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Summer Festivals, British Customs

For many, British Summer Time heralds the summer festival season. If
you are in Britain and have time on your hands, it is possible to
spend the entire summer travelling around Britain enjoying one summer
festival after another. The summer festival calendar is so tightly
packed that you could probably attend a different festival on each and
every day of the summer!

It all started with the hippies and the summers of love. Back in the
60s the ‘flower power’ generation hoped to solve all the world’s
problems by gathering in huge numbers in a field, camping in hugely
unsanitary conditions and generally just loving each other. Despite
partying on a scale possibly unseen in this country since Celtic
times, the hippies failed to bring about world peace. But at least the
festival culture was born and this gave rise to many summers of
pleasure for generations to come! The theme of camping out in a field
with music as a distraction was not invented by the hippies though as
bikers had been doing it at massed rallies since at least the 1950s.

In the early days the main summer festivals were held at Stonehenge
and Glastonbury. Stonehenge was the archetypal hippy free-festival.
Held in a field that was basically illegally squatted for the
duration, there was no entrance ticket or fee and many acts played for
free. The festivals were loosely organised by collectives and any
funds required would be usually be raised from the many traders on
site selling their various wares. Glastonbury has grown in size and
stature and is arguably the high spots of the British summer festival
calendar. Reading and Knebworth are other ‘vintage’ venues still
sitting at the top of the festival roster each year. Many other famous
and historic venues, such as Donnington and the Isle of Wight, have
become well known festival grounds. The Isle of Wight staged a major
festival back in the flower power days of the 60s but this did not
continue annually. Only in recent years has the island welcomed
festivals again, and now there are several key gatherings held on the
Isle of Wight each year.

The range of moderns festivals is huge. All tastes are catered for
with folk festivals like the Cambridge Folk Festival, reggae vibes
available at the One Love Festival in Kent, heavy metal at thrashing
away at Bloodstock and of course contemporary rock and pop festivals
like Glastonbury and Reading. The nature of the festival has changed
somewhat from the idealistic days of the 60s. Today they are slick
commercial affairs covered in expensive blue chip hype with major
sponsorship and product placement deals needed to cover the enormous
financial overheads. The ramshackle market stands and ad hoc food
traders have been replaced by well organised market areas that even
include national fast food franchises at the majority of the big
festivals.

Fortunately toilet facilities have progressed somewhat, even if
they’re still primitive compared to home comforts. For many a
festival-goer the most traumatic part of the whole festival experience
is still the toilets. The Portaloos in use at most festivals, however,
a big step up from the festival toilets of old, which basically
consisted of trenches and, if a touch of luxury was on hand, buckets.

Given the toilet horrors and the ever present possibility of rain and
mud, what attracts so many thousands to hand over fairly substantial
amounts of their hard earned cash to attend a British summer festival?
Music is of course high on the list. There are usually plenty of bands
to see; you might even get the chance to see a number of your
favourite bands in the course of just one festival. Then there’s the
vibe. There is something very special about being in a very large
group of people who all like the same thing as you. This unique sense
of community is perhaps a survivor of those early flower power British
festival days.

Brit Quote:
My dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed - my dearest pleasure when free - Mary Shelley
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On this day:
Last Invasion of Mainland Britain - 1797, Dolly the Sheep Cloned - 1997, Securitas Depot Robbery - Britains largest - 2006
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