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Glastonbury 2004 hailed as the best ever - even as fields became a Flanders battleground
Mark Townsend Sunday June 27, 2004 The Observer
Susie stripped to her bikini and hurled herself into a bank of sludge. 'Come on, it's fun!' she shrieked. Her enthusiasm did not go unheeded. Soon scores were wriggling in the pool of brown soup. Naked wrestling was not long to follow. For many Glastonbury would not be the same without the mud, and throughout yesterday the heavens ensured this year's festival would be ranked alongside the legendary events of the past. The rustle of cagoules and slurp of feet ensnared in gloopy soil had again become the soundtrack to Europe's largest music festival.
By midday the once pristine Somerset fields were more reminiscent of a Flanders battleground. Reports of the first tent spotted floating in a pond of chocolate-coloured rainwater came soon after. Wellington boots were selling at 500 pairs an hour before the morning was out. Yet although more than 130,000 revellers awoke to the unceasing drum of driving rain upon canvas, it soon became evident it would take more than a downpour to dampen the fabled Glastonbury spirit. By the time Sister Sledge had left the main stage at 12.45pm, the party was in full swing and the mud-wrestlers out in force. Thousands gyrated defiantly in sodden fields that hours earlier had seemed so bleak the massive tented city resembled a rain-lashed refugee camp.
Yet for some the weather has provided a rare constant this year for a festival which began as a potent display of counter-culture, but whose gentrification in recent years has ensured it a place in the mainstream of British culture. Amid the vast car park of 35,000 vehicles, sleek convertibles, four-wheel drives and family saloons outnumbered the battered trucks of travellers by a ratio close to 50 to one. Before the rains arrived, members of the Newbury set had sat sipping Pimms in the sunshine, wrapped in the pungent fug of 1,000 disposable barbecues. One festival-goer celebrated with a long tug on a reefer: he had just finalised buying a ?280,000 house in Brixton.
Earlier, the deal had been on the brink of collapse after his estate agent had refused to take his calls. It transpired he, too, was at Glastonbury. So was the seller. They were not out of place, Glastonbury offers a lost weekend for everyone. Barristers, civil servants and IT consultants were among the saucer-eyed hordes still dancing as the first rain fell at 5am yesterday.
And they had brought their own brand of drugs: this is the summer of the Mexican truffle, a drug perfect for those keen to wallow in the hedonism of Glastonbury while avoiding waking up naked in the nearby village of Pilton. Mildly hallucinogenic, they are considered safe and, above all, legal. Entire groups clad in mud-flecked designer gear could be seen clutching plastic bags of what looked like dried sheep droppings. Mushrooms, too, are back in vogue for the same reason. The New Musical Express, the bible for the hedonists of a new generation, recently hailed them as the 'drug of choice' for this year's Glastonbury-goers. So profound appeared the change in drug use, it seemed plausible ?1 hash cakes had been made using a Gordon Ramsay recipe.
Festival founder Michael Eavis would have immediately noticed the lack of crusties and hippies compared to previous years. Dreadlocks were rare, dogs-on-a-string appeared extinct. Yet he would have felt vindicated that the festival's appeal has never been wider, and satisfied how some of Glastonbury's founding ideals have evolved with the times. The notion of free love, for instance; thousands of free condoms have already been handed out.
The pacifist beliefs of Eavis have certainly been realised this year. Glastonbury has never been safer and is already being heralded by most present as the best in its history. Only 121 crimes were reported by yesterday afternoon compared with 196 last year. A sophisticated security operation involving a 14ft steel fence, spotlights, CCTV cameras and watchtowers has again made it impossible for gatecrashers. Such changes have failed to dent the charming eccentricities among those occupying Lost Vagueness. Crowds could be seen yesterday morning performing the 'whale bender', a series of dance moves 'to charge up your batteries for a day's grooving.' Herbalists reported brisk business. Next door, in a white bandstand, women swayed while singing a Bulgarian folk song about the beauty of their gender.
Irene Sullivan from Wales, who has been coming to Glastonbury for 20 years, smiled: 'Glastonbury is part of the establishment now and so many are not able to get in, which is a great shame, but it's a lot safer than it was. The bottom line is that there is nowhere better.'