Saturday, November 7, 2009

Glastonbury 2009: A Review from an Outsider and First-timer

"Are you insane?" "You're crazy, I would never do that!" It is reactions like these that people give me upon hearing about my plans to not only go to Europe for a few weeks by myself but to attend Glastonbury alone. An American in Europe for the first time and flying solo is one thing, but the biggest, muddiest music festival in the world on a farm in the middle of nowhere in a strange land? It is understandable. The craving for the musical adventure of a lifetime easily overrides the basic need for common sense, and I go, armed with only a suitcase full of clothes, toiletries, a bunch of bananas, two gallons of water, peanut butter, my memories of the only other major festival I have attended (Coachella), and most importantly: a Moleskine and a pen, to ensure the preservation of thoughts, feelings, and experiences in what is sure to be the most sensory-overloading weekend ever.

Wednesday

Getting there is the hardest part, or half the battle, right? Either cliché works. So my day begins with an unsatisfying, but cheap, breakfast at my dumpy, but cheap, hostel near Piccadilly Circus. My journey to Glastonbury truly begins with me hauling my suitcase up and down several flights of stairs and escalators at three different London Underground stations before I see daylight again. Being a failboat captain, I forgot how to get to Victoria Coach Station, where I was to catch my overpriced bus to the festival. Being smart, I know to just follow anyone I saw with a massive bag on their back. A group of punters are surprised that an American was attending their festival. Why? At least ten percent of attendees of the Coachella Festival are overseas visitors. Another part of the mystery behind Glastonbury, I declare.


Form an orderly queue when Big Julie rules the world.

Once inside the coach station, I am greeted by a massive, messy queue. Seems the concept of single-file is nonexistent in England. Since all the coach tickets are sold out, National Express must know exactly how many people are coming, at what times, and therefore how many buses to have, yes? Just fill them up and send them on the way, right? While waiting to solve this mystery, I ask a group of girls that apparently look like clones of Bob Geldof’s daughters, whoever they are, whom they want to see and one of these acts is Will Young. Surely she meant Neil? Or does he have a son that also performs? Turns out this singer of no relation is a big deal across the pond.

After a ninety minute wait, I get onto a bus that is not a National Express coach, but had been hired to help with the demand. This coach leaves right at 1pm and is barely half full. Why so empty when so many people are still coachless? It is a matter of storage space: once the luggage hold is full, nobody else can get on the bus. One mystery solved.


Over five hours of smoking and looking at grass and I am allergic to both…

The drive to Glastonbury is dull and uneventful for the first few hours. I am stuck behind someone with offensive body odor and everybody is either talking to their traveling companions or sleeping. This humdrum ride is sorely missed once we run into our first traffic jam. We are close to the festival site, but are not moving. Traffic is to be expected, right? Not like this. For over five and a half hours, we endure the hell of not moving, going outside for smoking breaks, moving ten feet, not moving for another thirty minutes, moving another ten feet, and so on. Locals take advantage of our misery by selling grape drank and even beer at the side of the road. So it turns out our driver had taken a back road to avoid an accident that caused a jam on the apparent main path. However, once the accident had cleared, the police let everyone on the main road get through and not those that tried to do the right thing and stay out of the way. It is almost 10pm when the bus makes it through the festival gates and lets us out.


I (not pictured) have arrived.

Being a foreigner, I do not have my ticket in hand like everyone else. Instead I have to find the ticket office to collect mine. It is disappointing to see that my ticket does not have my photo printed onto it like all the others, just a sticker with my name. Fortunately, I stop caring once I am given my wristband and the first of much free swag: an official Glastonbury program magazine, courtesy of Q, and a booklet of set times and photos and articles that can be worn around the neck, courtesy of The Guardian. Once inside, I am overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the site for the tenth time in the past hour, shrug it off, and grab a free tote bag from Oxfam. I haul my suitcase through dirt, rocks, and grass, with strange looks from other people before someone finally asks why I have a suitcase. I tell them and they are surprised I came from so far for this festival. Do Brits take Glasto for granted?

Forget what I said earlier about being smart; I am actually stupid. I find my way to Millet’s, one of the camping gear vendors on-site. Their cheapest double-skin tent, which is required to keep the rain off you and your possessions (and mine include an autographed Jarvis Cocker record), was £40, which converts to $872,234 American. I declare it to be a ripoff, buy a pair of wellies for £10, and storm off in search of a better deal. Two other camping gear vendors sell either more expensive double skin tents or only single skinned wastes of space.

So I decide to go find the efestivals camping group and leave my suitcase there, then go find a tent. This decision was yet another mistake, as I never found the group, only an overpopulated Pennard Hill, so I decide to bite the bullet and get the overpriced tent. However, the nearby Millie’s is already sold out and I am nowhere near the original stand. I am given completely inaccurate directions several times to get back to where I need to bite this proverbial bullet, and I decide it would be a better idea to just find my way back to the entrance and retrace my steps from there. This turns out to be yet another disaster, but by the grace of Xenu, a kind couple feels pity for me and offers to help me find Millet’s and even drags around my suitcase for me as I am highly agitated and two steps away from a nervous breakdown. Finally I have my tent and go to the nearest campground to pitch it: right by the John Peel tent, which is a blue and yellow circus tent that can’t hold more than two thousand people.


The view from my tent was nice, at least.

Don’t you love those days where every single pointless little thing that can go wrong does? Money problems? Check. Long, hot, sweaty, noisy queue for a bus? Check. Arriving at the festival over five hours late? Check. Wasting two hours wandering around in an absolutely futile search for a reasonably priced tent? Check. Not finding your camping group? Check. Your desired campground being completely full with no room for another soul, let alone space to drag around a suitcase? Check. A tent that includes the wrong directions and therefore takes two hours to pitch in the dark without any help? Check. Yes, my tent instructions were incorrect, and this is not an overreaction. The directions mentioned the tent porch, which it did not have, and also said to place the poles through the sleeve on the tent. The tent did not have such a sleeve, the separate, outer skin did. Then the tent itself is supposed to be awkwardly tied to this outer frame.


Worst. Tent. Ever.

