What’s So Amazing About Greenbelt?

This year is my 17th Greenbelt. At 4 days a year, that’s over 2 months of my life spent either in a field – or on Cheltenham Racecourse – listening to music (and most years playing it to), listening to talks, seminars and debates, hanging out with friends – and meeting loads of new ones – and failing to sleep uncomfortably in a tent.

As a 17 year old the importance of my first Greenbelt was almost entirely cultural – I saw 60 bands in 4 days in my first year here. The cultural importance was merely that they weren’t all shit, and some were even rather good. One or two were bands that my friends at school would’ve heard of. As a kid growing up with a huge social and cultural gulf between his school-life and his church-life in the late 80s, that was significant. It was the kind of place that I could’ve brought my friends, and not cringed at the supreme bogusness of everything that went on. It was also the kind of place where ‘bringing your friends’ wasn’t the aim. There was no clandestine intention to it, no need to proselytize, just ‘be’.

Over the next 10 years (’90-2000), Greenbelt, despite being one weekend a year, helped shape, inform and challenge my nascent political and spiritual development and exploration. The Evangelicalism of my youth was pulled apart and reconstructed without the mind-numbing anti-intellectualism and adolescent treatment of doubt and conformity. My innate discomfort with all kinds of fundamentalism – religious, anti-religious or that most vociferous of English fundamentalisms; football – was given a voice, a cogent argument and the reminder that the hatred of fundamentalists is its own kind of pernicious fundie-ism.

Everything was up for debate, but nothing was thrown away just because it wasn’t cool, or didn’t fit the latest intellectual fad. The debate was grown-up, the conclusions were almost always qualified with the terms of the ongoing debate, the route into a personal journey that could end anywhere, and the success or failure of that journey wasn’t defined by the desired outcome of any other ideological group.

The seminars I went to and the books I bought at Greenbelt were utterly pivotal to me ending up where I am now…

Where am I? That’s not really any of your business 😉 – it’s certainly not pivotal to whether or not Greenbelt’s role in my life has been overwhelmingly good. It has. And it has been in the lives of people whose conclusions about the questions they were encouraged to explore were completely different to mine.

It continues to occupy a place in my life that causes me to think, question, challenge and to lean ever more heavily on Grace, forgiveness and the ‘death of smug’.

A friend on twitter has the phrase on her avatar “Let’s Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow” – each of us is, as Wavy Gravy said, a temple of accumulated error, and Greenbelt is pretty much the only place I’ve able to consistently forgive my error-filled messed up self, and explore how to make better mistakes. Long may in continue.

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  1. This echoes many of my own experiences of the festival over a similar number of years, and the way in which those few days each year have shaped me. I expect that the space Greenbelt provides is likely to be just as influential in the next few years of life as well.

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