When I tell people that my wife and I are going to Glastonbury Festival this year, there is a generally positive response. Questions such as “are you camping?” and “who is on this year?” are forthcoming. There is also the question: “who’ll be looking after the little one while you’re gone?” And when I tell them that he is coming with us, their faces fall. “Isn’t it dangerous?” is one comment I receive.
Of course, my wife and I – and now our son – are all Glastonbury veterans, having gone as a family for the first time back in 2017 when he was just 8 months old.
You can read all about that fantastic experience over here: Feature: Taking A Family To Glastonbury So I suppose this is an update to that, to continue the tale of three music fans’ epic journey to the music Mecca of the world. One of those fans just happens to be an excitable little fellow between his second and third birthdays.
We start prepping him early, getting him excited about going to “the festival”, about sleeping in a tent and listening to bands. We pull out his fluorescent green ear defenders and get him excited about wearing them – he wears them around the house for days, refusing to take them off. We decide that a buggy just won’t cut it for the little man’s ride this year and after much research on the topic, we opt for a red metal and wood Tuff Terrain pull-along wagon. My wife sorts the bunting and I kit it out with lights to make sure it is clearly visible in the dark.
We set off, packing up the car and bundling in the little man at 2am on the Wednesday morning of gates opening. He’s so excited, he wakes as we lift him into the car and refuses to nod back off for the first hour of our 2.5 hour journey to Pilton, Somerset. The drive is a breeze and we’re parked up in record time. The Tuff Terrain also doubles as that all-important trolley to ferry things to and from the car park and campsite, so I load it up with the essentials for round one – tent, airbed, food & drink and our daypacks. We also bring along a pre-loved toddler back carrier to load the little man on one of our backs when we he refuses to walk.
It’s not long until we’re squarely in the queue to enter via gate B … which opens in over two hours. It’s also not long until our little fella is entertaining those around us with his non-stop singing – it’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that’s on loop as those around us sink deeper into their camping chairs, hiding under hats and hoodies attempting to grab a few moments of precious sleep.
No, he can’t sit still, so my wife and I take it turns to walk him up and down the snaking and quickly growing queue of people, everyone happy to see his smile and making way. As the gates finally open at 8am and the mass of people crunch together snaking their way around the barriers, it is finally time for the little man to nod off in his carrier.
We’ve found our way to the Cockmill Meadow family campsite in no time and there’s even a pitch not too far from the path big enough for our Vango Iris 500 with a few other tents nearby also on their way up. We position it such that there really isn’t any space for more tents to be pitched between us and the road so we can easily navigate the wagon in and out. But that doesn’t stop a tent appearing in the limited space overnight or another squeezing in shortly after.
Nothing is ever simple with a toddler at hand – he wants to help, but my wife and I are struggling to remember exactly how to erect this thing ourselves! We have two mallets, but one has to be sacrificed as our son’s plaything. Eventually, a neighbour steps in to help and I assist him with his tent in return. As we hammer in the last few pegs, it’s time for the first ciders to be opened (a Fruit Shoot for the little man) – it’s ok to drink before 10am if you’ve been up since 1am right?
Before I head back to the car to grab the rest of our stuff, it’s time to take a wander around the site. We settle our kiddo into his wagon, and we’re off. I’m not sure who’s more excited, him or either of us! We trundle past the Kidzfield, which is closed along with many of the areas until tomorrow, the little man setting his sights firmly on both the helter-skelter and sandpit.
We move past the Acoustic stage and Pilton Palais, where we find the Keith Flint-tributed bin – all the metal bins at Glastonbury are hand-painted for each edition of the festival by fantastically talented artists. It’s these sorts of details that make Glastonbury so very special.
The Theatre and Circus fields are also still adding their finishing touches. We stop at the Glastonbury Press – a fully functioning printing press that will put out the weekend’s two newspapers covering the festival and a certain cheeky chap is already making friends with those running the press.