For future reference, I make a note to myself to just spend the day before Glastonbury in Bristol and immediately arrive the minute the gates open somehow if I can ever make it to the festival again. It is the only way to get a central camping spot at Glastonbury. Despite the music not truly starting until Friday (some side stages were running on Thursday but I didn’t care to see any of it), nearly 100,000 attendees are in the gates by the end of Wednesday night. How so many people arrived so early when an accident caused such a major traffic jam is a mystery I know I will never solve and just assume that the laws of physics do not apply in this world away from the world. In any case, clearly most people do not take Glastonbury for granted if they care enough to arrive so early.

Thursday


Bank

After having wasted the entire first day of Glastonbury sitting in traffic, enduring tent and campground drama, and getting lost countless times, I awake with the feeling that it would all be smooth sailing from here. WROOOOOONNNG! No longer having a pound or pence on me, I immediately begin my quest for an ATM after a traumatic trip to the long drop. Why traumatic? Because the waste from all the stalls goes into one collective pit, and as you go, you can see the reflections of your neighbors in the sewage and if you’re lucky, your waste can be seen crashing into someone else’s mid-air. Fortunately there are cash machines near my tent, but unfortunately, they do not work with American cards. I ask for another place to get cash and find the same type of xenophobic machines. Someone at the information booth tells me to go all the way to the top of the farm and try my luck at the “bank.” So this is reason number one why Americans are a rare commodity at Glastonbury: the cash machines discriminate against us. At Coachella, in contrast, the machines are willing to absolutely rip off anyone with a bank account in any country in the world.


A church in which to get a marriage that is not actually legally valid.

A forty-five minute uphill stroll gets me to the top of the farm where I find the festival bank, which is just a few ATM’s inside a trailer. Thankfully, these actually work, so I make sure to withdraw more than I could possibly need so I don’t have to return. This is the moment where all the drama ends and the fun begins, so I pause to savor it while listening to some Marvin Gaye from a nearby breakfast tent, and move on.


Malk!


Now with Vitamin R!

I decide to make getting my first meal at Glastonbury my next priority, so I go looking for one of the two booths people on the efestivals forum always raved about. On the way, I get a pint of milk from a milk cart, which is surprisingly refreshing. And even more surprisingly, milk at a festival? I know the grounds are a giant farm, but it is still completely new to me.


Hot and Dishy?

The sky goes cloudy as I make my way to the Queen’s Head, where Maxïmo Park and other bands I do not know will be performing later in the day. It is here I stumble upon one of my two choices for lunch: La Grande Bouffe. I try two different kinds of French potato and opt for the creamier one to go with my sausage that simmered in a wine sauce and as I pay for what turns out to be a delicious meal, it starts to rain. Oh no, the raindrops, the raindrops (repeat twenty-three times), are here to turn the fields to a mud pit! While enjoying the best festival food I had ever tasted, I head back to my tent to get out of the rain. Along the way, I stop to grab my festival souvenirs: a shirt with a partial lineup on the back and a deck of cards. Official Glastonbury merchandise is surprisingly scarce: two shirt designs in multiple designs and undersizes (organic cotton also available), a couple hoodies, and the deck of cards. No $500 Emek posters, $30 messenger bags, limited edition shirts, merchandise from previous years, or even posters. Coachellians are totally spoiled when it comes to quality, but expensive, merchandise. My Glastonbury shirt costs a reasonable £13, and £4 for the cards.


Tasty times.

After a failed nap attempt in my tent, the rain ends, leaving the ground surprisingly free of mud. I begin to wish I had spent my £10 on something besides Wellies, but I throw them on and head out to explore the non-musical aspects of Glastonbury. People have been telling me for years that I could have the greatest weekend of my life at Glasto without watching a single band, and I just have to see if this is actually true. I grab a decent, but lukewarm strawberry and mango smoothie for £3 and head south to the Park area, which has a stage where Animal Collective and various surprise guests are to perform later in the weekend.


The Park

Upon arrival at the Park, I find myself instantly impressed. I am greeted with a sufficiently epic archway, gigantic wooden flowers, and a gigantic sand sculpture of Michael Eavis’ face. Unfortunately, the area is quite far from my tent and most of the other stages, so I resign myself to the fact that this is likely my only stop here the entire weekend. And how do I make the most of my time? Taking a nap, of course. All the stress and lack of sleep from the past two weeks began catching up to me at the worst possible time.


Hmmm, where to go?


Ribbon Tower.

While looking for shade, I see the Ribbon Tower, which is exactly as it sounds: a tower with ribbons hanging from the top. It is quite tempting to climb the tower and check out the view from the top, but a massive queue deflates my interest. Eventually I settle for a shaded area called the Stonebridge Bar. The festival grounds are actually scattered with bars all over the place, and is a refreshing change of pace from the American festivals because people have the option of leaving the shade and watching bands with a beer or four in hand. I imagine that Glastonbury would not have lasted very long if drinkers were forced to do so only in designated, fenced-in areas like at American festivals. Unfortunately, I cannot engage in this particular activity. To keep up with the theme of everything that can go wrong happening all at once to me, I began my vacation with a sinus infection and have been on antibiotics since arriving in London ten days prior. I debate skipping my medication so I can try some cider, but then I remember what happened both times in Prague when I did the same. Then I remember that cider costs around four times what a beer costs in a Czech restaurant and sigh sadly.


Michael Eavis is the king of Glastonbury.

While napping, I am told by security to scoot against the wall so nobody trips over me, despite there being dozens of square feet of empty space between me and anyone else. Shortly after falling asleep, I am awoken again by security questioning a girl sitting next to me because her ID “looks fake.” He then runs off with the questionable ID, and I ask the girl what bands she wants to see, and she lists Lady Gaga, to which I reply “are you sure you’re really nineteen?” The security guard never resurfaces, so Ms. Gaga for Gaga and her friend take off in search of him and the identification of questionable validity and that is the last I ever see of any of them. I wonder how difficult it would be for people to meet at a specific time and place at this festival, and imagine that running into someone you know would be highly unlikely, unless you know a lot of people.


Cider in a clown tent.

Feeling slightly refreshed, my next destination is the legendary stone circle. Unfortunately it is not the right time of day to enjoy a hippie drum circle, but the place still has incredibly positive energy. I relax and check out the view of the grounds from the circle and am reminded for the hundredth time that the sheer scale of this festival is overwhelming and I will never get to see everything. Accepting this bittersweet fact, I check out a nearby statue of a dragon.


Stone circle.


Rawr!


When pigs fly?


Breathe into glass/Run to my side/Dripping signs of life.


