Summer festivals - all over... until next summer

This year has been a bumper one for festivals – but could it be that our annual musical jamborees are getting just a little, well, boring?

When Damon Albarn sat down and wept on Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage on Sunday 28 June, the festival season reached its early pinnacle. He had just finished singing Blur's greatest song, "This is a Low". Looking out at tens of thousands of people roaring back every word, standing with old bandmates he never thought he would play with again, he was overcome. The Glastonbury crowd, who had already stopped the show by singing "Tender" long after Blur had stopped, had moved him, and were moved themselves by his brief collapse. It was the rock festival as communal, historic and musically meaningful event, impossible without that sheer weight of people, brought together in a West Country field.

Elsewhere, though, 2009 was a year when the point and even the survival of festivals was regularly called into question. Beachdown and Bloom were among the many that cancelled, while others, such as Cornbury, retrenched to ride the summer out. But even at Reading, still an automatic sell-out, Friday headliners Kings of Leon's Nathan Followill's on-stage rant at what he perceived as underwhelming crowd reaction suggested all was not well. Wandering through the site's nondescript field, sampling the cheap and nasty food, I felt little excitement. Saturday headliners Arctic Monkeys also seemed more bemused than thrilled, and even Radiohead on Sunday had to draw deep on decade-old hits to connect. Mutual boredom at the rituals of festival sets was rife. The functional presentation of dozens of over-familiar bands penned together in a field seemed suddenly prehistoric.

Of course, with so much music, some was still superb. Florence and the Machine's Florence Welch climbed the rigging in a bat-winged dress. Soulsavers, with grunge veteran Mark Lanegan standing ramrod straight as he sang in a voice velvet-rich with experience, played heavy music to a rapt crowd in a small tent as the Kings of Leon imploded.

Wireless, like all of London's festivals, struggled for atmosphere in Hyde Park. Its downsizing from a three-day general pop event, which Morrissey headlined last year, to two days of dance and hip-hop, again spoke of straitened times. But as a mostly teenage crowd roamed the dusty site, Kanye West's hubris, playing the misunderstood genius while surrounded by topless women, provided memories. My best day in the capital was at Madstock. Madness carefully chose a bill of friends – Jerry Dammers, The Blockheads, The Pogues – which gave personal and musical context to their bittersweet pop world.

The Isle of Wight, the summer's first major festival, benefits from the island's consistently sunny climate in June. Closing with the Pixies and Neil Young, who treated the stage like a Greenwich Village coffee-house with solo acoustic songs before plugging in his electric guitar with a crackling boom, was a coup. The Zombies' Colin Blunstone's singing in the Sunday morning sun was equally unforgettable, connecting the festival to its 1960s origins. Bestival, with Kraftwerk and Massive Attack, also exploited one of south east England's more beautiful spots.

What I felt, as one festival piled into the next, was a pressing need for purpose beyond a cushy summer income for the bands who play high-paid half-hours at most of them (step forward the Pigeon Detectives and Maximo Park, still good the fourth time I saw them, but really...).

Last weekend's End of the Road Festival was the best I went to partly because the bill wasn't a lazy list of big bored indie bands, but based on the taste of its organisers, Simon Taffe and Sofia Hagberg. This attracted a like-minded crowd to the otherworldly beauty of Dorset's Larmer Tree Gardens, recalling the sense of shared values when Woodstock instigated the festival dream. Hearing Okkervil River's thrilling set of hip narrative rock while finishing a fresh-baked cake amidst magically lit trees was, in its non-conformist pleasure, profoundly rock'n'roll. Latitude tries unconvincingly hard for this quirkiness. Green Man (which pulled in America's best band, Wilco) and Glastonbury are End of the Road's only models. And in a doom-laden year for the "festival industry" (a term telling what's wrong), it sold out and turned a profit.

The twin ends of creative discovery and community always apply at Womad, of course, whose variety of fresh sounds from around the world is still unrivalled. The Black Arm Band's largely aboriginal all-star revue fought Australia and Britain's racial crimes with soulful music and Dylan-esque lyrical resource. Seeing Western Saharan rebel queen Mariem Hassan and Northumberland's The Unthanks cooking dishes in the Taste the World tent was also happily intimate.

A creeping malaise that Womad wasn't immune from was the insistence of older fans on bringing often impassable barricades of furniture to sprawl on. Oxfordshire's Cornbury, aka "Poshstock", was perhaps the worst culprit, but compensated with hit-packed sets from resourceful old-timers The Pretenders and The Damned, a policy also adopted at Cheltenham's Wychwood, with Supergrass and The Beat.

Half the towns I passed through seemed to have a folk festival. "It's not music we'd listen to ever, really," a couple told me of one in their Northamptonshire village that they'd wholly enjoyed. From Moseley to Rochester, towns and villages are using music to revive and define themselves.

Glastonbury retains the festival crown, a sometimes frighteningly vast assembly of people and music which, through the soon-retiring Michael Eavis, retains a sense of broader values, and the possibility of mighty moments like Damon's breakdown, and Blur's apotheosis. For the rest, a sense of place and musical purpose, on a human scale, must be the future: not just bands with guitars in a fenced-in field, there out of habit, not need.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific