Greenbelt: Actively Doing Nothing.

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…

3 replies on “Greenbelt: Actively Doing Nothing.”

  1. Most of the festivals I play through out the Summer are the smaller/medium sized festivals and most of the time I never see the artists because I’m immersed in the social side of the festival. Sometimes spending a whole morning just laying on the grass sipping away at your favourite tipple can make a festival the best ever. Like music, a festival is made by you.

  2. Great post! I’m only on my 3rd full Greenbelt but last time had my 1st go at one of the art sessions … So this year I have had to respond to the question ‘which is the best talk you’ve been to?’ with ‘haven’t been to any’ – (yet anyway). Have chatted to friends & strangers – undertaken 3 unusual forms of Eucharist, 2 art sessions and fallen asleep in a film … Great!! Just enjoying some time out… And with all the talks on MP3 I can buy the talks to listen to later…

  3. Doing nothing? Well there was that panel you were on. Oh and introducing flap jack to a couple of thousand people. Pretty full weekend i’d guess. Guess i’m increasingly in the luxury position of managing to see most bands i care about outside the festivat so seeing everything less essential. Talks for me work almost as well on mp3. So definately more relaxed than i once Internet helps too, i can check out new bands gb books without needing to slip into back of a gig for two songs. Think in the last three months i’ve listened to maybe 600 tracks by around 75 of this years bands- so i know what is truely essential. Still bloody annoyed i’m only on site for one day this year.
    Todays top three acts i’m pissed off at missing kitty the lion, jon gomm and the floe. Will download communion when i get home from work. 🙂

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