So much to see.

After having my fill of the view from the stone circle, I move on to the next area, which is the arts & crafts field. I cannot believe such a thing exists at a music festival and is so massive? Glassblowing, pottery, knitting, sewing, making jewelry; you name it, they have it. I wait for a few minutes to make a clay pot since it is one of the cheaper things available, but soon I realize that anything I make will just break in my suitcase on the way home, so I move on.


Fun for all ages.


Insert Amy Winehouse joke here.

Next I find myself in the Healing Field, which is full of tents offering a wide variety of services. Holistic healing of the body and mind is a popular theme, as are massages. One tent offers a gong bath for a fee, while another advertises itself as a witches’ coven. Since Glastonbury is a festival where everyone but me is drunk or high or both, it is only fitting to have a tent for 12 Step meetings. Disappointingly, I do not see anything that appears to be a front for Scientology. Not having money to spare, I do not take the bait and actually engage in any of the services offered. However, just walking around has some sort of healing effect on my mind and body.


How to get the world to stop making nukes? Doodle on underwear!


Flower Power!

After some brief time surrounded by various pleas for peace in the Green Futures field, I find myself in the area around the currently inactive Jazz World stage and notice that it is dinnertime. I go for a second helping of La Grande Bouffe since they have another booth that just happens to be next to me at the time. Finding a clean place to sit is difficult due to thousands of people sitting around drinking cider from the nearby Brothers Bar. Did I mention that the field is completely filled with empty cups and other rubbish? I realize that not being a disgusting litterbug is another futile gesture because the trash cans are overflowing and the recycling bins are filled with all sorts of things that do not belong.


Rubbish.


Avalon artwork.

After dinner, it begins to rain again. I run to the nearest vendor and am gouged for £4 for a cheap, flimsy poncho. This session of rain only lasts five minutes, but I get to observe the phenomenon of people cheering at thunder and lightning. Nature’s lasers are truly better than those inside a dance tent. Moving on, I hear Bob Marley being played over the soundsystem at the Jazz World stage and watch people dancing to it. Instead of joining them, I find my way to the Field of Avalon, where there are some art displays and a stage with nobody playing. Everyone runs inside the Avalon tent as it rains again, this time harder and longer, with wickedly loud thunder. It appears the thunder and the gypsy punk CD playing in the tent are attempting to out-obnoxious one another. Eventually, the lightning admits defeat and the skies clear just in time for sunset.

Glastonbury is known for having so many places to go and things to see and do, and one of the most infamous, and newest, areas is Trash City. I have been told it is a must-see party place with all sorts of insane art installations of the most interactive sort. Unfortunately, upon arrival, I am told that the area does not open until Friday at lunchtime. Trying to not be too disappointed, I move on to Arcadia.


Imagine this with fire, circus performers, fire, DJ’s, and more fire, but at night.

Apparently Arcadia started as something in the Trash City area but was so popular that somehow the laws of physics were defied and the powers that be gave it its own field for 2009. Unfortunately, daylight lasts far too long at Glastonbury, so Arcadia was not happening yet. I did see a field of promise, however, because it is scientifically impossible to go wrong with scrap turned into a futuristic play area with stages (one multi-leveled), pyrotechnics, and even a bar/50’s styled diner.


The Snake Pit: a den of sin in the Shangri-la.

As the sun finally begins the two-hour process of setting, I follow the path to the Shangri-la. Although night would not come for a couple hours, this place is already bumping. I immediately declare the Shangri-la as my new favorite area of Glastonbury, and how could I not? It’s like being in Blade Runner, and this impression is clearly intentional. I take a brief, uncomfortable shuffle down an overcrowded alley connecting clubs filled with dancing, games, alleged medicine, drum machines, and indecipherable and indescribable insanity. Possibly due to the sketchiness perfected at the Shangri-la, I suddenly remember all those urban legends about waking up in a tub of ice without a kidney or two. Or most likely, it was due to the sign advertising kidney and liver hire, proving you really can buy everything at Glastonbury: even your own recently harvested black market organs.


Dancer in the Snake Pit.


Club that required pajamas for entry.

Seeking some breathing room, I get in line to enter something called the Snake Pit. After a half hour of waiting, I discover that a tattoo is required for entry, but temporary body art was available for purchase. Being broke, I just walk in and nobody seems to notice or care. Only at Glastonbury is there entertainment for the queue: the window displaying pole dancers was situated directly next to everyone waiting for their tattoo. Did I mention one of the dancers was pregnant? Inside the Snake Pit, a DJ spins that which is perfect for a mix of dancing, chatting and drinking and not having to fully commit to any of them.


Shangri-la lazers.

Feeling too crowded, I walk outside and explore some more. I come across a building called Hotel Slumbarave-Metropolis, which looks even more delightfully decadent than the Snake Pit, but someone outside tells me pajamas or bathing suits are required for entry. Sad panda. In addition to the stages in the Snake Pit and probably many of the other little places in Shangri-la, there is a traditional stage called Club Dada, where a band that sounds like a less-whimsical Gogol Bordello is performing.


Silent Disco getting down to Wheatus.

After leaving the Shangri-la, my freshly lit festival flare draws the attention of my new friends for the night and I join them to check out the silent disco. One of them has connections and can get us all inside without having to wait in a long queue, it seems. On the way, we hear someone yelling repeatedly that Michael Jackson is dead. A girl walking next to me says that this is a false rumor that she started and he really just had a heart attack. Dismissing this rumor, one of my new friends and I agree to start a rumor the next day that Bono died from his private jet flipping over one, two, three, fourteen times.

Unfortunately, these silent disco connections do not exist and we are stuck outside waiting for a little while. Once inside, we are told that there are two DJ’s and to hit the switch on the headphones to select the one we want to hear. One DJ is doing the kind of set that the kids dance to at all the raves and festivals, while another is throwing down hit songs, especially cheesy ones, without really doing anything with them. Guess which one is more popular. Sure, singing along to “Girls & Boys” is a wonderful Glastonbury moment, but “Teenage Dirtbag?” Since the tent is so packed and I am awkwardly getting down like I have not since Daft Punk at Coachella 2006, I am soaked with sweat, which shorts out my headphones. Nobody wants to fix them or give me new ones without me leaving and getting back in queue, so I decide to call it a night. On the way back to my tent, I hear more people yelling about “Michael Jackson is dead!”, so I respond with “Tito Jackson’s career is dead!” Alarmingly, the same rumor debunker from before is somehow walking by me continuing to declare the news as a rumor.

