Glastonbury calls to music lovers

Fest funds aim to help charity

More than 177,000 attendees and millions of TV viewers will celebrate Glastonbury Festival this week as the world’s biggest — and many say best — annual live music event marks its 40th anniversary.

As a nod to this milestone, producers have lined up a list of artists from previous fests, including headliners Gorillaz, Muse and Stevie Wonder.

More than just a music festival, a goal of Glastonbury is to be a promotional venue for environmental and social causes. This year,WaterAid, Greenpeace and Oxfam stand to gain from coin collected at the event, which begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

The goodwill generated by the charitable aspects has helped attract some of music’s biggest superstars, including Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, R.E.M., Rod Stewart, the Who, David Bowie, Coldplay, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, all of whom performed in recent years.

Located in the picturesque county of Somerset, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, as it’s formally known, began life in 1970 when — despite an audience of only 2,000 — the line-up included T. Rex with Marc Bolan arriving at the dairy farm setting in a velvet-covered Buick.

The continued pulling power of the event, which sold out this year, became clear when an injury to Bono last month forced U2 to cancel its appearance. While other festivals would be desperately scrambling to find an eleventh-hour replacement, Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis had only to wait for the phone to start ringing.

“We had lots of calls from bands. I was so pleased by that; it gave me more confidence about the festival than anything else,” said Eavis, a sort of Max Yasgur meets Bill Graham. “Because Damon Albarn did such a great job last year with Blur, the idea of him returning with Gorillaz really appealed.”

The sheer scale of “Glasto” is difficult to comprehend. The headliners account for just three of more than 500 performances that will be hosted across 30-plus official stages.

“It’s become part of the very fabric of Britain,” said John Giddings, promoter of the Isle of Wight Festival, which wrapped June 13. “The fact that artists are willing to play at Glastonbury for a substantially lower fee compared to other events just proves what kudos the festival has; it’s the envy of every promoter around the world,”

While the Fest is turning 40, the man whom people in the live music business affectionately call “the farmer” celebrates his own milestone this year — his 75th birthday. But contrary to widespread rumors, Eavis isn’t about to bring the curtain down. “I’m going to keep on going for at least another 10 years and hopefully beyond that,” he said.

Eavis’ lifestyle is hardly that of a rock star. Glastonbury’s gross annual revenue is estimated at £50 million ($73 million). But Eavis takes a salary of $95,000 because the main reason for the fest is to generate funds for charity.

All the proceeds from the festival after expenses go to the designated charities.

“We set out each year to make it the best show on Earth and I think the whole ethos of Glastonbury helps us attract bands,” Eavis told Daily Variety. “We try to give away about £2 million ($3 million) a year to charity. That helps create a different vibe.”

Headliner Wonder will be playing in London’s Hyde Park before making his way to Glastonbury for his slot. Eavis can’t wait for that performance, but when it comes to his all-time highlight, the farmer cites the fest’s first year.

“The Marc Bolan and T. Rex set was about the best thing I’ve ever seen, which was the very first festival,” he said. “The sun was setting behind the stage, and I thought: This is going to go on forever. It has, and 40 years later I’m still talking about it.”

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