As the pagan folk-rock festival mecca hits another milestone year, Adam England looks back on its humbler origins, and forward to its upcoming 2022 edition.
Idles. Mogwai. St. Vincent. The Flaming Lips.
Some huge names across pop, rock, and alternative have graced the Green Man stages over the years, making it one of the biggest and most popular festivals in Wales. 2022 marks 20 years of Green Man, and there’s an exciting lineup topped by German electronic legends Kraftwerk, UK soul-folk star Michael Kiwanuka, and American indie favourites Beach House. Also appearing are Metronomy, Bicep, Kae Tempest, Parquet Courts and Low, among many, many others.
Last year, after a year away due to COVID, the festival welcomed the likes of Mogwai, Caribou, and Fontaines D.C. to the Brecon Beacons. It’s all a world away from its altogether more humble beginnings.
Green Man launched in 2003 by Jo Bartlett and Danny Hagan, as a one-day event with a capacity of 300. Two years later, it had increased tenfold and became a three-day festival. A year later, Fiona Stewart joined as joint-managing director, and the festival moved to Glanusk Park, where it’s remained ever since. At this point, it had a capacity of 6,000 – a figure that’s more than quadrupled by the time of Green Man’s 20th year. (Or at least, what the marketing push for ‘Green Man turns 20’ deem this golden year to be.)
Bartlett and Hagan sold their shares to Stewart in 2011, a year that saw Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Noah & The Whale, and Laura Marling all perform at the ever-growing festival. By 2018, Green Man had a capacity of 25,000, and under Stewart, Green Man is the only major independent UK festival to have a female director in charge.
The name itself may conjure images of the Jolly Green Giant to mind, and indeed, the festival usually hosts its own real-life version of the corn mascot – an effigy that is burned down Wicker Man-style at the end of the three days of revelry. The Green Man of legend is a pagan deity of rebirth and vegetation dating all the way back to the Middle East and India in the second century. The name, however, is much more modern and has a Welsh connection courtesy of Lady Julia Raglan, who was inspired to use the term in an article published in 1939 in The Folklore Journal after studying carvings of the figure at a Monmouthshire church.
Naturally – no pun intended – the Green Man festival has the environment at its heart. Its Solar Stage is indeed 100% solar powered; elsewhere at the festival, you’ll find compostable packaging, a lack of disposable plastics, and compost toilets, while behind the scenes diesel usage is offset. Green Man also doesn’t accept commercial sponsorship, pays employees a living wage, and food and drink sold there must meet certain ethical requirements.
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Green Man itself has almost become something of a brand at its 20-year mark. There’s an online shop, selling Green Man Growler beer and Green Man T-shirts, and beyond Glastonbury, it’s difficult to name many other UK festivals that have such a clear identity and image.
All things considered, it’s been a huge success story: one of the most notable annual events in Wales and a big economic and cultural stimulus. Generating millions for the country each year with repeatedly sold-out iterations, according to data in 2015, Green Man is only rivalled by the Wales Millennium Centre for its contribution to music tourism. But all this didn’t make the pandemic any easier to weather.
Like nearly all festivals, and the music industry as a whole, Green Man suffered yet soldiered on as best it could. The 2020 edition, with Caribou, Goldfrapp, Michael Kiwanuka and Mac Demarco set to play, was replaced by a digital version, Field Of Streams. Broadcasting never-seen-before sets from Father John Misty, Self Esteem, Eels, Stella Donnelly and a range of other appearances and attractions, it softened the blow somewhat in a difficult year. Still, it must have been great to get back to business for 2021, where those aforementioned headline sets sat alongside appearances from Shame, José González, Black Midi, and Nadine Shah.
For 2022, the festival boasts 10 distinct areas, from the peaks of Mountain’s Foot to the science at Einstein’s Garden, and the literature, talks, and debates at Babbling Tongues. This family-friendly festival really does offer something for everyone, not losing its eco-friendly roots as it continues to grow and expand.
There have been critics, however. Organisers have been accused of endangering protected habitats as part of their future plans for the festival. Earlier this year, the Welsh government spent £4.25 million on Gilestone Farm in Talybont-On-Usk for the festival to expand. However, the 240-acre farm is among one of 12 areas identified by the government for the endangered curlew bird; horseshoe bats also live there, and it’s close to the banks of the Usk too.
While Green Man is known to be environmentally friendly, as previously mentioned, and put this ideal at the centre of their work, the Usk Valley Conservation Group have expressed their concerns. For their part, the Welsh government have defended the move as supporting rural communities and the arts and creating sustainable jobs. This goes hand-in-hand with the Green Man Trust, the festival’s charitable arm: funding arts and scientific development, training disadvantaged peoples via universities and other charitable organisations, creating “positive change” in Welsh communities and – when Storm Dennis hit at the height of COVID – providing emergency relief. Its ambassador is actor/musician Iwan Rheon.
So, what’s next for Green Man now that it’s hit the ripe old age of 20? There’s room for expansion still – the festival itself won’t be moving to Gilestone Farm, but the plan is that the site will host smaller events, as well as a brewery, and regenerative agriculture. But first, the 2022 edition of the festival is fast approaching and should be another exciting chapter in the festival’s history.
Green Man, Glanusk Park, nr Crickhowell, Thurs 18-Sun 21 Aug.
Tickets: sold out. Info: here
words ADAM ENGLAND
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