Friday

A most dreadful sound awakes me early Friday morning: heavy rain. Being unable to fall back asleep without going to the bathroom, I foolishly put on my shoes instead of my wellies and hobble over to the nearby long drops while shivering like I have never shivered before as the wind and rain stab me repeatedly with microscopic icicles. After a brief slumber, I hear someone at the Peel tent telling Michael Jackson jokes. Are the rumors actually true? Throwing on my poncho, I muster the willpower to leave my tent to find out. I hear a few minutes of the first act to play in the Peel tent, General Fiasco, but am not impressed enough to watch their set because there is too much to do. Music? Forget that! Oh, and the field is a giant mud pit already.


Mud has arrived!


These boots are made for walking.

First on the agenda is getting a newspaper. Q releases a free newspaper three times during each Glastonbury and being a sucker for music memorabilia and souvenirs, I must have one. Inside the newspaper, Houston receives confirmation that the Michael Jackson has indeed passed. Before I had noticed that the mood was significantly more somber this morning and assigned the blame to the nasty weather, but now I get the feeling that the King of Pop is on everyone’s minds, including mine. Will Jarvis say something about his former nemesis?


Glastonbury food is better than other festival food. Or food in general.

Moving on to lunch, I score my first Growler of the weekend. The Growler is a legendary meal on the efestivals forum, and consists of a toasted baguette stuffed with fries/chips, bacon (British bacon is actually more like ham), and cheese, and it is sinfully delicious and well worth the inevitable carb coma. In the spirit of spending more money than I should, I take advantage of the services offered by Comfortable Crappers. For a fee of £2, or three passes for £5, one can answer the call of nature in a surprisingly clean portapotty. These crappers of dubious comfort apparently collect and separate human waste for later usage, as described on the information posted inside the stall, along with detailed information about why feces are brown and shaped the way they are. Gross.

In the spirit of giving, The Guardian has a booth set up where you can get a tote/backpack hybrid for free with the purchase of one measly issue of their paper. Immediately taking advantage of their offer, I tuck away my new souvenirs in my broken backpack and head to the Chill & Charge tent. The long queue moves surprisingly fast and I only have to stay in the rain for a few minutes.


Even the recharge tent has a stage at Glastonbury.

Besides the obvious stage, Glastonbury’s recharge tent is fundamentally different from Coachella’s. In Glasto’s Chill & Charge, there are far fewer computers and the chargers are out in the open. Instead of leaving your phone to charge behind a counter, you find the table for your phone’s manufacturer and look for an available cord. The iPhone charge area has a massive queue, which unfortunately means no music for the ride home, but I am able to recharge my phone without a significant wait. While waiting for my phone to recharge and the rain to stop, a band whose name I forget almost instantly performs, and another one starts as I leave the tent to return to the most surreal place on earth.


N.E.R.D.

I arrive to the Pyramid stage area and settle for a spot at the back of a massive crowd that extends well beyond the rear speakers, and this crowd is enthusiastic for one of today’s “special guests”: N.E.R.D. In fact, they are so enthusiastic that there is a massive booing session when the band is unplugged (apparently they started late). I always treasure the moments when I see a band I am not particularly familiar with and find myself into it anyway, and N.E.R.D. gave me another such moment. While waiting for Fleet Foxes, a speaker over the PA tries to get people interested in the “no more nukes” cause, but it’s hearing songs like “Losing My Religion that make the wait bearable.


Fleet Foxes.

Fleet Foxes finally arrive on-stage and prove to be a perfect band for chilling at the back of the crowd. I am perfectly content kicking back on the grass enjoying those harmonies that are even more impressive live. Thank Xenu the powers that be booked them where and when people can actually see and hear them, unlike when they were drowned in sound by Thievery Corporation at Coachella. And speaking of Coachella, it feels a lot like Coachella whenever the sun peeks through the clouds, just not as hot. Direct sunlight equals frying, sweat, and sunburn, regardless of temperature, and I just realize I have forgotten my sunblock. Also, bugs are crawling all over my legs during a promising new Fleet Foxes song about sophomore slumps and diminished returns.


Lily Allen.

After Fleet Foxes, I have had enough of sitting in the back and summon the willpower to brave the mud pit to get a decent spot for Lily Allen. Walking through the crowd is a surprisingly painless procedure. People do not crowd as closely as they do at Coachella, but there are plenty of hazards to watch out for: deep mudpits with Wellie trophies proudly displayed, trash (very slippery on mud), bottles, AIDS needles, wasted people, etc. While playing rubbish hopscotch, “Dancer” plays over the PA and many people sing along completely devoid of irony.

Lily makes her grand entrance to the THX theme, and the audience is listening, indeed. Her set proves to be lots of fun, me being a sucker for catchy pop songs, singalongs, and cuteness. Lily is sporting a single glove as a tribute to the late King of Pop, and flashes a breast at the crowd as a tribute to his royal sister. Nipple tape keeps the incident SFW, and no, I did not see the third nipple. Since voters overseas can be as retarded as in the states, Lily dedicates “Fuck You” to the BNP.

Once Lily Allen finishes, I decide it is time to drink/eat/piss in preparation for Neil Young. Unfortunately it seems everyone else has the same idea. Leaving the Pyramid Stage from somewhere relatively close to the front traps me in an unbearably non-moving clusterfuck that tops any I had ever experienced. I am told that the exodus is worse than usual because everyone but me wants to go see Lady GaGa run around in ridiculous outfits under the guise of creativity on the Other Stage. While a crowd the size of all of Coachella’s is leaving the area, a significant crowd is pushing into it at the same time to see The Specials and Neil Young. One panic attack, two bruises, thirty minutes, and one hundred toe stomps later, I am finally out of the Pyramid arena and back at the Meal Machine, where I try the Big Dog, which is a Growler with sausage instead of bacon: good, but I prefer the Growler because bacon trumps all.


The Specials.

By the time I eat, get water and milk, use the creepy communal urinal, and walk back to the Pyramid, the Specials are well into their set. Never having been a fan, I am there to get a spot for Neil Young and there was nothing else at the time that I cared much to see, anyway. However, I find myself having fun watching their set while working my way up front. I make a note to myself to give their records another go when I return home, which is something every band that puts on a good live inspires.