We carry on towards the Greenfields and run into our friendly local festival organiser extraordinaire herself – Emily Eavis – who is grabbing a delicious Allpress coffee from the fabulous Greenpeace Café and taking a tour of the site, the calm before the storm as it were.
But there will be no storm this year, today is the coolest and wettest of the weekend and by wet I mean there is a tiny bit of residual mud from yesterday’s rain, enough for the little man to get his Gruffalo-emblazoned wellies wet in. This will be by far the warmest and driest Glastonbury in recent memory without a single drop of rain falling on the site across the four festival days and today will see the last use of wellies for any of us.
We find a sandpit for our son to play in and struggle to tear him away from it. We head towards the Green Futures space, stopping for the little man to make a ‘wand’ – a stick decorated in blue and red tinsel in a tent raising money for a Downs Syndrome charity. He has fun running around a large garden growing various things including deadly nightshade!
It’s clear that today will pass in record time with so much to explore and keep the little man entertained from craft activities to festival finishing touches being made. Tractors roam around the site which results in, no end of glee when spotted. Helicopters continually land and rise again, called out by him whenever they are seen or heard.
The time comes for me to head back to the car to fetch our final bits before I get too tired, so I commandeer the little man’s Tuff Terrain wagon and make my way – it lasts the course and stays in one piece where many others fail so I’m overjoyed with the purchase. It also gets cooed over almost as much as the little one!
We stop by the ever-friendly Little Kidz R&R Tent – a respite for parents, which operates outside of the Kidzfield’s opening hours – where we’re welcomed (back) with open arms. I wash out the little fella’s milk bottle and we’re treated to cold drinks and biscuits while he plays with the various toys. We struggle to tear him away as our tummies rumble and a meal is required.
After eating pizza sitting in the lovely closing sunshine, we’re all three shattered. As the fireworks opening this 2019 Glastonbury Festival explode over the Park, we’re all soundly asleep in our tent.
We’re up bright and early the next morning after a lovely night’s sleep, the little man excited to be waking up in our tent. My morning ritual carried over from 2017 is to pop down to the Diver’s Diner – a greasy spoon-styled café run by a local diving club – which sits at the bottom of Cockmill Meadow for coffees that I then ferry back up to our tent as we get ourselves organised for the day.
Then we’re off. We stop off at the ‘milk tractor’ where an excited little boy buys a pint of milk for his breakfast. We swing by the Glastonbury Press to pick up our newspapers and then settle at Fat Belly Café near the Greenfields for a veggie breakfast, it’s a special treat of Coco Pops for you know who.
At the bandstand at the Croissant Neuf we watch Jack Watney and Sarah Adey, who had got engaged at the 2017 festival, get married with 50 family and friends all in attendance having succeeded to procure tickets in October’s mad rush.
Our youngster is busy in the sandpit next to a small stage where a man with a strange ukulele sings of inappropriate goings-on between various Teletubbies. Errr, ok then!
We stop in a fantastic free crafts tent run by the fabulous folks of Fairyland Trust where the little guy makes a butterfly to add to the wand already being carted around in his wagon. Wildflowers are on the cards for tomorrow while bumblebees and bugs can be crafted on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
We wander over to The Park area to explore. There’s a robot made of Nintendo Wii consoles as well as a giant wooden tortoise that can be entered for a view of the plastic damage being caused to our oceans – the green theme being hammered home further for this year’s festival with a complete ban on the sale of single-use plastics on site being enforced.
We marvel at the famous Ribbon Tower as well as the newly added giant rainbow-striped man sculpture as we make our way up the steep hill to the famous multi-coloured Hollywood-style letters, spelling out the festival’s name.
We run into Jack, Sarah and their entourage again as they head up to fill out their wedding photo album with suitably Glastonbury festival photos.
However, it is running up and down the steep hill that the little dude’s interested in. But it’s all too much. The early start, the time on his feet, sensory overload and rising heat all mean he is starting to get cranky and needs to pop into his (now) shaded wagon for a kip.
