Wilmshurt remembers the first meaning with Eavis. “We were imaginative and like-minded. He travelled to Nottingham to visit our then small offices. It was a special day and within a few days we did a clever deal that got us into position. Since then, we have worked closely with them to launch concepts to solve problems they had in touting (photo registration) and in traffic (point to point coach travel service to over 20,000 customers from all around the U.K.) and developed the systems able to meet that demand. 25 minutes to sell that out is not bad really!”
Today, millions of people apply for tickets each year. “The demand, which we can handle, off the scale. I cannot comment on the size of the database, other than it is very big. There a long odds to get a ticket,” Wilmhurst explained. Glastonbury offers a re-sale of tickets returned by customers who cannot make the event. These returned tickets are released to the public in April. 
Wilmhurst says the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks about Glastonbury is “their single minded vision to deliver an event that really does blow everything else away, their loyalty and dedication to their staff and contractors and the feeling that we are working for and within a family. Today this is so rare and we never take it for granted.”
Pyramid Stage
Old picture PA Images via Getty Images / New picture Jason Bryant
– Pyramid Stage
The Pyramid Main Stage then (1971) and now.
The man in charge of the big performers is Martin Elbourne, one of the festival’s main bookers. The first act he sold to Michael Eavis was The Smiths in 1984, a pivotal moment for Glastonbury. “He never had the young, hip acts before, it was very much old-school. I mean, good acts, but it was very much aimed at an old hippie audience,” Elbourne recalls.
One of the world’s top bands at the time, The Smiths attracted more than 50,000 people to the festival. The Legends Slot at Glastonbury, which will be filled by Diana Ross, this year, was Elbourne’s idea, although he admits, “If you speak to Michael he’ll say it was his. We’d have friendly arguments, ‘I’ve booked them,’ ‘no, Michael, I did.’ That’s what it’s like working with Michael.”
Amy Winehouse at Glastonbury Festival
BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images
– Amy Winehouse at Glastonbury Festival
The singer performed at the festival two years in a row. This picture was taken on June 28, 2008.
Today, Glastonbury is in the luxurious position of selling out before announcing even one act – this year’s ticket cost £265 and sold out in 38 minutes. Most ticket buyers just love music discovering new bands. A Glastonbury set can make or break a career. Coldplay’s debut performance in 2002 comes to mind, Michael Eavis had to actually convince their agent and manager that the band was ready for a headline slot, and they killed it. 
Radiohead’s debut Glastonbury performance in 1994 boosted the band’s career. Emily Eavis considers Radiohead’s headline show three years later one of the best sets in Glastonbury history. 
Radiohead Perform At Glastonbury Festival In 1997
Pete Still/Redferns
– Radiohead Perform At Glastonbury Festival In 1997
Emily Eavis considers the performance on June 28, 1997, one of the greatest in the festival
Another one is Jay-Z in 2008. A lot of people were outraged that Glastonbury would be headlined by a rapper. He opened with Oasis’s “Wonderwall” to answer one of his critics, Noel Gallagher, and followed this with “99 Problems.” It was a defining performance, not just for Jay-Z’s career, but hip hop in general. One glance the lineup posters after 2008, and it becomes clear why.
There are not many artists Glastonbury has missed out on, says Elbourne: “The only British artist that’s never played is Elton John, but whenever he talks about it in the press, he always says he’s never going to do it, so who knows. We’ve had Page and Plant play, they’ve done it quite a few times, that would obviously be fantastic to get, if there was another Led Zeppelin show, but that’s totally out of our control. Depeche Mode have never done it. They’re actually much bigger in mainland Europe than they are in the U.K. But we were nearly going to do it, and then they literally got offered three football stadiums in one weekend in France. We said, fair enough, they’re going to earn 10, 20-times as much money.”
The influence Glastonbury’s had on the festival business is enormous and incalculable. There’s no telling if Coachella, Bonnaroo or even Burning Man ever happen without Glasto. In 1997, before Coachella even launched, co-founder Paul Tollett went to Glastonbury with a stack of pamphlets for his planned festival in the sunny California desert. “It was mind-blowing,” Tollett told The New Yorker, “Worst rain ever. We had this pamphlet I was giving out, showing sunny Coachella. Everyone was laughing.” Nowadays, nobody’s laughing about Coachella, the perennial highest grossing festival which clearly looked to Glastonbury for proof of concept.
Mud Flaps
Mick Hutson / Redferns
– Mud Flaps
Glastonbury is as known for glorious sunshine as it is for epic mud fests. This mass of muddy fans got tangled up at Glastonbury Festival 2013.
And what about Michael Eavis himself? Any bands he would have loved to have at the festival in all those years, but never got the chance to book?
