A Look Back at Glastonbury 2016

Last Friday morning, with Glastonbury attendees ankle-deep in mud, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union – naturally, the results filtered into the music festival, as well.  There was a time, before smartphones and broadband, when you could blissfully spend the Glastonbury weekend cut off from the outside world. News of what was going on beyond the festival’s boundaries usually arrived in the form of unreliable rumours from late-comers and those who had not already lost their Nokia phones in the crowd.

The festival’s attendees – younger, more liberal – were majority Remain kind of people, especially regarding one key issue: immigration, which was at the heart the EU referendum and the subject of several debates this year. Many had hoped that the voting majority would chose Remain, and that they could spend the weekend listening to music and discussing politics with other liberal-minded attendees.

Up on the Park stage on Friday afternoon, to the backdrop of rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra, White Ribbon Alliance, joined with organisations working with refugees to draw attention to women and mothers who had come to the UK as migrants and refugees. Their blue and white tent was filled powerful testimonies from inspiring migrant women on film and in person. The day before, thousands of voices rang out across the festival grounds as campers joined in song to pay tribute to MP Jo Cox and her work with refugees and women. Cox worked at the White Ribbon Alliance for three years, where she brought previously ignored issues such as maternal health to the attention of world leaders and organisations such as the United Nations. As a result of her work, the number of women dying during childbirth has halved, and before her death, Jo was planning to join her former colleagues at the festival to highlight the needs of refugee and migrant women. These include women like Anne (not her real name) who, because of her unsecure immigration status, had to sleep on buses while pregnant, or Hannah who after 19 years and 4 kids still faces the risk of being deported at any time. #MoreInCommon was the hashtag shared by those who came to support and listen to moving stories, have their faces painted and take selfies. The hashtag came from the words Jo Cox powerfully spoke in her maiden speech in the commons. Talking about the diversity of her home town, Jo said "While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

The Left Field, curated by Billy Bragg, was also another place on-site where immigration and refugees were on the agenda. Not far from the Pyramid stage, young people packed under the red tent to hear what and where next now that "Brexit" was a reality. In the session about immigration, “A World Without Borders,” the mood was angry and defiant, the panel and audience repeatedly pledged to fight on, regardless of the turn the country took. This was something that echoed in the darkness as people waded through the mud, or at the break of dawn as the DJ finally stopped playing.

The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music (SNOAM), who played earlier in the week, were also on everyone's lips. Opening their reunion tour at Glastonbury, the musicians – after a three-year-long wait to get a visa – performed together for the first time after the war in their home country began. To everyone watching, it was a clear, unifying message that music had no nationality or borders, The hope that a post-EU Britain will be a welcoming and united place was something many took away with them as they left Somerset. As the Edge said in 2011 "We were all over the shop in a good way. If those at Glastonbury were anything, they are a resilient lot."

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Photo Credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images