August Bank Holiday Weekend IS Greenbelt. Sometimes it feels like the banks are closed in honour of it. For 19 of the last 21 last-weekend-in-Augusts I’ve spent my time in a field (til ‘99) or racecourse (the fest has been in Cheltenham for 11 years) engaged in four simple pleasures:
- soaking up great music
- encountering some life changing thinking
- playing as many gigs as I can possibly find over the weekend.
- hanging out with the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.
The proportion of my Greenbelt time spent on each of those three things has changed over the years – in 1990, I went to 63 different gigs over the weekend (and thanks to the commensurate lack of sleep, dozed off at the wheel of the car before I’d even got off the campsite, leaving my mum to tackle the 300 mile drive home).
Then I gravitated towards the talks – as my view of the world expanded into my 20s, so my appetite for the challenging, inspiring, heady mix of politics, theology and justice issues shook me from whatever complacency the other 361 days of the year tried so hard to force upon me.
Having played at the festival with a range of artists in the 90s, the turn of the millennium brought with it an insane schedule of shows that seemed to increase year on year – Greenbelt was the place where I launched my first album (10 years ago this week), where the Recycle Collective first played a show, where many amazing and fun collaborations have been birthed and found a home. I think my record was 13 performances in a weekend…!
But this year – our first year festivalling with the baby, we have no gigs and have largely ignored the program (despite downloading the iPhone app to see what we’re missing) – so the question was ‘can you go to Greenbelt, do nothing, and still have that Greenbelt experience?’
The answer is – of course – ‘of course’. Greenbelt has always been about people. Whether those people are on a stage, or sat on the grass, in a band, writers, thinkers, politicians, vicars, believers, doubters, old, young… none of it matters. Greenbelt is a place where people mingle and mix, sharing ideas, lives and a constitution-rattling amount of caffeine (and organic beer) in the pursuit of the possible. We collectively breathe a sigh of relief that the Daily Mailification of the world has yet to breech Greenbelt’s fiercely guarded space to be excited and optimistic about the future while taking seriously the challenges that face anyone who chooses not to be complacent in the face of injustice.
So Lobelia, Baby Flapjack and I have wandered around, guided by serendipity into a never-ending series of life-affirming conversations with amazing people. It’s impossible to leave this place feeling like the world is screwed – there’s just way too much here to get excited about. To much, passion, hope and wisdom emanating from a field in Gloucestershire that has the potential to change everything. Again.
Right, time for coffee…