Greenbelt: Thoughts and Discoveries

Last weekend was my first outing to the festival known as “Greenbelt”. In fact, it was my first real festival outing anywhere.

Greenbelt is a music and arts festival. But it needs a little bit more categorisation than that. I shall explain.

A note on sub-cultures

Now, I’m always careful about talking about “Christian” stuff in a way that makes it sound like there’s a whole faith-based sub-culture around. But the truth is that there IS. There is music that you won’t have come across if you’re not a Christian. There are books and magazines targeted at those of the faith. There are websites and organisations and a whole host of other things. I think that, to some extent, this is OK and helpful. It’s the same with cycling. It’s probably the same with Kung Fu and plumbing and…well, every specialist activity probably has some sort of specialist media targeted at it.

What I think is important is that we don’t get so wrapped up in the Christian sub-culture that we ignore everything else, or worse, label everything else as bad or evil in some way.

With that in mind I’ll try to describe my impressions of Greenbelt.

Impressions of the festival

Before I went to Greenbelt I was under the impression that it was mostly attended by people who would call themselves Christians of one sort or another. Yet I was led to believe that it was not an overtly “Christian” festival. You’d fit in quite well if you weren’t a church go-er at all.

To some extent those initial impressions turned out to be true. However, when I arrived, I found myself swinging the other way. There seems to be LOTS of stuff targeted specifically at Christians. As time went on I found myself swinging back to the middle ground. You can’t miss the stuff that’s overtly Christian, but I reckon you can safely attend and enjoy the festival without having any of this forced upon you.

I did enjoy the festival, though I struggled with the social dynamics of trying to get a group of people to meet up at certain times when they all had plans that changed by the hour. I think next time I’ll go with the aim of being more independent and if other people want to arrange to meet me at certain times then that’s fine.

The weather for the festival was fantastic. Sun and warmth and dryness for a few days with it clouding over for the last day. As an introduction to festival life it was a very good one. The company was excellent too and we got to meet up, catch up, and generally have fun with some of our best friends who had gathered from around the country.

Festival Discoveries

We probably didn’t actually see or do as much as I thought we would. We were quite selective and, often, got turned out of full-up venues. Though we did discover, or re-discover, the following artists:

  • Michael McDermott – American accoustic rock guy with an edgy voice and some great tunes and songs. Probably my highlight.
  • Martyn Joseph – We’re already big fans and he’s a Greenbelt regular so of course he was there and of course we went to see him. He was mostly running a show where he interviewed other singer songwriters, but he did play a short set in the music shop tent. He seems to be having a bit of a mid-life crisis; he’s started playing up-beat rock and roll (as opposed to his usual hard political folk). But I like this. He’s releasing a new album called “Vegas” in September and the stuff he played from it sounded really good. Looking forward to a proper gig in November!
  • John Bell – One of the leaders of the Iona community, gets a mention for being a REALLY good speaker. He did a great talk looking at how we can interpret stories from Genesis and apply them to our faith that we live today.
  • Kathryn Williams – Referred to by one of my friends as one of the few “proper famous” people at Greenbelt. I love this ladies voice and songs and dry wit, but I thought the overall performance needed polishing. I think she was very nervous about performing a solo live show.
  • Core Magazine – who look like an attempt at an english version of Relevant Magazine. Compare the straplines “God, Life, Progressive Culture” (for Relevant) and “Life, Spirit, Adventure” (for Core). I think this is a worthy venture and I wish them every success. Unfortunately they don’t seem to have updated the website since April, so who knows what the status of it is.
  • Iain Archer – who’s one of those artists (like the Shins) who sounds a bit dull on CD but, as I’ve just found, does a great live show. Perhaps I’ll look up some of his newer stuff.

2 thoughts on “Greenbelt: Thoughts and Discoveries

  1. These posts are imported to Facebook and my sister has posted a comment there, which I’ve copied here for completeness, along with my response below. She says:

    Interesting to hear your thoughts on sub-cultures. You’re right, there’s sub-cultures for whatever ‘religion’ you join – running being a fine example! :O) It’s a way of life for thousands of people that are dedicated to the sport – the training, eating, racing, etc.

    I’m also interest in what you said about non-Christain’s being able to fit in and not notice the overt stuff. I wonder how many non-Christains there were there and how they felt? Sometimes being a minority at an event is intimidating, even if it’s not supposed to be, just because you’re always aware that you don’t quite fit in or understand things 100% (if that makes sense!). This isn’t a criticism, just a thing I’ve noticed from being around different groups sometimes.

    Sounds like fun anyway! Not sure I could take a whole weekend out of my training plan tho – I’d have to take my trainers and run round the campsite a few times at least!! Need my fix! :O)

  2. It constantly surprises me that people read and think about my wafflings. I only really write it down for my own benefit, for future reference, but as I found reading the “blogs” of friends of mine, these things can be interesting ways of keeping up with what’s going on with people. So first of all, thanks for reading!

    It’s kinda interesting for me “talking” openly about my faith. People, for whatever reason, don’t ask much about it – I guess we’re a tolerant society and so people are happy for me to be a Christian, whatever that means for me.

    But it’s a huge part of my life, so it does mould my thoughts and actions and changes how I see the world, and it raises lots of challenges and questions, so I guess it gets mentioned a lot in my notes here.

    To sub-cultures then. The reason I wanted to write about Greenbelt is because I didn’t know what to expect and my impressions of it kept changing throughout the weekend. It walks an interesting line. From the website (http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/) you wouldn’t know about the “God” themes underlying the festival unless you went looking for them. This is in contrast to other “Christian” festivals which are very VERY overtly and in-your-face Christian! You’d certainly feel more at home at Greenbelt than at some other places.

    Your comment isn’t taken as criticism at all, I fully understand it. And I’d be the first person to have a dig a the church for making things unfriendly. In my final year of Uni I had people trying to convince me of the truth of the Christian faith and actually, the times I went along to churches were some of the most off-putting times.

    But the church is trying to do something that most of the world around it doesn’t always understand and it’s hard to make that thing accessible to everyone without diluting what the church does. It would be like a running club (good example by the way!), not running. Of course, you have socials to make people feel welcome, but running is what you do, and you’re not ashamed of that at club meetings. People go to running club to run. People go to church to praise, pray and learn about God.

    Back to Greenbelt then, and, yes, a person that has no faith probably would feel a bit left out. But I think if you were interested in justice, politics, helping the poor, living in community, environmental issues, the arts, and a bit of rock and folk music, you’d have a great time, learn a lot, and be very encouraged.

    Perhaps it also says something that the 19,000 people that care about those things enough to run and/or attend a huge festival about them are probably mostly Christians??

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