Glasgowbury is a way of life for many – just ask Paddy Glasgow – but it is also a pilgrimage; a rite of passage.
Those who have not experienced a music festival will, perhaps, be oblivious to its allure and probably scoff at the idea of a rambunctious, raucous gathering of all-sorts in the shadow of Eagles Rock being in any way sacred, but it is. Briefly consider the various things that people have previously held up as being sacred. Consider fasting and excruciating acts of mountain-climbing. Croagh Patrick, for example. How people thought that climbing that barefoot would invoke a spiritual awakening is beyond me. The view is certainly breathtaking, but I’d prefer to wear proper footwear. Ultimately it’s glorified masochism.
I don’t intend to completely depreciate the merits of a barefoot uphill battle as a path to enlightenment, but there are other ways, and Glasgowbury is certainly one. I’ve been to several Glasgowbury festivals and each has undoubtedly surpassed the last. I could write a book of reasons as to why it should be considered a pilgrimage, but time constraints and earthly priorities dictate that I narrow it down for the sake of this article.
The music, of course, is the primary attraction. The festival has been described by Hot Press magazine as ’an annual celebration of all that’s best in Irish music culture’ and there is no doubt about that. Musicians of all hues, from all over the island, descend upon the valley and unleash their souls. Literally. The scintillating energy is absorbed into the environment and it creates an electrifying atmosphere in which everyone delights. Derry has been extremely well represented in past festivals, which is a testament to the preponderance of talent in this little corner of the world. Fighting With Wire, the prodigious rock trio, have been consistent performers at the festival, bringing their exuberant style to the stage. Heavy metal group, Triggerman, are also veterans of the Glasgowbury stage. Others such as the eccentric Here Comes The Landed Gentry, the bluesy Swanee River and Celtic Thunder’s Keith Harkin have all performed. Actress and songbird, Bronagh Gallagher and Paul Casey are also among the Derry contingent to have performed over the years.
In between visiting stages and soaking up the sheer vitality of the occasion, if you happen to be in need of unwinding (or if you’re just old…), you can relax and indulge in some holistic therapy, such as reflexology. There are also creative spaces in which festival-goers can personalize banners and t-shirts, or even their own faces. In addition to the wide variety of genres on show, these alternative activities complement the far-reaching appeal of the festival. Indeed, it is little wonder that Glasgowbury has collected various Irish Festival Awards, including winning the Best Family and Best Service categories for three consecutive years. Not bad for a wee event based in Draperstown.
It is not only the festival music and entertainment that makes Glasgowbury a worthy pilgrimage. Indeed, while the mellifluous vibes are a massive factor, perhaps the most important element of the occasion, is the people who attend. The campsite becomes one of the most vibrant areas in the valley, as the all-sorts from all-over mingle and socialize. Most of the musicians actually camp with the spectators – I recall a campsite sing-a-long of about fifty people around a tepee with Keith Harkin, Bap from Triggerman and Fighting With Wire, where ’Hey Jude’ was sung ad nauseam – but other aspiring musicians often come equipped with their own sounds. In fact, I’m almost sure a neighbouring group of campers erected a makeshift stage from cardboard boxes one year. Innovative flags can be seen on display, which, I’m told, are often used as a beacon for the inebriated who tend to lose themselves in the euphoria of it all.
Only a few months after the hullabaloo of elections, with the dust now settled, it is interesting, and perhaps appropriate, to conclude with the fact that Assembly candidate Eamonn McCann once described Glasgowbury as ‘…an annual eruption of collective joy, an occasion for stepping out en masse from straight-jacketed society to share in the sense of freedom and couldn’t-carelessness that comes from sloughing off the rules that confine and constrict and aim to categorise us all’.
So there you have it – at least one politico is an advocate of the Glasgowbury experience. That’s a start, I suppose.
This year’s Glasgowbury will take place on the 23rd of July, with over 50 acts performing over 5 stages. Tickets are priced at £30 (Day Ticket) and £40 (Festival&Camping) and are available from HMV stores nationwide. For more information check out the official Glasgowbury website, www.glasgowbury.com
By Ryan Kelly