Neil Young.

Thanks to my careful working of the crowd and the massive post-Specials beer/bathroom/other stage run, I am able to get twenty or so rows back in the center for Neil Young. Having never seen Neil but always wanted to, my anticipation and expectation levels are high. Fortunately, Neil does not disappoint. His voice sounds as good as ever, and he can really rock a crowd without resorting to the cheesiest of arena rock clichés (the extended “Rockin’ in the Free World” with several false endings is completely justified and fuck anyone that says otherwise). The legend gets as lost in the moment as me as his jacket slips off one arm and he does not bother fixing it or removing it: just taking all the other acts of the day to school. Unfortunately, his set ends too early at 11:50pm, leaving me wanting some “Southern Man” or “After the Gold Rush”, but I cannot complain when every minute of his set was brilliant. The ten minute versions of “Rockin’” and “Down by the River” (my new favorite Neil Young song) and a cover of “A Day in the Life” so good that it rivaled Paul McCartney’s performance of the song of songs at Coachella and destroyed the strings on his guitar, leaving Neil to finish his set with a couple notes on the vibraphone.

I am trapped in another clusterfuck following Neil’s set, and being completely drained, I head back to my tent for sleep, vowing to pace myself better the next day so I can check out Trash City. On my way to the tent, I hear Bloc Party closing their set and it’s already 12:30am, meaning it took forty minutes to get there after Neil Young, and it’s another ten minutes before I return to my tent and fall asleep with the realization that I have only met one Canadian and zero Americans over the past three days weighing on my thoughts.

Saturday


They sell everything at Glasto.

Both of nature’s alarm clocks wake me up at 6am on Saturday: freezing cold and the unbearable urge to piss. After taking care of the latter, I drift back to sleep only to wake up again at 9:30am to get dressed, packed, and ready for a long day of music and a long night of the unknown. My backpack’s second strap finally breaks and I have to repack everything into my Guardian tote bag, the straps of which seem to have been designed for children or small adults carrying nothing in the bag. For lunch, I grab another Growler, which is as delicious as the one yesterday, and after finding the new issue of the Glastonbury newspaper, I head to the Other Stage to grab some rail. Metric is playing at 1pm, and the next two hours cannot pass quickly enough.

The Other Stage is the second largest at Glastonbury and is comparable in size (stage and crowd) to the main stage at Coachella. Big bands play at night to help prevent the crowd from getting dangerously massive at the Pyramid, which is not a problem at Coachella. At Glastonbury, you will often find two headliner-caliber bands playing at the same time, with several other interesting bands playing the smaller stages at the same time, while at Coachella, the big names rarely clash and the painful conflicts are the undercard acts conflicting with each other or the main acts.


Broken Family Band

The first band of the day is Broken Family Band, an unfortunately unremarkable band that does not really earn the right to solicit cheesy audience participation or their animal masks. Once they finally finish, a girl asks if she can have my spot at the rail for Peter Bjorn & John, the next act, I say sure, but she and her friend need to stick around for Metric at some place in the crowd. I also wish I had slept in another hour because plenty of rail became available after Broken Family Band.


Peter Bjorn & John

Peter Bjorn & John do a solid, but not particularly memorable set. Perhaps seeing Lykke Li and Robyn performing with them at Coachella spoiled me or maybe it’s the underwhelming nature of the new album, but the set doesn’t do much for me besides provide adequate entertainment until I get to see Metric. There is a smaller than expected exodus following their set, and thankfully I arrived early because I would not have been able to get rail for Metric otherwise. Is Metric big here after all? Being deprived of rail when I saw Metric in LA a few weeks prior, despite arriving several hours early, had motivated me to make the effort to get up front for Metric, so here I am frying in the sun to do it. Thankfully security is giving out free cups of water to everyone up front that requests one. I thought corporate greed put an end to helping people not die? Guess not.


Metric.


Metric.

I am told that the big crowd around me is not there for Metric, sadly, but is camping out for Jason Mraz. Thankfully Metric always brings it live, regardless of venue and crowd familiarity, and despite this being my fifth time seeing them, it’s not the least bit tired. Unfortunately, since the girls and dragged boyfriends surrounding the front of the stage are just waiting for Jason Mraz, they look at me funny for going nuts in my own little world. I hope that Emily noticed the true fan going crazy up front while she was dancing around in the sparkly number from the “Sick Muse” video. The setlist consists almost entirely of songs from Fantasies, except for “Monster Hospital” and “Dead Disco”, the latter of which gets the mostly unfamiliar audience bumping.

Surrendering my rail for Jason Mrazians, I depart the Other Stage in search of batteries. The last of my AA’s died during Metric and I need some for the next act on my agenda: Emmy the Great. Having never seen Emmy, I am really looking forward to her set. A vendor sells me some overpriced generic batteries and as I walk to the Queen’s Head, I notice the ground is significantly dryer thanks to the sun being out and shining brightly all day. Sure, it’s still muddy on the main pathways, but the ground fine everywhere else. Wanting to get out of the sun, I duck inside the Queen’s Head tent and watch Peggy Sue & the Pirates.


Peggy Sue & the Pirates

Now that I’m inside the tent, I figure I might as well just stick around to get a good spot for Emmy the Great. Peggy Sue & the Pirates give a solid set that helps pass the time until Emmy, as does Fyfe Dangerfield (another secret act), but not so much Broken Records. All I feel during Broken Records is my freshly sunburned flesh. Sunburn at Glasto? It happens if you’re under the sun at high noon with no shade and no sunblock! Emmy the Great apparently has a loyal fanbase, since I am not the only person that camped out for a spot. Still, rail is available fifteen minutes before her set, just not in the center.


Fyfe Dangerfield

Unfortunately the pack of batteries I purchased turns out to be a complete waste of money. These things are so weak that my camera only turned on for long enough to take a photo thrice, and I was not able to adequately zoom or focus. Here I am ten feet away from the stage about to see Emmy the Great without a working camera. Sad panda. Sure, I knew generic batteries are crap when I bought them, but they are supposed to actually work, just for half as long.


Emmy the Great.

