Aug 28, 2012

Greenbelt Arts Festival and why it matters to me

Written at Greenbelt Arts Festival at 8pm on Monday August 27th 2012, with some adjustments added later:

Twenty long years ago, I stood freezing in a rain-knackered field of mud-o-geddon watching the Proclaimers bang out songs of fishing, fornicating and fighting (possibly: I wasn't listening).

Yesterday, I found myself passing through a muddy field at the same festival wondering why so many people were gathered in their hundreds, their camping chairs floating in brown lakes of intestinal parasites and typhoid-ridden worm feces.

Yep. It was the Proclaimers again. Charlie and the other one that looks like Charlie got really Scottish with their guitars. I accidentally stayed for the whole gig, rooted to the spot by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and whimsy. I could see myself two decades ago; I wondered if time had become a loop.

This blog post is not a review of the Twin Godfathers of Del Amitri Pop Jangling. It's a reflection on Greenbelt, a festival which is as much a part of my DNA as that probe suppository those aliens gave me last time I saw Squarepusher.

If you need a bit of context, you can read about Greenbelt in other blog posts, such as the time I went to some toilets, or when I spoke a man, or when I went into a tent for a bit. Oh, the stories I'll be telling my grandchildren.

Greenbelt is a Christian arts festival with lashings of liberalism. This year, they had Robin Ince, Speech Debelle, Nitin Sawhney, Frank Skinner, Asian Dub Foundation and Peter Tatchell. There is plenty of churchy stuff too if you like that kind of thing. There is music, there is art, there are tea tents, and I've attended almost every one since 1992. Loads of attendees have been to many more than that.

The festival tends to attract music artists on career-slides, although they were quick to get the likes of U2 and Moby before they went stratospheric. Neither is it big on electronic music, although I heard some filthy dubstep on one of the three music stages on Monday.

Greenbelt also causes consternation among anti-gay and anti-Palestine campaigners. A devotee of a more evangelical festival once warned me that Greenbelt was full of "gays and witches". He was wrong about the witches.

But it's there's more to Greenbelt than the content or its supposed political stance or its boundary-poking.

Greenbelt is where I live; it's where I centre myself.

It's a place of discovery: my talents, my sexuality, my careers, new friends. There are certain folk I only ever meet in Greenbelt's real ale tent (called The Jesus Arms), and when I see them it's like arriving home, opening the door and seeing family. Even though I only speak to them once a year. It's seems illogical and it's hard to explain.

Greenbelt matters because it gives me roots in a world of judgementalism and homophobia, in a world where people use religion to enforce their own power and prejudices. It makes me feel valued and to want to be a better me. I also get to do fun things like run events with Sanctus 1.

Next year, Greenbelt celebrates its 40th festival. I will have been to half of them (and will be celebrating 40 years of me too). Just writing this blog post finds me rooted to the spot by a sense of nostalgia and whimsy, as I was in that muddy Proclaimers field as I mentally battled their damn infectious melodies. I'm a techno-head... must break away... a-hah, a-hah... gaaaaah, stop it.... Yeah, I know, I'm not proud.

I do need to stop. I have to make the 130-or-so mile journey back to Manchester shortly. Not 500 miles. Just 130.

Meanwhile, I'll be processing my amazing few days at Greenbelt 2012 as I wash the mud from my clothes. If you want to read more about the festival, see Robin Ince's take on Greenbelt here.

Pictured: a fizzy drinks fan at the Tiny Tea Tent

Further Fats: the time I live-remixed a communion service


Project Awesome said...

This is the first post you've ever written that I've actually understood. Or agreed with. It's hard to really agree with something you don't understand.

I love Greenbelt. I think, if God exists, Greenbelt at its best might be what heaven is like.

Fat Roland said...

I wish Greenbelt lasted forever. Literally. You wouldn't be allowed to leave. Anyone leaving would be shot, but in a nice loving way.