Pop music: The greatest show on earth

What better way to spend next month's eclipse? Pay pounds 150 to sit around in mud listening to rich pop stars.
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The Independent Culture
However did they start? Did a Neanderthal man, possibly sporting a ponytail, scan the horizon then declare to his companions: "The drainage is poor, it's on a flood plain, and the soil sticks to your loincloth even when dry. Let's hold the first annual Hunter-Gatherer stick-hitting festival right here! Ug, you're in charge of security. Ugga, you can perform your expressive dancing. The rest of you, build a wicker man, and we're away."?

We're now well into the festival season, and this year will see more bemused people in fields than any since 1945. Glastonbury has been and gone of course, the usual 100,000 music fans inadvertently sponsoring a similar number of tent robbers, but with August 11th's solar eclipse visible from the far South-west of England, anyone with access to a site is out to make a once-in-a-lifetime killing from this once-in-a-lifetime event.

You can choose from Plymouth's Total (a gobsmacking pounds 106.50, headliners Orbital and Asian Dub Foundation), or the Lizard, "a truly spectacular holiday experience" offering powerboating and that inevitable child pacifier, basket weaving. They'll thank you for it after the impending apocalypse. How about Moonshadow, featuring Van Morrison and Roni Size; the excellently named Totality Dance, pounds 145 but probably still cheaper than nearby Newquay's clubs in peak season; Sunshadow, offering Sham 69 (?!) for a trifling pounds 85; or, best of all, an indoors event at Carlyon Bay with Happy Mondays and 808 State for only pounds 150. All include camping, mind. If Cornwall doesn't sink into the Atlantic under the weight of all those punters the discarded flyers ought to finish the job.

There's no such hysteria in Europe, probably because they're aware of the relationship between poor weather and pop festivals. There seems to be some kind of geekfest at Munich's Observatory, and that's it. Clearly it's only the British who'll one day have to admit that they spent the two minutes of nature's greatest show watching Kula Shaker in a Cornish field.

Even that will surely pass into festival mythology. For years it was claimed that 250,000 saw the last British shows of Hendrix and the Doors on the Isle of Wight. Hmm, D-Day only transported 156,000 men and that required 6,000 vessels. The grandaddy of them all, Woodstock, held nowhere near the attractive town of Woodstock, is back again this year. Fans of bad music can pay $150 to watch Bush, Korn, Jewel etc. You could pay $60 to access pay-per-view, but you won't get to visit the Jimi Hendrix Bus Experience, a multimedia extravaganza in a red truck. Despite all the hype about music and peace, money rules. At Woodstock 2 in 1994, alcohol was banned. If that had been attempted on this side of the pond, punters would have been hurling their tent pegs at the organisers - but not there. Tent pegs were banned, too. And it rained again. Thankfully the Eclipse celebrations are strictly a one-off.

These events can prove lucrative. For instance, the Lizard organisers will probably be paying their three headliners a sum in excess of pounds 50,000 each, yet with tickets for event priced at pounds 125 - pounds 40 more than Glastonbury - and a capacity of 20,000, there could be pounds 2,500,000 circulating. Clearly, the eclipse portends good fortune for some.

Not only promoters benefit. The average fee for a bill-topper these days is between pounds 200,000 and pounds 400,000. Manic Street Preachers, headliners at Glastonbury, T In The Park and V99, should clear well over a million in fees plus the profits from their oh-so-witty "Just Another Festival" T- shirts. Who can blame them?

Festivals are proliferating like nuclear powers. How about Salisbury's Enchanted Garden, pounds 55 and featuring a line-up that will be familiar only to readers of the irresistibly pretentious The Wire; Wicked Women, including Ronan Keating, Mark Morrison and many, er, women; and the Guildford weekend, the only place where you can see Dodgy and the Wurzels on the same stage this year. Everywhere has a festival these days, usually featuring Eddi Reader. From St Ives to Carlisle, her appearance is presumably stipulated in the licence application. As for Bjorn Again, the weak Australian joke with a longer half-life than plutonium, if they're on after two o'clock, you've been gulled. Bjorn Again are playing frequently in Cornwall this August.

The only genuine alternatives appear to be two events at the end of the season. All Tomorrow's Parties is the follow-up event to this spring's super-indie Bowlie Festival. For your pounds 90 you get to stay in a Camber Sands holiday camp, with proper accommodation, late bars and lots of decent second-tier bands.

Even more civilised is the extraordinarily underpublicised Liss Ard arts event, held at a beautiful spot in Skibbereen in West Cork. Last year, Patti Smith and Michael Stipe sang together and planted a tree. This year promises Nick Cave, John Cale, Arab Strap and a host of unannounced horticulturalists. The cost? A sobering pounds 250, but you can bet that your tent won't get swiped.