One question that has been in my mind all weekend is how someone armed with an acoustic guitar and unforgettable lyrics would translate in a festival setting, which remained unanswered when Emmy the Great took the stage because she brought a full band and two backup singers. Emmy truly lives up to her namesake as she performs songs from her debut First Love. So much, in fact, that I tell someone “more like Emmy the Incredible” in between songs, to which Emmy says “I like you!” And then she says that she likes my Animal Collective shirt (which had been purchased from a sketchy bootlegger for $5 a month prior during the best night ever) and asks if I saw them last night. As I am putting together a reply, Emmy gets back to playing, but sees that I am about to speak, to which I say “go on, I’ll tell you later.” Sadly, I never get to tell her that I had seen Animal Collective a month ago and had never seen Neil Young, which is why I missed them. But fortunately, my mini-sign requesting a setlist at the end of the set is acknowledged with an unprecedented level of class. Emmy grabs a couple setlists and picks and jumps down and hands me one, high-fives me, and stays to chat for a few minutes with us fans until security tells her to leave. And unfortunately, this is the absolute worst time to have a dead camera because no camera means no photo with Emmy. Sadder panda. She tells me that she will be performing again after midnight at some campfire at Arcadia and that she would love to play California again. She tells me she did one show last year at the Roxy, but I was not in town for it.


Emmy the Great setlist. Yes to "Lost in Austin", no "Heal the World", and I recall "First Love" being in there somewhere.


Don’t laugh, it worked.


Not Little Boots.


Wat.


Oriental?


Mushy peas look like vomit but are much better than their mushless relatives.

There are not many acts that I want to see playing until the end of the night, when Bruce Springsteen, Jarvis Cocker, Franz Ferdinand, 2 Many DJ’s, the second coming of Jesus, the second coming of Xenu, and The Smiths are all playing at the same time, so I set off to explore some of the countless acres of unseen festival grounds. First, I wash my hair and upper body in a nearby sink. It pays to carry around shampoo and shower gel at Glasto. Then I buy some real batteries and am gouged for £7 for four measly batteries, which converts to around $12. Next I head back to Arcadia in search of this campfire so I know how to find it in the dark when it’s time to see Emmy the Great again. I just see the standard stage that has set times and the gigantic monstrosity in the middle of the field and decide it must be something that only goes at night.


Trash City.


Trash City.


Trash City.


Trash City.


Trash City.


Trash City


Robot in Trash City.


The Drag Strip.


NYC Downlow.

Being nighttime-only is the norm for things in Arcadia and this turns out to be true for Trash City, which is finally open. However, all the bars and clubs are closed until sunset. After another visit to Comfortable Crappers, I enjoy a dinner of fish and chips with mushy peas, which are second only to the ones I had in Brighton in terms of tastiness, and wash it down with a bottle of Tango, the only orange soda I have seen in Europe that wasn’t Fanta. Although Trash City is dead during the day, I can tell it will be nothing short of amazing at night and take advantage of the opportunity to photograph everything while there’s light.


Superheroes!

Deciding to see Bruce Springsteen instead of Jarvis Cocker was not an easy decision to make, but because I had just seen Jarvis twice the previous week and would again a month later, it made the most sense. So here I am with an hour and a half before the Boss and where am I? Back in the Chill & Charge tent. Loathing Kasabian, I do not want to work the crowd to get up front for the Boss and therefore be subjected to this rubbish band, plus my iPod still needs a charge. I only get about 30 minutes of charge time before I leave to finally see Bruce for the first time. At the outdoor communal urinal, lazy and disgusting excuses for human beings are refusing to wait five minutes in queue and just pissing all over the walls, creating another mud pit. Absolutely repulsive.


Bruce Springsteen from the very back.

Bruce Springsteen’s headlining set is the one that the British media has been obsessing over recently, but I went to the Pyramid with the assumption that it would not be a problem getting a decent spot shortly before show time because the crowd had been generally chill all weekend and that it was not New Jersey. Wrong again. I eventually give up on getting up front and just chill in the back on a small patch of litter-free ground using an extra newspaper as a seat.

What can be said about Springsteen that hasn’t already been said before countless times? He’s The Boss. People say that he plays to the back of the arena or stadium with legendary energy and passion, and this is true for a gigantic field of mud with twice as many people as Giants Stadium. Every song feels like an anthem, and the crowd is digging it, myself included (despite not knowing nearly every song). Sure, some people in the back are asking if he will play “Born in the USA” (he does not), but everyone’s having a good time, with the fans up front being absolutely nuts attempting to molest their Boss every time he comes to the rail to play or grab request signs. But when the big guns like “Born to Run”, “Dancing in the Dark”, and “Glory Days” are unveiled is when everyone collectively loses themselves to something bigger than any of us.


Trash City.

Being at the back of the crowd gives me the advantage of beating most people to the afterhours areas. Despite Bruce’s set not ending until 12:40am, and assuming I already missed Emmy the Great’s afterhours campfire set, I haul ass straight ahead. According to my map, if I go in a straight line from where I started running, I will find myself at Arcadia. Nope. Instead I am at the Queen’s Head again, well out of the way. So I make a ninety degree turn to the right and continue straight but somehow end up at the Queen’s Head again ten minutes later. Laws of time and space do not apply in this world of magic because science and the rational are heresy and that’s the way we likes it.


NYC Downlow.

Eventually I make it to Arcadia at 1:30ish and have clearly missed Emmy the Great, and never see the campfire. I hear that I just missed an amazing fire show, too. Moving on to trashier pastures, I finally go to Trash City at an appropriate time and holy monk is it crowded. But all the killer sculptures and buildings look even more impressive at night, and there is fire. Fire is cool, heh heh.


NYC Downlow.

I get in queue for a bar called NYC Downlow which looks even sleazier and sketchier at night from the outside, complete with trannies peeking out from a gigantic hole in the wall. Once I make it to the door, a drag queen charges me £2 for a fake mustache. This fauxstache falls off after five seconds and I stick it to the set times hanging around my neck. NYC Downlow is very dark and smoky and/or misty inside, so one could dance to the acid house being spun with relative anonymity and two bars are available to serve the refreshments necessary to do this. Thankfully NYC has an outdoors area in the back where people catch fresh air and wait in a thirty minute queue for a portapotty, both of which I need. Yet more interactive art is available for enjoyment in this back patio: a crazy gigantic kaleidoscope from ephemere phenomenon. In this kaleidoscope, you sit and stick your head through the bottom and at the opposite side someone puts on a show with their hands and lights that is reflected off the mirrors to a very overwhelming effect. Unfortunately, breathing while the air is cold fogs up the mirrors, but still impressive. I am informed that a much larger version will be at Fuji Rock this year.