We’re waning too, so search out shelter and a cold drink in the wonderful fields of Avalon. And when the little man wakes, he finally gets to have a go on what will become his favourite “curly-wurly slide” – Avalon’s famous red and white-striped helter-skelter.
Following a refreshing lolly stop-off, it is finally time to hit the Kidzfield in earnest, its doors finally open. Now 25 years in existence at Glastonbury, the space, the facilities and staff are just fantastic. Under 5’s are catered to at the top of the field closest to our campsite, a covered sandpit a highlight but there is so much more, with tents run by NCT and Tatty Bumpkin among other delights. We never really make it to a show at the Kidz Big Top where the various performances take place due to the attention span of our under-three, but he uses the rest of the field to its fullest.
There are old-school, hand-cranked rides that look and feel a little on the rickety side – just perfect for the laid-back and fun nature-inspired theme.
There is a tent where he gets to try hula hooping and even has a go on a unicycle! Fun is encouraged and expected as various characters roam through the field.
We’ll be back tomorrow but right now we’re in need of fuel courtesy of Anna-Mae’s wonderfully cheesy mac & cheese, which can be found parked outside the Acoustic tent.
An error in our printed schedules means we’re late for the true and traditional start to our festival – Power Ballads at the Williams Green. We make it for the final few songs and our kiddo is having a whale of a time watching a woman dressed as Freddie Mercury repeatedly re-stick her fake ‘tache.
The Lionesses are continuing their bid to win the Women’s World Cup and their match against Norway is being shown over at the West Holts stage, and so we descend to watch all the action.
I may slip off to catch my first live band of the festival – Mancunian indie-pop quartet Pale Waves playing a secret set in the Williams Green tent ahead of their John Peel stage slot tomorrow – but return in time to revel in ‘our’ 3-0 glory.
As tiredness sets in once again, we weave our way back towards our tent through the Theatre and Circus fields, stopping for the little man to watch a man throw about a hoop engulfed in flames inside a cage atop a mobile cocktail bar. Phew, not often you get to spit out a sentence like that! But it is the tent that he is most excited about getting back to, asking for a return trip throughout the evening.
Friday is the first true test of how well it will work to have a child with a mind and mobility all of his own at a music festival, especially when there are so many other fun things for him to do. We’re straight into the Kidzfield as it opens and he makes a beeline towards a great big pink wooden castle construction which seems to have lots of ways in, out, up and down.
We walk around and around and up and down, back up and around, back down to go up again. We dong the bell at the top, take in the wonderful paintings throughout and admire the dragon that sits atop. We literally have to drag him away from his endless laps of it to move on to get his face painted.
“A tiger!” he whispers shyly when asked by the artist what he’d like his face painted as. He sits ever so patiently as his face is lifted and turned, as the paints form his chosen animal’s face atop his own.
We get the growls and screams once thankyous are said and he brings his tiger to life, the look of happiness on his face is everything as he reviews his look in photos we take.
But time really moves at its own increased rate at Glastonbury. A couple of rides is all we have time for if we are to make it to the Other Stage to catch The Vaccines open the music.
The heat is already beginning to take its toll on us, so we wander over to the Greenpeace Kids area for some respite. While our son is a little too small to play in the large pirate ship parked squarely in the field, there is a fenced-off little kid’s area where he can paint or get stuck into yet another sandpit. For us, there’s some cooling shade, a few seats provided, and it’s a short walk to the nearest bar for some refreshments.
While it is really hotting up, we go and catch a few songs by country-rock legend Sheryl Crow over at the Pyramid Stage, and she is just fantastic. Kicking off with If It Makes You Happy, she soon descends into the crowd to belt out debut single All I Wanna Do, suggesting to specific audience members that they apply sun cream and to us all to keep hydrated on water (and beer) as the 28-degree heat beats down upon us.
