How progressive politics, music and religion combine to make a festival where the loos are lovely and the people properly nice.
When you can honestly say you love the toilets at a festival on day three, that festival is probably something special. I love the toilets at Greenbelt. At other festivals Vietnam Vets (the grizzled kind who were at Da Nang) stagger from them with a wild look in their eyes that suggests, more than usual, that they have seen things... terrible things. At Greenbelt people skip from them singing 'Portaloo!' to the tune of an ABBA song. I swear one morning, on hearing through the plastic door some bright-eyed young camper strumming an acoustic guitar, I thought: 'well, isn't this nice?' That has to be fairly unique in the UK festival scene.
Greenbelt (at Cheltenham Racecourse over the August Bank Holiday) is more than just a festival where the campers don't steal the toilet paper or smear faeces on the walls like holidaying chimps. It's a festival where the organisers have them cleaned religiously. And the word 'religiously' is key. Because Greenbelt is a Christian festival. Mostly. Kinda. Sortof.
I'm not sure what kind of reactions the words 'Christian festival' provoke in you. I'm picturing Brando in a sweaty room in the jungle muttering: 'the horror... the horror...' And fair enough. I'm a fully paid-up, believing, says-amen-in-the-right-places Christian, and I have found myself clutching the lapels of friends, sobbing, 'you weren't there!" after some events. But Greenbelt is different.
No, really. It's different. Once a straight-up festival of Christian teaching, art and music, Greenbelt has evolved into a festival of justice, music, art, comedy, theatre, music, spirituality and good vibes that, for the last three years has featured an overarching theme of solidarity with the cause of Palestine. Over just the last few festivals it have featured Muslims leading prayers, atheists and believers putting forward their cases against the church, Peter Tatchell and Gene Robinson and on Sunday it featured Mark Thomas 'dropping the C-bomb' twice to the amusement rather than horror of the mostly Christian audience. The 700 Club at play it ain't. The most impressive thing about all of that is that none of it is unusual for Greenbelt.