Drag Strip.

Moving on, I depart the Downlow and get in queue for another bar called the Drag Strip, this one being of the “biker bar from Hell” variety, as opposed to “gay bar in the 80’s New York City.” Inside the Strip, two girls are performing on-stage in full-body animal costumes and they are singing along to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Turn around, bright eyes, indeed. This is followed by humping to “Closer” and then stripping out of the animal suits to “Welcome to the Jungle.” The furries are followed by a bunch of people coming out for a brief dance number. Wow.


Wat.


Some interesting interactivity tucked away in the Shangri-la.


Shangri-la.

Wanting to end my night on a high note and my second wind having long passed, I decide to return to my tent. Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Not only is Trash City on the far end of the farm in relation to my tent, but also there is a bullshit circumstance beyond my control. Security is not letting anyone leave Trash City the way they came in. Instead I have to go through Shangri-la and Arcadia again along with a heavy flow of traffic. Going through the crowded alleys of Shangri-la one more time is exciting, but it’s so crowded and I’m exhausted so I don’t get to stick around for too long. It takes eighty minutes or so to go through all these areas again and then walk back to my tent well after 4am, where I instantly fall asleep without changing out of my shorts or even emptying my pockets.

Sunday

The antibiotics are ruining me. I have had to go to the bathroom at 2am, 4am, 6:30am, and now 9am. Getting a late start on the day, I stumble out of my tent saddened over the fact that this is the last day of Glastonbury. But on the bright side, Sunday easily has the best lineup of the weekend. So many bands to see and so little downtime. I do manage to get today’s newspaper and stumble upon the booth that sells band merchandise, finally. Surprisingly, no CDs or records are available and only some bands have merchandise available, understandable due to the overwhelming number of acts performing over the weekend. I spy a really cool Bat for Lashes t-shirt but decide to save my money and buy one when I see her two months later in Hollywood. The blue milk carton Blur shirts are sold out, and what’s left isn’t too thrilling: the Best Of cover on the front with “2009 tour” on the back, and another shirt with the dog. I inquire about Emmy the Great merchandise, since I will never see any at another show, but am denied. I can’t haz merch.


We Have Band.

After a quick lunch I head to the John Peel tent for an extended stay. Not only is Emmy the Incredible doing another set, but another act that has done multiple sets throughout the weekend is performing and there is a lot of hype: We Have Band. The first band I see is Wave Machines, and unfortunately I forget to take any notes and their set is completely forgotten about after ten minutes. Next is We Have Band, a disco rock trio that won an emerging talent competition of some sort and therefore gets to play Glastonbury. Fortunately they are an engaging live act and live up to the hype.


Twisted Wheel.

After We Have Band, more people than usual stick around inside the tent. I am told that the next act, Twisted Wheel, opened for Oasis recently, so a lot of their fans are here to check them out. The crowd is wild for Twisted Wheel, and some of those legendary flags make their way inside the tent to obstruct the view of everyone behind them, making this the first time I see a flag in a small crowd the whole weekend. Flags litter the Pyramid arena all weekend, especially during the main acts, and also the Other Stage, but the tents? That’s a first. Twisted Wheel combine old school rock with post-punk rehashing into something I don’t care for, but clearly I am the only one since several crowd surfers fly over my head.


Emmy the Great.


Emmy the Great.

The John Peel tent has twenty feet between the rail and the stage, despite the tent itself not being very big. I estimate it to be equivalent in capacity to Coachella’s Mojave Tent, which holds a few thousand people, but wider and not as long. So because of this distance, none of the photos I am taking are turning out as well as the ones I could have taken yesterday in the more intimate Queen’s Head. Emmy the Great is just as impressive the second time around, and the longer set is much appreciated. She comes out wearing some sort of John Peel t-shirt and tells us where to buy them and it’s for some sort of charity, and then leaves the shirt hanging from the microphone for the rest of the set. Hopefully she will bust out “Two Steps Forward” if she ever plays America and I am there.


Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

After my extended stay in the tent of Peel, I grab some water for the next couple hours and head to the Healing Fields, but on the way I pass the Other Stage, where I hear Enter Shikari announce the next song as their last. Wait, what? According to the set times, their awful noise is not scheduled to end for another half hour. Canceling my plans, I work the crowd from the left side and once they finish their final musical abortion I am able to get in the second row for Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It turns out that most acts on the Other Stage had to start a half hour early because the original set times only allocated an hour for Bon Iver to play and to set up for the act following him. Oops. Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time, eh?

Conditions are quite miserable waiting for Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It had briefly rained during Enter Shikari, adding mugginess to the already hot and squishy overcrowded conditions up front. Everyone wants to get a good view of Karen O’s latest costume, and Karen makes it worth their while with an elaborate headdress made of hands. Some old school fans complain that her antics are not as crazy as they were back in the day now that she performs sober, but her voice sounds much better live nowadays. And she sure can wail that “AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRTTTTTTT SSSSSTTTTAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR!” Closing the set with “Date with the Night”, Karen and Nick smash their microphone and guitar together repeatedly until both are destroyed, resulting in a wonderful noise.


vs.

The Battle of the Tights Round 1: Karen O vs Natasha Khan.


Bat for Lashes.

Thankfully someone leaves the rail so I get something to lean on while waiting for Bat for Lashes. Before the set begins, my Coachella 2004 shirt attracts some attention as two girls behind me freak out over the lineup and express a desire to see Prince headline the Pyramid stage. A really drunk kid tells me that he would piss all over Glastonbury to attend Coachella and that it is his dream in life to attend. Also, that America has the greatest system of government in the world and that Britain does not have an actual constitution. He tells me these things several times while expressing his need to be on the rail to see Karen O, despite their set being long over. It turns out the couple next to me is from America. Finally! Other Americans!

This will be my first time seeing Bat for Lashes, and I have been listening to her/them a lot over recent months, especially while walking around in Prague, and I do not know what to expect from a live show. What I get is something truly amazing. Natasha’s voice is one of those rarities that is far more powerful live and her band contribute greatly to the hour of pure mesmerization. How often do we get to see a band use a timpani and a marxophone? Not nearly often enough. The crowd goes the most wild for “Daniel”, with guys in Karate Kid costumes sitting on shoulders like groupies flashing Bon Jovi. I consider stealing this costume idea for when I see BFL again.


Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

It takes seventy-five minutes to leave the Other Stage, walk to the Healing Fields for one final visit to the pay portapotties, walk back to the area between the Pyramid and Other stages to get the final delicious Growler of the weekend (they hook me up with an extra loaded one this time because I like them so much), get some water, and get to the Pyramid stage for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. I arrive just in time to hear the very end of “Red Right Hand”, the only Nick Cave song I know. Yes, that’s bad, but researching his discography got lost in the stressful shuffle of getting ready for a trip to Europe. I deeply regret this slip because he is yet another incredible live performer.

Apparently there is no shame in being a “that guy” at Glastonbury. Half the crowd during Nick Cave is sporting a Glastonbury 2009 shirt already, but this is understandable, because I already had run out of clean laundry thanks to the hostel screwing me out of detergent. Also, people love their rolling papers. However, a significant and large number of people in Europe actually use them for rolling cigarettes of tobacco, as opposed wacky tobaccy.

Once Nick Cave finishes, it becomes clear that plenty of people have been waiting it out for Blur. Fewer people than usual leave, but everyone is rushing the stage. This pre-Blur push is easily, and by far, the worst I have ever felt. Is this what it was like for the Rage Against the Machine reunion? Okay, that is probably an exaggeration but what do I know? I stayed in the very back of the crowd for that show.


Blur.

Finally, the big reunion of the weekend begins as Blur takes the stage ten minutes earlier than the other headliners. After the most rapturous reception I have heard all weekend, if not ever, the band launches into “She’s So High.” One minute into the set and it is already painfully obvious that the media have underestimated and underreported this reunion. A massive mosh pit breaks out for “Girls & Boys” that makes me fear for my life even more than when my midsection broke the fall of someone that some skinheads picked up and threw during The Mars Volta. But you know what? What a way to go.


Blur.

Blur breaks out all the hits and gems, from “Beetlebum” to “Trimm Trabb” and the crowd has clearly not forgotten about Blur during their hiatus: every song is a sing-along. The biggest singalong of the entire festival and my concert-going history turns out to be “Tender.” In a beautiful Glastonbury moment, a group of strangers pulls me into their circle and we all sway back and forth, arms around one another, singing along at the top of our lungs for the next ten minutes. Tender singing surfaces again as everyone does it during the encore breaks.


Blur.

Oasis versus Blur? How was that even a competition? Pulp versus Blur? Now that’s a cromulent matchup because unlike Oasis, Blur and Pulp actually matured and evolved as artists and did something besides recycle the same album of Beatles-esque stadium ballads over and over again. It was great the first two times, sure, but after 1995 everything was rubbish. Moving on…


Blur.

Once Blur’s legendary two hour set comes to a close, people still want to sing “Tender” and who can blame us? The march back to my tent is the saddest one I have ever had to make. The trip to the musical equivalent of Mecca has essentially come to a close. Sure, I can go to the party areas again, but I prefer to absorb and reflect on the memories gained over the weekend, especially Blur. Plus I am beyond exhausted and have to get up early to catch the bus back to London. It takes forever to vacate the Pyramid due to the usual traffic. One person has the brilliant idea of stripping completely naked, which forces everyone to run away and give him some breathing room. Eventually I find my tent and sleep for the last time at the most magical place on earth dreaming of one day returning.

Monday


“Do you see me? I’m in the twelfth queue from the right.”

Morning unfortunately comes and with it one last batch of rain: just enough to make the path back to the festival gates muddy. On my way out, I purchase a couple copies of Q’s special Glastonbury review issue. Yes, on the way out of the festival you can buy a magazine full of photos and information about everything you just saw. Sunday has limited coverage, obviously, but somehow a Blur photo made it to the presses in time. Very cool. I also purchase a copy of The Guardian, which comes with a gigantic pack of baby wipes, for yet another Glastonbury review. It’s unanimous: everyone says 2009 was the best Glastonbury ever. Michael Eavis says so every year, but it’s still apparently true. Is every year just simply better than the last? Probably.

Once the first 1pm coach back to London takes off, I look at the massive farm one last time and discuss everything I saw with the girl sitting next to me with a combination of excitement and longing. I already miss it. Glastonbury has proven to be a place like no other; often imitated, but never duplicated. There’s something for everyone here regardless of tastes or even age. Anyone can enjoy a favorite band of theirs, discover a new one, and most importantly, experience a whole weekend full of fun, magic, insanity, filth, spirituality, debauchery, whimsy, whatever you could possibly imagine and then some. Hell, even the laws of time, space and physics in general don’t apply. It’s almost as if Glastonbury is a sentient being with its own plans for each and every person, no matter how much you might resist.

I depart Pilton with a desire to return again as soon as possible that is so overwhelming, that it dwarves any and all anticipation and excitement I had before attending the first time. Glastonbury is something that cannot be truly comprehended with mere words, photos, or even movies. It is something that must be experienced, and then experienced again to do things differently and see that which was missed the last time, and again because it is never the same beast twice.

People always say the most unbelievable weekend of your life can be had without watching a single band since there’s so much going on at Glasto, and it’s so true. What would make an interesting read is if someone does just that someday and writes a full report. I question if I am that strong, but if anything could tear me away from worming my way up front for my favorite bands with ease, it would be all that Glastonbury has to offer.

8 comments:

  1. that was unbelievable. bookmarked, love the pics.

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  2. Absolutely fantastic. Extremely well written with some wonderful photos to illustrate.

    Well done.

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  3. Wonderful. Interesting to see and hear about parts of the site I have still yet to visit after 15 years of going to Glastonbury - and also to see familiar sights (your milk truck photo was taken at the top of the field we always camp in). Must say I've never ever seen an "AIDS needle" at Glastonbury though, but I hope that was poetic exaggeration.

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  4. It was a good read - though I do have to back up elviramental in that I have never seen, in 10 years, a needle on site (though I guess there would be some in the medics tents). Next time take a tent with you - oh and money x

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  5. AIDS needles, or more specifically, "AIDZ NEEDLEZ" are a Coachella board meme.

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  6. Great review from an interesting perspective. Very thorough

    WELL DONE INDEED!

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  7. I've just installed iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

    ReplyDelete