Denver folk-rockers The Lumineers bring us back to the Other Stage for more live music later in the afternoon, the little man getting stuck right into the hoedown while also enjoying a refreshing lolly. Finding vantage points with distant views of the stages that also happen to be near ice cream vans remains our strategy going forward.
And while it’s a shame to miss what will undoubtedly be a seminal performance from grime-man Stormzy on the Pyramid Stage, we head back over to The Park to get in place for the slightly more chilled-out neo-folkster Michael Kiwanuka.
We check out new addition Glastonbury-On-Sea while we’re here, someone is refusing to exit a ride on the English seaside-styled pier which requires no money to operate for a change, riding again and again with each button press.
Now, we’ve managed to catch some live music but I may have brushed over one aspect anyone considering taking a child to a music festival is asking about. He’s largely not that into the music and will not simply sit/stand still and enjoy it with a pint in hand. He is two after all. My wife is the legend here, she’s constantly lifting him up, sitting down with him, playing with him, popping him on her shoulders, bringing him back down, he’s back up on her back, rinse and repeat.
We largely enjoy the set, although he is now ready to get back to the tent and tells us so. We must wait for Cold Little Heart of course before the 10-song set is rounded out with Love & Hate, which we need to wait for, as escaping a festival crowd with a child and wagon isn’t so easy in a stationary crowd. Our vantage point of the now illuminated Glastonbury sign is unrivalled.
For parents considering their first festival with children: you won’t be able to enjoy the music or roaming the site as you used to. You also won’t necessarily be able to adhere to any sleep schedule or diet you have set out for your children. Accept that and continue. You have to get lucky with the combination of tiredness, attention and general mood. I mean, for a child whose favourite songs are Token’s Lion Sleeps Tonight and Reel-2-Real’s I Like To Move it, he really isn’t going to get much out of The Cure’s deep cuts!
You may have to accept that it will be a different festival than years past, but the joy you will get from watching your children revel in the unrivalled colour, play and craziness is well worth it. Our fellow festival-goers are also more accommodating when they see us, many parents stopping to ask what our experience has been like and that they too are considering bringing their children in the future if they can convince their partners. We definitely find ourselves talking to more people, perhaps because they are drawn to us as a family.
Saturday is due to be the hottest day of the weekend so far. Showers have been closed across the site to conserve drinking water but this is far preferable to the rainy, wet and muddy alternative. We head out to grab some coffee and breakfast at the Greenpeace Café. As I’m in line for breakfast, the little man is treated to a Red Arrows flypast – words aren’t enough to explain how incredible this is for a plane/helicopter-obsessed toddler.
Live music today comes courtesy of a last-minute show by Vampire Weekend opening The Park stage as well as the fabulous Maggie Rogers lighting up the Other stage.
We head for more slide action in the Avalon area and enjoy cheesy crumpets for a snack as we listen in on the fabulous Jade Bird who is playing a set on the Avalon stage. I learn that our son’s vocabulary is growing having spent time watching “acrobats” in the Circus tent, his new favourite place.
Foals are announced as the secret band playing the Park stage in what turns out to be a riotous set for what are surely future Pyramid stage headliners but it is the legendary Janet Jackson we wander down to the main stage to catch. The Rock ‘N’ Roll Star himself, former Oasis frontman (and leader in the sibling rivalry stakes), Liam Gallagher takes to the stage next for what ends up being a fantastic sing-along hour which leans heavily on the Britpop legends’ first two albums as well as incorporating Gallagher junior’s newer solo material. The little man has been very patient but now it’s time for a wander to grab some food as we sing along to a slowly fading Champagne Supernova.
