Many moons ago, before the vicar was even a curate, a good friend (who incidentally has just acquired a very exciting new job) suggested that I might enjoy going to Greenbelt.
"August Bank Holiday? You must be joking - you can't expect anyone running a B&B to get away then...Anyway, Greenbelt is an evangelical rock fest isn't it?"
You see, I'd heard about the festival during my student days, I had even spent a day uneasily skirting its fringes at Knebworth, but those who enthused about it seemed to be in a totally different world from my Renaissance bubble, even if we did share a taste in ethnic skirts and assorted bangles. Greenbelt, in my mind = evangelical Christians playing bad music loudly. Not a trace of Palestrina from dawn to dusk.
So I knew all about Greenbelt, didn't I? And I knew that I'd hate it...
Fast forward to Pentecost 2000, when the whole of the diocese of Gloucester was invited to a huge party at Cheltenham racecourse, to celebrate the church's 2000th birthday. P2K they called it...and it was wonderful. A one day melee of speakers and music, arts and worship, culminating in a laser show that was a first for our family. We were enraptured and the (very young) Hugger Steward begged me to find out if there was anything like this anywhere that we might attend. Fortunately the main Communion service that day included the obligatory Anglican rite of notices..."If you are enjoying yourself, and would like to experience more, why not visit the Greenbelt stand..." - before the service was over, there we were,booking day tickets and discovering just how many and varied strands this Christian Arts Festival brings together.
It's always fascinating to compare notes after the event...There is so much variety that it's quite possible to hear descriptions from two members of the same family without realising they were at the same festival. For so many, it's all about the music. In the weeks before hand, as details of the music line-up are gradually confirmed, there are cries of joy or anguish on the Greenbelt forum..but mostly, I'm still in the dark. My wondrous offspring have widened my horizons beyond all recognition, from those of the rather bigotted classical musician who scorned GB at Knebworth...but all the same, I mostly don't know the names that appear on the GB website. But, of course, it's a festival. Once the wristband is donned, you have access to whatever you fancy..speakers, worship, debate, visual arts and, yes, music.
My favourite venue is the Performance Cafe (nurtured, as it happens, by the friend who first suggested that Greenbelt might be a life enhancing experience for the whole clan Fleming)....It has grown through the years, but is still an intimate venue where artists play acoustic sets, and you drift in to listen for a while before wandering on. It's the perfect place for someone like me to experience new music. Mainstage always seems to belong to the afficionados - and to youth....I'll stand on the edge of the crowd for a while, but unless I'm sure I like the artist, it's not the place to try things for the first time.
GB 06 saw Martyn Joseph playing mainstage- despite my offsprings' scorn I am totally addicted and his performance in Centaur this year reduced me to a small pool.Fortunately, everyone else was equally afflicted.
Last year was my introduction to the wild, whacky and wonderful Duke Special
and the follow up birthday present of tickets to his Oxford gig was one of the highlights of my year.
And this year? Perhaps not surprisingly, my discovery reflected the Indian resonances of my own particular Greenbelt. Aradhana
played during the Communion service, but I was rather too busy dealing with my role in a group including people from St M's, people from Church in the Valley, family and Greenbelt friends to engage properly. Sunday night in Centaur was a very different matter...Their website describes them thus
the sounds of sitar and guitar merge to create a new global instrument that blends unusual rhythmic patterns with the dipping and soaring of the vocals. listeners sense a deep devotion and connection to the yeshu revealed in the holy scriptures
Given the western origins of the musicians, this might have been deeply cheesy...in fact for me it was utterly wonderful. At the end of the gig, they were given a standing ovation...and persuaded into an encore, for which we were invited to dance.
So a middle aged cleric found herself stepping out of her flowery wellies to whirl barefoot around Centaur, dancing out of love for India, for music, for God.
It still sounds cheesy, doesn't it? Perhaps you had to be there.
I'm so glad that I was!