No two people going to Glastonbury will have the same experience of it. It is different for everyone and unless they were joint at the hips, when entering the gates, each person will come out of the festival with unique memories. The festival is too big and there are simply too many things to discover for any two people to look back on it tell the same story. The choices are metaphorically speaking, unlimited. With 61 stages putting on shows day and night, more or less around the clock (with only a short break in the morning hours), one has barely enough time to sleep let alone have the opportunity to become disinterested.
There is, however, a group of people at the festival that will have an experience so different, so engaging and so immersive that they will never look back on Glastonbury in the same way. There is a group of people who will experience the Flipsyde: the stewards.
The difference between attending the festival as a punter (buying your ticket as a member of the public) and volunteering to be a steward is probably similar to the difference between going to see a film in a cinema and actually working on the set. I say probably because I have never been on a film set as part of the crew (yet – look out for that Hollywood Studios post in a month or so). The people who work on the set and the audience both get to watch the film in the end, however the people working on set see it as the result of their effort. Also the people who work on set have a viewing perspective on the film that is worlds apart from the audience.
One of the perks of being a steward, and probably the most alluring one for many, is that you get free entry. Considering that the Glastonbury tickets this year were £195 it is no small rewards but there are many more, intangible ones. Your knowledge and understanding of the internal workings of the festival increase exponentially. You get to see how much work goes into putting on all the shows that take place. Then of course there is the fact that you have a special wristband and a laminate that if used wisely can save you tons of time (this is probably an appropriate place to mention that this year saw the introduction of the new one way queueing system that allows access to the late night venues). Finally, while on shift you get a radio to play with which convinces some people that you are in fact a security guard. This gives you an opportunity to listen in on all of the, sometimes funny, stories exchanged on air. Combined, at the end of every shift you walk away with a rewarding feeling and a bunch of funny stories about what all the intoxicated people that you have helped during the night have done.
As it happens Glastonbury takes place the weekend after my university summer term finishes, therefore stewarding has become a kind of end-of-year ritual for me. I did it for the first time last year because I was really set on going but by the time I got around to trying to buy a ticket they were all sold out.
I looked for other ways I could get in and stewarding came up. I got a place. It was my first ever music festival and it was the first time I have ever done stewarding. It proved to be an exhilarating experience and more fun then I could have ever imagined. So naturally I returned this year to find more or less the same team in place. It was like the Glastonbury family was gathering again for another weekend of craziness.
This year, once I got over the initial excitement of being at Glastonbury I got a chance to explore alot more of the festival itself. I wondered over to the Park stage where amongst others I found the famous Hollywood sign, the Rabbit Hole and the Ribbon Tower. I also got a chance to take part in one of the many interesting workshops in the Craft Fields where I made a couple of leather bracelets (from scratch). I’m a sucker for bracelets and making one from real leather myself seemed like the thing to do after an all night shift at the Common (a late night area with venues like La Zona Baseline, The Lost Picture Show and The Wall of Death to please the sense of adrenaline hungry, nocturnal, party crowd of the festival)
These last two years have given me a lot of good memories and I will continue taking part in making the festival happen. I can’t imagine myself ever doing it the “normal”, punter, way ever again. It would be like going to an amusement park and only queueing for the best ride there while missing out on all the other ones. Being a steward simply has to much to offer. It is somewhat disappointing then to see that the festival will not take place next year. Especially because of lack of portaloos! However, since I will be in sunny California, doing my placement year at Cisco, this time next year I would have missed out on it anyway. This means that my end-of-year ritual will be put on hold until 2013 when I will come to Glastonbury once again as a graduate (piece of cake!).