The West Country is steeped in tradition when it comes to looking at the different festivals and shows that occur during the summer months. Being in a region of the country that is reliant on its agriculture to produce economic benefits for its population, this time of the year when all the produce is harvested is a special period in the calendar.
The long summer days and the usually agreeable summer climate makes it ideal for people to trek outside and sample the delights of the countryside while at the same time being entertained by music and other cultural events. If the weather doesn’t comply the British people are a hardy lot and are always willing to accept the odd soaking in search of having a good time.
The Royal Bath and West Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in the country and is held each year on the same site, just outside Shepton Mallet. The four day event is a celebration of West Country Agriculture.
Unlike the many festivals that occur in the region, this show is about celebrating the agricultural community’s products. There are numerous awards for the “best of” categories. Whatever is produced on a West Country farm it will be sure to fit into one of the categories that are keenly competed for.
The showground is huge and there are vast numbers of stalls that are ideal for refreshing the massive crowds that come to the event. The average crowd for the 4 days is around 150,000 and one of the most popular events is the British Show Jumping Championships that are held in the main arena.
Another popular event is the competition to find the best home produced cider. With the West Country having such a fine tradition in cider making there are never any shortages of entrants. The crowds are also given ample opportunities to test the samples, but they must be aware of the strength of the local holy water.
Just down the road from the show is the site for the Glastonbury Festival which is held barely 3 weeks later. The Festival is now an institution in many people’s social calendar and has been held virtually every year since 1981. Every 5 years there is a fallow year when the festival is not held in order to give the organizers and the site a break. It attracts 175,000 people over 5 days and the majority stay on site. There is a certain social structure about the camping. Some are really up to date and have the most luxurious facilities while others will just comprise of a sleeping bag and a sheet of canvas.
There are over 60 stages and they will be occupied by hundreds of performers over the long weekend. The main stage is the pyramid stage and some of the world’s top bands have appeared on this stage. It is now a big feather in the cap for artists to appear at Glastonbury especially if they are performing on the main stages on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Sometimes people forget it is an actual festival of performing arts. As well as popular music there are dance groups, comedy acts plus circus and cabaret performances. There is a definite hippie vibe to the festival and the druids regard it as their own. Many will have celebrated the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge before descending on Glastonbury.
The organization for the event is a huge undertaking. There are two local reservoirs that have been built to cope with the demand for water. There are over 400 food stalls on site and in order for the event to run over 2000 volunteers are needed. Oxfam now supply the volunteers and in return the festival donates a large sum of money, and in 2005 they benefited to the sum of 200,000 pounds.
Despite the increasing commercialism of the event this has in way had a negative impact on the popularity of the event. It is sold out year after year.