The Green Man Festival takes place in the Brecon Beacons, in what is allegedly the “best event site in country,” and I’ve no reason to doubt that. Last weekend, (from 21st – 23rd August) the Glanusk Estate was transformed into a family-friendly, alt-folk, cider-soaked, bustling, colourful and astonishingly hip music festival. Oh and it featured lots of other stuff too – from literature and comedy to science experiments and workshops on yurt making.
The festival was unofficially opened on Friday by the druids of Stonehenge. It’s always a good sign when you get druids at your festival I think, like getting lichen growing on your walls, or bees colonising your garden – it’s just one of those signs that you are probably doing something, somewhat indefinable, right. The druids led a ceremony to bring good weather (and peace) to the Green Man festival. Almost immediately after the ceremony finished it started raining. For about an hour. But then the sun came out for the rest of the festival so perhaps there was just a slight delay in appealing to the collective powers of nature.
In all seriousness though, there really was a strange sense of peace pervading the festival – I’ve never seen so many people have such a good time, and be so refreshingly friendly and relaxed. There was none of the late-night-lairiness you get at lots of music festivals; instead there was a genuine air of fun and happy times in the air.
I’d wanted to go along to take a look at the environmental side of the Green Man – a festival that manages to position itself firmly in the trendy boutique festival niche whilst still retaining its strong ethical and environmental principles. The festival doesn’t have any corporate sponsors and that’s probably the most noticeable aspect on arriving at the event. All the stalls are independents, many with their own ethical criteria (lots of organic this, fair-trade that and lots of proclamations about local sourcing and happy livestock). All the food on sale came in compostable containers complete with wooden cutlery that could either be re-used or composted – and compost bins scattered throughout the site, as well as a full range of recycling bins for paper, cans and plastics.
There was also a dedicated space given over to environmental and “alternative” ideas – “Einstein’s Garden” – where science and nature collided and people had the chance to learn more about various campaigning groups, try their hand at different crafts and learn more about alternative ways of living – from radical midwifery to aromatherapy – although a bit more could be done to highlight this area.
Before Green Man took place I caught up with Fiona Stewart, one of the organisers, to ask her a bit more about the background of the festival. This year the festival introduced a unique partnership with Mind, the mental health charity. Fiona explained, “We wanted to reach people Mind doesn’t normally reach – mental health is an environmental issue (and vice versa) how people deal with the world and with each other – it’s all part of the same thing. I’m very into making and supporting each other. Self empowerment is an important principle for me. If we are really to be Green Men, we have to think about it all.”
This sense of interconnectedness pervaded the festival – helped by the fact that there were no sharp delineations between different stages in terms of the types of music being played. The whole event felt cohesive and welcoming – genuinely a place for like-minded souls to come together.
That being said, there were some tensions between ethical and environmental principles of the Green Man (which I do applaud) and the nature of putting on such an event. Temporary festivals are fundamentally challenging things to put on without being very carbon-intensive. There is nothing like standing in a muddy field the morning after a festival and looking round the detritus left by thousands of fans all getting bored and dropping their beer cans at the end of the night to really make you despair of our ability to look after the planet. Even with the prevalence of the recycling bins and the sterling work of the small army of festival litter-pickers, there was still a fair amount of rubbish by the end of the headline act each night.
I couldn’t help thinking about Climate Camp at Kingsnorth last summer, where there was much less infrastructure in place, but also a much greater sense of personal responsibility to maintain the site as we found it. Of course, Climate Camp and the Green Man, or any music festival, are very different events – however it was interesting to be part of a 10,000 person crowd, most of whom would probably identify themselves as interested in green issues, yet who still abandoned a sense of personal responsibility for looking after their beautiful surroundings by the end of the weekend.
Saturday night was closed by Jarvis Cocker. “Look at this” he said, “We’re all together. There’s no adult supervision here, because we are the adults. And it’s ok. No-one’s fighting or getting hurt. So maybe that means that people are ok. That we’re ok.” As rallying cries go, it perhaps lacks definite punch – though it got a huge cheer from the crowd. But I think that Green Man is really onto something – it’s a great festival, with a fantastic line-up and is staunchly independent, and it is taking important steps in trying not only to organise the festival on ethical lines but also to minimise the environmental impact of the festival, though there is more that could be done there. But overall you are left with a sense that people are ok – and that with enough motivation there’s no need for world issues, mental health or caring about the planet to be heavy ponderous subjects. You can engage in a fun, creative way – and that ultimately people are ok if we give ourselves the chance to be.
- Green Man Festival: The Festival Preview Series
- Love London Green Festival
- A Review of Mental by The Vacuum Cleaner
- Festival Preview: Bestival & Camp Bestival
- The Ethical Christmas Emporium