We return a few songs into The Killers’ set, finding a spot at the back, near some food stalls where we have a view of the Pyramid stage but also room to move and an escape route should the little chap decide he’s not Human … or Dancer. But he’s fantastic. He rides my wife’s shoulders, then mine, then hers. He’s dancing on the ground, looking up at the light colour changes, watching flares go off in the crowd. He’s amused to see his dad perhaps a little too excited to see 1980s synthpop legends the Pet Shop Boys join the headliners on stage to perform a rendition of his favourite song by said synthpop pioneers – Elvis cover, Always On My Mind. He’s still going strong as Smiths’ legend Johnny Marr joins The Killers for a rousing rendition of This Charming Man but the highlight must certainly be the fireworks which shoot upwards from either side of the Pyramid, lighting up the Somerset skies.
Before the masses depart the Pyramid field, the munchkin is in his lit-up wagon and we’re working our way back towards our tent, but we stop in the Circus area as we see a field of folks hula-hooping in the dark with illuminated hoops. So we stop and give it a go. There are friendly folks running the event who teach us how to hula – the bigger the hoop, the easier – and I find myself a dab hand at this, much to the amusement of the little guy. He can’t hula so easily so entertains himself by rolling an illuminated hoop from one end of the area to the other. But soon enough we’re just too tired to continue, so it’s off to bed for us.
We awaken on Sunday to a slight chill, a welcome change after days of often-unbearable heat. Our morning is largely spent in the Kidzfield. We suffer more laps of the pink wooden castle before dragging the boy away (via random roaming creatures) to have his face painted once more – “a lion” he whispers this time when asked what he’d like to be painted as.
And we get the roars and happy smiles when he sees himself in a mirror. My one (tiny) gripe with the Kidzfield is that its fabulous helter-skelter is only open for children over five, meaning the littler ones like ours cannot slide as accompanying adults also aren’t allowed. He finds this very confusing given we have no issues riding the almost identical slide in Avalon.
Hollywood legend and Jazz musician extraordinaire Jeff Goldblum brings his comedy and music routine to the West Holts stage, a relaxed summer fete vibe washing over the West Holts green. We later trundle down with the masses to hear the legendary Sir David Attenborough speak of the impacts of humans on our planet and climate change.
The 93-year-old’s words driving many to tears. We then settle in beyond the back of the field to listen in on Kylie’s ‘legends’ slot, the little man having a nap in the wagon, this mornings’ activities taking their toll. We catch a marriage proposal being made in the skies – apparently, Sarah Adams said yes to Joe Blain’s big question!
Following a complete dispersal of the massive crowd amassed to catch Kylie, we head back towards Avalon for a rest up, a beverage and to catch up with some friends as well as listen in on 1980s pop legends Bananarama storm the Avalon stage.
We later flip-flop between catching The Cure’s Pyramid stage headline set and a (literally) on fire set from the huge Christine And The Queens. We all weave our way to see the closing songs of The Cure’s set … no fireworks or fanfare, and they’re off.
Our youngling in need of the tent and so are we. I later check my phone and it tells me that over the five days I’ve spent at Glastonbury, I’ve walked 91km, taken some 138,700 steps and climbed an enormous 57 floors, often pulling along a growing boy!
But it’s been amazing. He’s loved every minute of this all-immersive experience and later on when we’re home watching back on iPlayer, he comments on having himself been at the “fedival” and is as glued to the replays of sets we’ve seen as my wife and I are. We also feel as if he’s grown up a bit over these few days, having spent them in a completely different environment to the norm with completely new experiences adding to his make-up.
We don’t want to leave Worthy Farm, and as we wake the next morning, the little man doesn’t understand why we aren’t going into the festival today. Light patches in the grass mark out where tents have disappeared during the night and there is a joy that slips into a melancholy as we face the fact that we’re leaving Glastonbury today.
Yes, we’re looking forward to comfy seats and real beds, to getting properly clean and eating meals at a table. But there’s something truly magical about this place that captivates most that go, including our little guy who is already insisting we go back with little regard for the frantic ticket sales that will ensue in October, not realising just how lucky we have all been to attend the last two editions.
Words and photography by Kalpesh Patel at Glastonbury Festival 2019.