Who killed Glastonbury?

Maybe ticket sales are down, not because of Jay-Z, but because this music fest has become a dayout for geriatrics and poshos.

Emily Hill

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Stop the press. This year, tickets to the UK’s number one music festival, Glastonbury, failed to sell out within 24 hours. Cue angst.

Organiser, Emily Eavis, shot one hand out of whatever form of cheesecloth she’s sporting this year, to tick off all those media pundits who blamed the headline act – rapper Jay-Z – for scaring away guitar-fixated punters with his big-cocked brand of hip-hop: ‘We respect Jay-Z as an amazing artist’, she waggled her finger and wrinkled her nose in the Independent, ‘and so, obviously, we want to see him at the festival. There is no reason why we should not have the greatest living hip-hop artist on at Glastonbury; in fact, he is exactly the sort of act we should have performing.’

Actually the problem with Glastonbury this year has little to do with Jay-Z and very much to do with Emily Eavis, whose first line-up announcement of 2008 was, yes, you guessed it… rock legend Neil Diamond. It probably also has something to do with Glasto being so eager to cater to geriatrics (who can now claim back their caravan pitch through Saga insurance), the dwarfing hordes of middle-aged media types down there in galoshes on the advice of Jo Whiley, while Gwyneth Paltrow strews about pine nuts from her Winnebago window – Glasto having erected a giant security apparatus several years ago to keep out exactly the sort of people who make a festival a festival. (Namely, those who can’t afford to get into it and buy sufficient drugs for the weekend.)

Another gem of this year’s rosta is The Verve, who are headlining the Pyramid Stage. Clearly The Drugs Don’t Work enough on the crusties to make them think Richard Ashcroft worth spending a weekend caked in mud. And who could blame them?

The idea that Glasto is in any way countercultural was shot down half a decade ago by none other than current Conservative mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson. How? Well, Boris lauded the event: ‘It rapidly became clear to me that [Glastonbury] is also now completely pukkah, an event of the season much like Ascot and Wimbledon. It was immensely pleasing to see so many people who had just been at Henley Royal Regatta pretending that they were getting on down in the dirt like smoke-haired hippies. Hippies don’t say: “Oh dahling, hell-owh!”… I was more impressed by the capitalism of the place. Such vast amounts of tat being for sale at such exorbitant, marked-up prices makes Glastonbury a wonderful lesson in the benefits of the free market. For a theoretically anti-capitalist event, it struck me as being the height of entrepreneurship and kick-ass salesmanship.’

But then Boris never really did understand the counterculture, for the hallmarks of capitalism he holds up as ‘ludicrous’ are precisely the sorts of things that young free thinkers would refer to as integral to the liberation of their minds: ‘Tarot-card readings, alternative medicine, the chance to have your hands henna’d, your head henna’d, your pubic hair henna’d.’ As any fule know, an alternative mindset is bred on revolutionary hairstyling, and fed on the magical properties of certain life-saving organic vegetables.

So if the ‘is Jay-Z right for Glasto?’ question comes up at a dinner party near you this weekend, take it from me: certain soft heads will continue to fret over the threat this bad-assed American poses to our fetishised national grandstand for traditional rawk music. Don’t listen to them. Listen to some Jay-Z instead. (Start with The Black Album and go backwards.) And meanwhile, I’d like to echo the man himself for a minute: Glastonbury’s got 99 problems – but Jay-Z ain’t one.

Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.

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