Greenbelt 2008 looked like this: around 20,000 festival-goers watched 130 musical acts perform over 4 days on 6 stages, while 102 speakers gave 150 talks in 11 venues.
The thing is, Greenbelt is so much more than numbers. Unlike many festivals, it’s not just about packing in as many people as possible.
If we look closer, those 130 acts came from a host of musical genres, including pop, rock, world, classical, jazz, R’n’B, Hip Hop, Electro, goth, acoustic, folk, indie, metal, Gospel, bluegrass and even flamenco.
Michael Franti returned to Mainstage alongside Emanuel Jal, Seth Lakeman, Beth Rowley, Daby Touré, The Matthew Herbert Big Band, and the musical extravaganza Roll Jordan Roll. Schlomo proved that you don’t need a large number of people on stage to put on a great show, as he held the crowd captive with his incredible beat-boxing. The Performance Café continued to be many people’s favourite venue with intimate sets from Juliet Turner, Andy Yorke, Brian Houston, and a breathtaking gig from gypsy troubadour Mor Kabasi.
New to the Festival was the Fresh Talent Stage. Hosted in the YMCA 24 hour café, alongside our youth programming, it gave a gaggle of young talent the chance to show us what they’re made of, and included sets from bands, DJs and aspiring musicians with open-mic and iPod-DJ events.
The Youth & Children’s programmes were as busy as usual. Especially popular were the Skate Park, the Messy Space, and the wonderful menagerie of Tropical Inc. There were puppets, junk sculptures, Fischy music, and thebandwithnoname returned for a special youth-only set.
There were other new venues to be launched this year. In The Library, festival-goers could exchange books, while over in The Kitchen – a new hub for the Festival – It was ideas that were exchanged. Hosting workshops and talks, it is first and foremost a space to drink coffee and network, aiming to give people the information and tools they need to take the festival back with them into their daily lives.
Other literature successes included former Children’s Laureate, Michael Morpurgo, and Ed Newell’s Grimm Tales, which looked at the religious meaning behind some of the Brothers’ Grimm’s most famous stories. The Hub also gave festival-goers the opportunity to get involved in visual arts, with the School of Art and Artists’ Forums. Exhibitions came from Martin Wilson, Sally Jane Thompson and Siku, the creator of the Manga Bible.
The talks programme was as wide thematically as the east is from the west: Ann Pettifor fore-saw the Credit Crisis, and Abdul-Rehman Malik, a Canadian-born Muslim, was part of a panel looking at being British; Maureen Jack spoke of why we should believe in non-violent resistance in Palestine, while John Bell pointed out why we shouldn’t believe in miracles and Brian McLaren talked about post-colonialism and praying naked.
The worship programme provided 86 highly varied opportunities to worship in 8 different spaces. The biggest change was the moving of the Sunday communion service from the morning to the afternoon. Led by Luis-marina Campos Garcia, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Geneva, it remained central to the festival, combining music, liturgy and a procession through the site to celebrate the Rising Sun.
Three amazing solo performances stood out from the Performing Arts programme. Charlie Ryder’s work that fed off his arrest in a riot after anti-BNP demonstrations, Linda Marlowe’s contemporary re-telling of 4 old testament women, and Nola Rae’s unique approach to mime. It wasn’t all watching either, as festival-goers performed in the scratch musical Rock On!
As the sun set on the Rising Sun festival, over 20,000 Greenbelters headed home. Artists, staff, volunteers and ticket-holders alike left the Racecourse inspired, challenged and awoken to a new dawn.