The Glastonbury music festival was created out of the ethos of the 1960s countercultural hippie scene. It started in 1970 on September 19th, the day after the death of Jimi Hendrix. Many considered Hendrix’s death the final blow to the counterculture, while Woodstock in the previous year of 1969 is considered the end of the movement altogether. Regardless, Glastonbury, which started as the Worthy Farm Pop Festival by Michael Eavis, was constructed in an attempt to recreate the magic that Woodstock contained.
“It’s kind of a euphoria down here, away from the awful realities of life,” founder, Michael Eavis said in an interview, about the location of the festival – Pilton, Somerset. Inventively, Eavis started the festival in an attempt to clear his overdraft.
In the interview with the BBC, Eavis outlined some of the challenges that he faced in the first year. “Satisfying all the local authorities and the police, the health and the hygiene and all the departments, it’s is the most difficult aspect of the whole job.”
Eavis continued on the hardships of starting the festival: “The people (of the area) tried to talk me out of it. Having the police know that I wouldn’t change my mind, everyone has been very cooperative since.”
What worried Michael Eavis the most about the first year of the festival? “How many are going to get here, and how many gatecrashers there are going to be.”
Glastonbury has since yielded a yearly attendance of around 200,000 people, at least, and tickets are usually sold out in a matter of minutes. The headliners are the best rock and pop bands of the current moment.
We delved into all the details concerning the first-ever Glastonbury festival.
When was the first Glastonbury Festival?
The first-ever Glastonbury festival happened on September 19th, 1970 and it only ran for one day. It was initially called the Pilton Pop, Blues, and Folk Festival and approximately, 1,500 people were in attendance.
The Pilton Pop festival took place a day after Jimi Hendrix died and is considered England’s answer to Woodstock, channelling the ethos of the hippie counterculture.
The second year of the festival was when the festival adopted a new name: ‘Glastonbury Fair’.
Where is the Glastonbury Festival?
The location of the festival has not changed since day one, taking place in Pilton, Somerset in England.
Michael Eavis was inspired to start the festival after seeing Led Zeppelin perform at the 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive music. Eavis was unsure if he would continue the festival, however, he decided to go ahead with it the following year in 1971, this time, with help from other organisers. The second-year introduced attendees to the new ‘Pyramid Stage’.
The Pyramid Stage was built by Bill Harkin and it was a one-tenth replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Why did they change the name of the Glastonbury Festival?
The question remains: if the festival was more aptly called the ‘Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival’, as it takes place in Pilton, Somerset, then why the name ‘Glastonbury’?
What some may not know, is that prior to Michael Eavis starting the Pilton Pop Festival (which became Glastonbury), a Glastonbury music festival did exist before Eavis started the iconic festival as we now know it.
From 1914 to 1925, classical music composer, Rutland Boughton organised a cultural festival and he called it the ‘Glastonbury festival’.
Glastonbury is a town in Somerset, which lays claim to historical and mythical significance. Among these stories, include, Jesus Christ visiting the area as well the location for events surrounding King Arthur and the Holy Grail. Part of this legend claims that Glastonbury is the location of King Arthur’s grave. While these claims have not been proven, they have also not been disproven; professor of Archaeology, Roberta Gilchrist commented on this, saying: “We are not in the business of destroying people’s beliefs. A thousand years of beliefs and legends are part of the intangible history of this remarkable place.”
The reason for the change of the name, even though the festival itself takes place six miles east of Glastonbury – on Worthy farm, between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle – is because of its deep connection to these historical legends. There is a sacred bond to the arts and a tradition for it that has always been a mainstay of Glastonbury.
Who headlined the first Glastonbury Festival?
It is a wonder how Eavis was able to get The Kinks to headline the first Glastonbury festival, along with Wayne Fontana and “at least six other groups” as the poster read. Well, The Kinks didn’t actually perform; they pulled out of the show last minute and had Tyrannosaurus Rex headlined the festival instead.
Eavis was told after the fact, that if he had T-Rex performing, to begin with, and advertised as such, then there would have been more than 1,500 people in attendance. Whether that is true or not, it is no wonder that The Kinks (considering they had ‘Lola’ in the charts at the time) pulled out last minute, as they weren’t about to perform as guinea pigs at a fledgeling festival.
The Kinks were not the right act for this kind of festival, it would seem; bear in mind, this was ‘England’s Woodstock’; Tyrannosaurus Rex were the psychedelic hippie darlings of the time. This was before they went electric and shortened their name to T-Rex.
Instead, a cork-screwed fairy musician that is Marc Bolan, around this time, would sit cross-legged on the stage with his loyal companion, Steve ‘Peregrin’ Took, who played the bongos. Yes, his nickname was ‘Peregrin’, named after the hobbit character from Lord of The Rings. The legendary fantasy series by J.R.R Tolkien, inspired T-Rex like no other band, even putting Led Zeppelin to shame.
How much did the first Glastonbury Festival cost?
The ticket price for the first-ever Glastonbury festival was one pound, which equates to 15 pounds today. The cost of a ticket to attend Glastonbury now is around 250 quid.
As previously mentioned, one of Eavis’ incentive to start the festival was to get himself out of the red, financially and into the black. Of course, Eavis had to spend more money to create the festival in the first place.
The following year, in 1972, entrance to the festival was free of charge with the help of sponsors.
The issue of gatecrashing (people entering without a ticket) was not solved until the year 2000 when super fences were built.
While it is unclear whether Eavis ever got out of the red, the festival continued to grow over the years with help from volunteers. The festival has continued to donate its proceeds to charities in need.
Watch T-Rex perform ‘Magical Moon’ live on Holland to get a glimpse of the group’s powerful performance.