Can a Glastonbury away from Worthy Farm truly be Glastonbury? We may find out in 2019 after founder Michael Eavis this week revealed his team is planning an all-new event. Ostentatiously called the Variety Bazaar, the name sounds like a party Truman Capote might have thrown in the 1960s: all black bowties, red tablecloths and scrambled eggs at midnight. Check your raingear at the door.
Firm details have been scarce since Eavis made the announcement on Glastonbury FM on Tuesday. “The Variety Bazaar. It’s a good name, don’t you think?” he asked. Eavis also revealed the event won’t take place at Worthy Farm – the Somerset, southwest England home of the massive summer music festival since the 1970s – but at a location “halfway to the midlands”.
When festival-goers interpreted the announcement to mean Glastonbury was making some permanent changes, the online uproar and screams of “WTF” were so thunderous, you’d swear they announced a rapper was to headline. In a statement posted to Twitter, Eavis’s daughter and co-organiser Emily Eavis tried to clarify the situation: “We are still planning an event in the future at a different location – which we are calling Variety Bazaar. But Glastonbury festival will always be called Glastonbury and will remain at Worthy Farm.”
Clear as the Somerset mud then. Organisers haven’t yet confirmed whether Glastonbury itself will take place in 2019. The festival is due its fallow year in 2018 – a break that occurs every six years to give the land and locals some recovery time – but whether the Variety Bazaar is being organised to replace the main event the following year, or whether Michael Eavis is planning to host both, isn’t yet certain.
What exactly the Variety Bazaar will be remains pure speculation. Maybe it'll take its stylistic cues from the Middle Eastern marketplaces (or bazaars) that influenced its name. Maybe it'll be an electronic music wonderland, set in an arena built on lights and lasers to make the ghost of Philip K Dick proud. Or will it be Glastonbury 2.0, with extra fried food, sunburned skin and campers belting out Wonderwall?
Whether we’re heading for a hard or soft “Glexit”, organisers should be aware that change doesn’t always go down well with festival punters. When Ireland’s own Oxegen returned in 2013 from a one-year hiatus with a distinctly guitar-free line-up that included Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Rizzle Kicks, fans accused the traditionally rock-based festival of straying too far from its roots. What was once Ireland’s biggest summer music festival died that year and will probably never be revived.
In 2015, Scottish festival T in the Park was forced to change sites from Balado airfield to Strathallan Castle against its will. Since the move, it has been subject to greater planning regulations and logistical issues. The event is taking a year off this summer to resolve some of the problems.
Michael Eavis seems aware of the perils of potentially messing with what’s become a British institution. “I’ve been a risk-taker all my life. In 47 years of taking risks, so far – touch wood – I haven’t come unstuck. This might be one risk too far, I don’t know.”
So why do it? If throwing a festival is a kind of art form, then maybe Eaves is an artist looking to move outside his comfort zone. He’s the established filmmaker testing himself in a new genre. Or the burned out rock musician who retreats to a cabin in the woods, cuts an acoustic record and finds his centre. He’s Truman Capote, moving from glittering fiction into true crime. After the Variety Bazaar, you might never get excited about that same old Muse set again.