“The Grateful Dead were my dream band to start with in the seventies, but wouldn’t it have been the very best to have had Elvis or Frank Sinatra? We’re still waiting for Fleetwood Mac to turn up!” he tells Pollstar, and adds: “I’m so chuffed though that we’ve had most of the best bands in the world, not forgetting our legendary Avant Garde and theatre side of things.”
Glastonbury pays artists far less than other festivals. It cannot afford today’s headline fees, seeing that it deliberately avoids in-your-face branding on site, even the main sponsors like BBC, the Guardian or mobile network operator EE, aren’t represented with massive logos. Beer names on taps is as overt as branding gets on site. 
Glastonbury’s general counsel Ben Challis explains, “The BBC once tried to put a big logo up at the back of the farm. I went, ‘No, you can’t have it.’ They said, ‘But we’re the BBC.’ Don’t care, we don’t want a big sign up anywhere.”
Janelle Monáe
Leon Neal/Getty Images
– Janelle Monáe
After entering the audience and rubbing Glastonbury mud into her face at the end of her headline performance on the West Holts Stage, June 30, 2019.

Seeing how many brands want to be involved with the event, one of Challis’ main tasks these days is telling people “no.” “I know, most festivals will bite your hand off, and a lot of people only consider money, but Michael and Emily and Nick will consider a range of things when looking at projects, and money’s not always the most important, in fact, it often isn’t the most important factor,” he says. 

Which is one reason it took some time for Glastonbury to scale. In its latest financial report Glastonbury Festivals Ltd. for the year ending March 18 reported revenues of £44 million ($56.8 million).
Challis’ other big task is artist contracts, which come with the most diverse demands imaginable. “We had the Morrissey contract, which said that the whole site had to be vegetarian or vegan, I can’t remember, that there could be no meat products on sale anywhere.
Morrissey’s played the festival before, he’s fully aware it’s a dairy farm. We obviously said no. We’re more than happy to give you your own dressing room area, of course, all the catering will be vegan or vegetarian, which ever you want, we’d remove animal products of any sort, but we’re not shutting down all the burger vans. It’s a festival, and it’s a dairy farm as well. There was a clause in the Kenny Rogers rider, which said he must have a guest table – a table – in front of the stage. Really? It was designed, I suppose, for theater shows, or well-paying club shows, but certainly not what we do. Springsteen was appalled that we had a curfew, but he’s always appalled by curfews. He loves playing so much, he’s fabulous.”
Glastonbury’s backstage area is nice, but it’s still basic compared to other major festivals that have turned their backstage into luxurious wellness facilities. But that’s just the spirit of the festival. The Eavises would rather invest the profit they make into the fields – last year they commissioned Joe Rush to build a Victorian pleasure pier on site. Most profits go to charity, mainly Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid, as well as some local charities. The Eavises aim to raise £2 million for such purposes each year. 
Charities are inextricably linked with the festival’s history. In 1981, Michael Eavis began a cooperation with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which not only jived with his own values, but also helped spread the word about the festival among its huge base of supporters. Eavis goes as far as writing that “the whole success of the festival was actually down to that, I think.” 
Other milestones include a deal with Channel 4 in 1994 and 1995, which got replaced by the BBC in 1997, after the festival had taken a fallow year. The first two BBC years were also the muddiest in history (a mud-year is part of any complete Glastonbury experience, just like the glorious sunshine years are). The TV broadcasts introduced an audience of millions to Glastonbury. 
And then there was the explosion of Britpop in the mid-1990s, which put bands like Oasis, Radiohead, Blur, Pulp, or Elastica on the map – and on the bill of several Glastonbury editions. It was one of the reasons why Emily Eavis fell in love with the festival. She’d been roaming the site on her father’s shoulder or her mother’s hip since she was born, but first camped on site as a fan in 1995. It showed her what all the fuss was about, and she really came to understand the magic of Glastonbury. 
Emily’s mother Jean is considered the mother of Glastonbury. She was the voice of reason in moments when an impulsive Michael might have made the wrong decision. And while she didn’t like all the elements that came with staging the event, she was always supportive of her husband, because she knew how much he loved it. It did take a toll on their relationship, though, and Michael actually promised that they’d end the festival in 2000. But then Jean died of cancer, shortly before the 1999 festival. 
Emily, who had begun a career as a teacher in London, came back to Worthy Farm to support her father, and they both decided to keep the festival going. On the Sunday morning of Glastonbury 1999, the entire main stage field went silent in honor of Jean Eavis. In Glastonbury’s anniversary book, Emily wrote that, since then, every festival feels like a tribute to her mother.
Not many daughters get so say that they’re going to inherit a festival, let alone th