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Generation Z is no longer interested in music at festivals like Glastonbury

“Pick the three best acts you want to see and let the rest happen,” a friend warned me, just weeks before my first visit to Glastonbury Festival in 2023. “What? This is crazy. What am I supposed to do all day?” I thought to myself, four years after starting my quest for the coveted golden ticket, terrified that it wouldn't live up to the hype.

As someone who spent most of his teenage years running from stage to stage in Reading and Leeds chasing my favourite bands, the idea that I could care less about the music I paid £350 for seemed almost laughable. But as it turns out, festivals are becoming so much more than that for Gen Z, and I was close to being converted myself.

In the weeks following the release of the Glastonbury Festival 2024 lineup, social media was awash with customers threatening never to get tickets again (since they never got any anyway) and angry that chart music was dominating the all-important headline slots.

Where Blur, Adele and David Bowie once blew music lovers away, this year Dua Lipa, SZA and Coldplay will perform.

That's not to say we shouldn't criticise this year's admittedly lacklustre offering. However, those who have never graced the fields of Worthy Farm may not know that Glastonbury actually has over 150 stages and areas outside of the iconic Pyramid Stage, including but not limited to: cinemas, circuses, healing fields, political debates, nightclubs, art classes, installations, dance classes, running clubs and a full-fledged beach with its own pier. And that's without the time spent sitting in the tents laughing at that friend who just realised they forgot their wellies.

With 360 acres of festival grounds at your disposal, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to force yourself to see today's pop princesses against your will. You could spend a whole day browsing the 400 food stalls and napping the rest of the evening if you really wanted to – Glastonbury really is at your feet, and that's why visitors travel from all corners of the world every year on the last weekend in June.

2024 will be Coldplay's fifth headliner, and despite the controversy over their eligibility, tickets sold out within 22 minutes of going on sale. Boss Emily Eavis even claims that this year saw the smallest number of tickets released for resale in the event's history.

“Glastonbury is not defined by the headliners… it's made up of eight or nine areas that would be festivals in their own right,” says SJ Smallpage, founder of the 13,000-strong Glasto Gals fan community.

“Glastonbury is unique because it has so many different genres and attracts so many people – and there are people who come back every year, no matter who the headliner is. If we lost the Pyramid Stage, it would still sell out and I would still be dancing at the Farm whether Coldplay, The Who or one of the big pop bands were on stage.”

As a new generation of festival-goers grows up, it's notable that priorities for veterans of the industry have shifted significantly over time. Back in the days of my first experiences around 10 years ago (which I haven't lost to post-drinking amnesia), festival culture was all about who could drink the most, there were rumours about how people had smuggled in illegal goods in the most inventive ways, and who could get the dirtiest.

The Healing Field at Glastonbury 2022Getty

Now that glamping is as common as sleeping in that semi-waterproof tent you've had in your garage for 20 years, and Generation Z is more health conscious than generations before it, it's no surprise that wellness and immersive experiences are taking center stage.

Wellness tourism is booming and according to a recent report by the Global Wellness Institute, the industry will be worth over £1 trillion globally by 2027.

Other festivals such as Wilderness, Love Trails and The Soul Circus are just some of this year's events that put music on the same level as other craft and relaxation activities.

But this is nothing new – it is simply becoming more and more important. Back in 2019, Ticketmaster's “Festival State Of Play” report suggested that gender representation and sustainability are now the most important factors for people when choosing a festival.

Having started out as a small family business in 1970 with tickets costing just £1, it's no surprise that Glastonbury has become a popular destination for do-gooders. The festival donates millions to charity every year and supports good causes and up-and-coming artists with each event.

Speaking about the future of festivals, SJ says: “We now live in a generation that expects festivals to be a part of their summer – a younger generation that is very conscious of their health, their mental wellbeing and also the environment, which I think is absolutely in line with the ethos of a festival like Glastonbury.”

Now in my second year of attending the five-day extravaganza in Somerset, I know it will be different this year to last, and I've certainly become more open-minded about the weird and wonderful excursions it has to offer (you can replay any sets you miss on BBC iPlayer, but you can't relive the experience of stumbling upon a group of naturists painting in a field).

Benji, 24, will be attending Glastonbury for the first time this year and says that while the line-up is important to him, he is also looking forward to some of the acts playing on smaller stages rather than the headliners.

“The lineup is a little smaller than in previous years,” he tells us. “I'm excited about certain acts, especially Jungle, Disclosure and Jamie XX.”

He adds: “I’m looking forward to stumbling upon artwork, comedy and conversation.

“Above all, I've heard great things about the general atmosphere there. Hundreds of thousands of people, all in this special place just to have fun.”

Music festivals are, and always will be, based on exactly that: music. But just as the kids of the '60s accepted the Rolling Stones replacing the Beatles and Elvis passing the crown to Barbara Streisand, maybe it's time we accepted the next generation of what they're becoming.

Whether you're practicing mindfulness among likeminded wellness champions or dancing in the arms of strangers at 5 a.m., one thing remains constant: It's going to be the best weekend of your year.

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