The Greenbelt festival of arts, faith and justice happened in fields and woods near Kettering over the August Bank Holiday weekend and I was there. Here are some thoughts on what it was like for me. When you’ve read it, why not share yours?
* Wow. That was a weekend. Frustrating at times, overwhelmingly beautiful at others.
* There are few things more powerful than the human voice telling the truth in words or song.
* We don’t have the answers but if we can find the right questions it is a start.
* Love wins. Again.
* Sometimes you just need to lie down under a tree, put a hat over your face and have a little cry. You can do that now. There are trees everywhere, and grass to lie down on. (I’m choosing to remember the lovely first few days rather than the treacherous mud that followed. Don’t lie down in that, you will either drown, freeze to death or get run over by a demented camper with a stolen wheelbarrow).
* The new site is a magical place, enchanting and visually spectacular. The look and feel of site resonates so well with what Greenbelt stands for and wants to be.
* GB14 felt like a new beginning, but because of the nature of the site it also felt like a return to something we had lost, and that brought to mind all the people we had shared Greenbelt moments with who could not be there. Here’s to them.
* And here’s to the people who were there and who touched my life over the last weekend. Grace Petrie, Brian McLaren, Linda Woodhead, Kate Bottley, Gareth Higgins, Doug Gay, Abdul-Rehman Malik, Sara Miles, Gavin Mart, Martyn Joseph, James Stewart, Bobby Baker and the Janes, the Rachels, the Ians, the Richards, Matt, Kai, Rob and others who only gave their first names when they came up to speak at The Daily Mirror (reflecting on issues arising from the news, geddit?).
They are some of the best humans I know. It is a privilege to gather in a tent with some brilliant thinkers and doers, both in the audience and on the panel, and together try to seek some higher truths. I got a bit emotional at the end of the last Daily Mirror show but that was right and proper.
* Dizraeli is a lyrical genius and the Small Gods are hugely talented. Seek them out. (Even if Greenbelters don’t know a good thing when they see one. The audience for Dizraeli was far too small, just as it was for the great Ron Sexsmith, one of the world’s finest songwriters, a couple of years back.)
* Some people would rather stand in the pub and talk to each other than engage with the artistry of those on stage. (The Jesus Arms is in a perfect place for all the people in the Jesus Arms but the wrong place for everyone else.)
* Canopy is a brilliant venue. Martin Wroe’s event Lyrical was a stimulating coming together of writers and musicians and it was a pleasure to share the stage with the likes of Rory Butler. Also to read out loud the last poem by Mark Halliday, which appears in the book Lyrical.
* I need Greenbelt in my life. I have had a love hate relationship with it over the years, because of the sheer stress for all concerned in organising the event, but it keeps me going, takes me home, recharges my batteries, stirs my little soul.
* The people who make Greenbelt happen need your help. it’s a difficult thing to do. Become an angel, or just be nice to them. They face a tsunami of moans in the coming days and weeks, some more relevant than others, but they need to know that we value them highly, appreciate their hard work and are so grateful that the festival exists at all.
* That said …the access to the site was shocking. Dangerous. It gave the impression that Greenbelt did not want day visitors, which is commercially catastrophic. At night it was worse. The same walk back, uphill, in the dark, with no lights, no signs, uneven ground and vehicles coming at you out of the shadows. The stewards sent us the wrong way so we got lost. We are able-bodied and reasonably fit but we were exhausted, drained, angry and alarmed. The situation was not improved the next night. When the rain came, the ground became treacherous and all of the above applied. It’s a wonder nobody got hurt.
* I am sure there will be change. Certain of it, because the people who make Greenbelt happen are good people. Very good people, with good hearts and good brains, who will listen and learn. I don’t speak for them but some are friends and I do know they are working very, very hard to understand what went wrong and make it better for next time.
* The buggy manager I shouted at, he’s a volunteer. Sorry mate. Heat of the moment. Please forgive me. I was scared for my children. The stewards standing in the rain, soaked through, with mud from the cars flying in their faces? Volunteers. The comperes, the site crew, the brilliant people who made the festival into an enchanted, enchanting space, they’re all volunteers. They make it all happen. If you were one of them, thank you so much.
* You buy a ticket, you expect value for money. For me, there were moments this year that were priceless. Chorros and chocolate with the kids and their mates in the rain, for one. It’s the little things, as Dizraeli says.
* Being able to bring up kids within the festival family, bringing them back every year to meet inspiring people, funny people, thinkers and sayers and doers and players and makers and life-changers and world-changers, that is another.
* Sending them off to find things for themselves, and then hearing later that they’ve come across great art, great music, great ideas or a cause that has stirred them, that is also priceless.
* Taking an hour to get 100 yards because you keep meeting people you like, you love and you want to talk to, then hearing your 12-year-old daughter say, “Dad, all these people are so cool.” Priceless.
* A hug from a friend who knows that you need it just at that moment, because even though you have not said so and distance makes it hard to spend time together in the rest of your life, you have shared history in this place and he can read your face. Priceless.
* I read a post by someone asking if was true that the festival had lost its way, the music was poor and the speakers lame. That’s tosh. There have been posts like that going back all the way to when posting meant putting something in the post, and there have been years when it was true. Terribly true. But not this one.
* For me, despite the trouble getting in, this was a vintage year. A beautiful thing. A soul-filler and a precious gift.
* Here’s to all those who made it happen or were there. May you find love, strength and shampoo in the coming days, and find yourself warm, dry and flushed. If you were not there, maybe see you next time?
That was my truth. Now tell me yours.