On Green Man Festival

This column first appeared in the Western Mail in September 2021

A whole month has passed since Green Man festival, and I swear I’ve only just got rid of the last vestiges of glitter from my hair. 

And you know something? I’ve kind of enjoyed the shimmering reminder of a beautiful time in the mountains stubbornly clinging to my scalp. 

Because heaven knows we waited long enough for it. With no Green Man in 2020, I had quietly given up hope of Wales’ largest music and arts festival going ahead this summer. 

When the organisers announced, with only weeks to go, that the event could go ahead, it felt like a real-life case of Cinderella being allowed to the ball (subject to providing a valid vaccination passport or negative lateral flow test, just like in all the best fairy tales).

I happened to turn 40 that week, and I’d resigned myself to a low-key celebration until suddenly, the dream birthday party became a reality again. And what a beautiful, soul-enhancing celebration it was. That magical weekend in the mountains with friends is one I will never forget. We danced, shimmered, laughed, sang, people watched and savoured so many things we took for granted in Before Timesä. 

I watched experimental prog-folk, live comedy, synth-pop, art-rock and many more hybrid genres besides. Like the metaphorical kid in the sweet shop, I wanted to hear ALL the live music. After all, there was such a lot of lost time to make up for. But with 1000 artists over ten stages, I could only catch a fraction of the brilliance on offer. 

My highlight was Georgia, just one girl and her drum kit who exudes enough energy for all of her non-existent band members. Combining euphoric eighties pop, Chicago house, crackling synth lines and catchy-as-a-cold hook lines, her crackling set on Friday night was just joyous. I dragged a pile of people that were unfamiliar with her work to see her play, and each of them left with a massive smile on their face. I considered my work there very much done. 

I celebrated my 40th birthday gathered around the Green Man himself with cocktails, cake, Studio 54-themed fancy dress and a bunch of my favourite people. Having prepared myself for a quiet one, I was in my absolute element. I should give a massive shout out to some of the most thoughtful people I know for organising my surprise shenanigans. So I will. Sarah and Caro, you’re the absolute BEST. Thank you for making turning 40 so much more fun than I could have imagined. 

Such was my joy at being back in my happy place, I didn’t even mind when it rained all day on the Saturday. But, of course, it wouldn’t be Green Man without a torrential downpour. I mean, it’s August in Wales, right? I learned years ago that packing wellies and a poncho (even if the forecast tells you otherwise) is the best way to ensure rain doesn’t stop play.

Plus, ducking into random tents to shelter from the rain is a great way to catch some random acts you might never have seen otherwise. Very much a weather-enforced musical lucky dip, if you like. 

Aside from having a lovely time personally, Green Man’s triumphant return was an excellent opportunity to reflect on how lucky we are to have this event in Wales. The festival generates £15 million a year for the Welsh economy and is a fantastic showcase for our arts, culture and dramatic mountain landscapes. Green Man is one of only five remaining large independent festivals in the UK. The lack of big corporate sponsors  means the organisers retain complete curational independence. It is also the only festival with woman-majority ownership (feminist face). 

Green Man is very green, too. It was the first festival to serve drinks in recycled stack cups, with no disposable plastic permitted on site. Taking a pile of stackable cups home to relive the Green Man experience during camping trips and picnics has become a tradition for me. 

The little details really matter to the organisers, so programmes and lanyards are made from recycled material and bamboo. All toilets are now fully compostable, and any camping equipment left on site are either upcycled or donated to refugee organisations. Meanwhile, all fresh food and beverages are sourced locally, limiting the carbon footprint of produce sold at the event. 

There’s also another feel-good knock-on benefit to attending the festival. The Green Man Trust is the charitable arm of Green Man and supports emerging artists, engages people with science, and helps develop Welsh communities. Examples of some of its projects are £16,000 raised in flood relief campaign after Storm Dennis, £100,000 to commission 223 artists during the pandemic, immersive training and social development opportunities for young people from Wales and refugees from Oasis Cardiff. So when you hand over your ticket money, you’re not only purchasing a weekend of beautiful memories, but you’re helping fund this important charitable work that has a huge impact far beyond the Glanusk Estate, where the event is held. 

Now in its 19th year, Green Man’s 20th birthday falls in 2022 and looks set to be a huge celebration. If you’ve never been, then what a golden opportunity to experience the magic in the mountains for the first time. 

I spent yesterday morning desperately refreshing three browsers to try and get hold of early bird tickets, and I’m delighted to say I’ll be there for the big birthday party. I’m already counting down the days and planning the costumes. 

See you in the mountains?

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Hello. I’m Sara. This site is home to my writing for the Western Mail, a newspaper kind enough to publish my internal ramblechats. In 2022 I was named Wales Media Awards Columnist of The Year for this column. Madness. You’ll find me spaffing opinions on feminism, inequality, festivals, tech, art and whatever else pops into my head at 3am the day before deadline. There’s also bonus content, when the muse takes me (WHERE IS SHE TAKING ME? I DIDN’T ORDER THIS CAB! Etc…).

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