Glastonbury, the world’s largest music and performing arts festival, welcomes 200,000 people to its greenfield site at Worthy Farm in Somerset this week. Faced with a five-day population the size of Portsmouth, it’s little surprise to see organisers embrace more smart tech to keep the tented city running, and as safe as it can be in troubled times, says Julian Blake.
Now in its 46th year, this week’s Glastonbury Festival sees headline performances by Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran, alongside hundreds of other performances on smaller stages across its 150 acres. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn gets in on the act too, teeing up rappers Run the Jewels.
The festival, hosted by its dairy farmer founder Michael Eavis, has boosted its digital capacity in recent years. A free festival app is available on both iOS and Android created by EE. Alongside personal scheduling, it offers GPS positioning for your tent and meeting friends, and the ability to watch BBC highlights, and Apple Music integration, if you can’t make it to the show.
The mobile network predicts that festival fans will use 40tb of data across the weekend, up a third on 2016. That demand is driven by fans’ insatiable appetite for video livestreams on social media, especially Instagram Stories and Facebook Live. To cope, EE has installed a permanent network mast on the Glastonbury site to allow for greater 4G connectivity.
Smartphone users will be able to refuel at free charging points, as well as have access to juice power bars including wireless and QC30 stations, which charge up phones in half an hour.
For those festie goers who can’t quite escape their tech addictions, EE is also showcasing “the world’s first 4G-connected smart tent” on site, with a connected mini fridge, VR headset and security camera and (yep) “solar-powered wellie warmers”.
It’s all come a fair way from Glasto’s first outing in 1970, when 1,500 people showed up enticed by free milk and Marc Bolan on stage, for an entry fee of £1. The only connection festival goers looked for back then was the one with nature.
Plenty of Glasto veterans still prefer to go completely offline for the duration rather than hang on to their urban tech gadgets. Many stay resolutely analogue, rather than stressing over reception and a lack of juice.
Ticketing for Glastonbury moved entirely online for the first time for 2017, with an independent platform powered by Nottingham ticket agency See Tickets handling all bookings. All 135,000 general tickets sold out through the site in just 50 minutes last October, at £243 a piece – albeit with some inevitable glitches.
All festival goers had to pre-register with photo ID, which many will find reassuring in the wake of recent UK terror attacks, alongside extra bag and vehicle searches on the gate. Most do acknowledge though, that festivals of this kind are among the hardest events to protect against random attacks. But the show goes on.
The festival is a dream come true for sound and light buffs, with the likes of Arcadia’s robotic spider extravaganza and the Glade offering world-class amplified sound alongside the central Pyramid stage system. For those not in Somerset, the festival is the BBC’s biggest outside broadcast, anywhere.
Running counter to the profit motives of other festivals, Eavis insists that Glastonbury puts a strong emphasis on its work to support charitable causes. The limited company running the festival donates most of its profits to charity including Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace, alongside numerous local causes from the Pilton village working men’s club to church bell restoration.
Since 2000, say organisers, the festival has paid over £1m to charities and other worthy causes every year. It is thought that the festival contributes over £100m to the UK economy.
In a new feature for 2017, LiveTree.com, a social crowdfunding site for developing and marketing creative video content, has partnered with Illumina Studios for a series of social impact documentary screenings during the festival.
Illumina’s Candelight Cinema pops up in the festival’s tipi field at the Ancient Futures stage, screening consciousness-raising films to help instigate change. AWAKE: A Dream From Standing Rock tells the story of the native American resistance to the pipeline drilling at North Dakota’s Standing Sioux Reservation.
LiveTree’s rewards-based social crowdfunding site, launched in May, has built an online community of 10,000 investors to raise £150,000.
Glastonbury Festival runs from 21-25 June.