Ignore the cynics, Glastonbury's still got it

It may be more mainstream than ever, but Worthy Farm is still the first stop for magical memories, says Rob Sharp
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The Independent Culture

I'm still trying to work out whether I'm looking forward to Glastonbury, later this week.

With its endless nights, Met Office baiting, diverse age-range – which isn't useful for anyone apart from the organisers, really – and Top of the Pops talent, it could become a bit of a schlep. To go there to work is a privilege, but grafting at a festival can sometimes feel akin to going to a party and being told to stand in the corner. Don't get me wrong, I can see the appeal of getting messed-up, amorous tumbles on heathery hillsides, cementing future memories of bands to soundtrack your life to. But these days much of my enjoyment can depend on the random divinations of a hormonal cocktail influenced by sleep and how my mood chooses to greet alcohol and caffeine. Without the buoyancy provided by a large group "getting the lagers in", maybe it'll just eke out a faint echo of what used to be.

Whatever happens, though, I'm certainly looking forward to Worthy Farm more than Brendan O'Neill. Writing last week in The Spectator, O'Neill, editor of the often-provocative online magazine Spiked, and a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, maligned what he perceived as Glastonbury's "Nanny State" – the attempts by police to catch criminals by planting tents with their flaps purposefully open, for example – and the widespread use of CCTV. "Now older, greyer and more money-minded, they think that the young are not trustworthy or sensible after all, and therefore must be prodded and goaded like cattle," he writes.

How provocative. On the one hand, we have O'Neill's insistence that people regard Glastonbury as an isolated island of "mud, drugs, drunkenness, moshing, free love" – er, free love? – on the other, we have his libertarian aversion to over-policing. Angles are like bottom-holes in journalism, everyone's got one, but O'Neill seems to have got the two confused. Summing up the experiences of 130,000 people like this is akin to stating New York "isn't what it used to be", shamelessly reductive.

My experiences last year were exactly the opposite – I felt like "young people" were dominant, I certainly didn't feel restricted in any way – but would feel somewhat embarrassed about expanding that into a jeremiad. All I can say is that in 2009 the most enjoyable elements were Neil Young's titanic performance, Blur's comeback and Damon Albarn breaking down on stage – I now find "The Universal" almost painful to listen to – and renting a convertible, like a poor emulation of the reckless human I would like to be, and careering down the motorway at 90. But maybe I'm not cool enough to climb fences.

Glastonbury has become a mainstream event, akin to Hay-on-Wye or the Edinburgh Film Festival, and that slide has gained momentum over decades. While I'm disappointed at the selection of Muse to headline this year – it seems to be a cynical attempt to reprise their success in 2004 – the possibility of seeing the show Gorillaz took to Coachella makes me excitedly foam at the mouth. And who could appeal to more people than Stevie Wonder? The XX? Woodstock is as anachronistic as England's World Cup win in 1966. Good bands are certainly there if you look hard enough – Dirty Projectors, LCD Soundsystem – and if you're looking for new ways to have a good time, 900 acres seems like a good place to start. I think I'll give Glastonbury a proper shot, after all. Maybe I'll massage my endorphin peaks with righteous indignation. Not against "The Man". But against the protectors of a world that no longer exists – "this new morality of 'safe sex'... is the polar opposite of 'free love', which was based on the idea that exploring other people's bodies and minds is a fun and uplifting thing to do," writes O'Neill – seeking to stifle the enjoyment and well-being of others with sensationalist diatribes against safe sex and security.