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“The most diverse crowd I’ve seen at the festival”

Glastonbury’s over for another year. Music writer Pete Paphides has been going there since 1992, and he noticed some important, positive differences this year. He listed them on Twitter, noting things such as the move away from plastic bottles and the provision of extra helpers on-site. But the main difference was diversity.

The main thing that gets reported about the Festival is the music coverage. So let’s talk about the music at this year’s Glastonbury, with an unprecedented amount of female performers, and also its commitment to a bill which seeks to reflect the way music is changing, and also the way Britain has been changing.

For years the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity among mainstream festival audiences has been one of those things that you notice and feel a bit uncomfortable about. This year’s Glastonbury was by far the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at the Festival.

Paphides isn’t claiming it’s perfect – while he says it’s more diverse he still notes that the diversity on stage isn’t quite reflected by the diversity of the crowd – but as he says, it’s worthwhile and Glastonbury didn’t have to do it. Tickets go on sale and are all sold long before the acts are announced, so the festival could simply have done the usual stages-full-of-straight-white-guys thing. But it didn’t.

Instead, we saw a much more diverse Glastonbury than ever before. Stormzy rightly got the lion’s share of attention for his astonishing headline slot, but he shared a bill with Lauryn Hill and Sheryl Crow; other main stage highlights included Janet Jackson, Anne-Marie, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Kylie and Mavis Staples. Other large stages saw Sigrid, Mo, Maggie Rogers, Babymetal, Billie Eilish, Christine & The Queens, Neneh Cherry, Lizzo, Stefflon Don, Janelle Monae, Sharon Van Etten, Cat Power, Kate Tempest, Dream Wife, KT Tunstall, Grace Petrie, Lucy Spraggan and many more I’m far too old and too uncool to know about. And that’s before you get into the stages for grime and UK rap, of which I know nothing.

It’s not perfect. But it’s better.

As Paphides put it on Twitter:

Glastonbury tickets go on sale before the lineup is announced. Over the next few years, we need to get to a point where fans of all the artists listed by Stormzy in his astonishing headline set, will buy tickets for the Festival, knowing their music be represented there.

UK and US festivals – the mainstream ones – are generally very male, and very straight, and very white. But the UK/USA, and UK/USA music, are much more diverse.

Here’s an example from the other end of the music business. Last night I went to an open mic night in the south side of Glasgow. When you think “open mic”, you immediately think of Ed Sheeran types, wannabe Jodi Mitchells and Bob Dylans.

You probably don’t think of gospel-influenced multiracial vocal groups singing African melodies; harpists; wisecracking reverends; bluegrass-tinged feminist ukulele anthems; chaotic R&B-infused rap collectives; angry Greek rappers; women who wield their guitars like weapons and treat their vocals like samples; electronic improvisers whose melodies fade in and out like dreams; and the odd furious middle-aged trans woman (hello!) tearing holes in her vocal cords.

That’s what music’s like: a mix, a mess, a glorious melting pot. Festivals should be too. Because that’s where the mainstream is now. The music we’re listening to isn’t boys with electric guitars, as thrilling as boys with electric guitars can be. It’s all kinds of genres, all kinds of performers, doing all kinds of wonderful things.