greenbeltAnother life-changing feastival...

Welcome back.

The second half of the festival is not a re-run of the first and that has much to do with the central event of the weekend, the communion service. It is a great way to discover just how much you have in common with so many others camping alongside you.

This year was a great one. It felt slightly shorter, which is not a bad thing, as it is so often wet and chilly on the Sunday morning. New York’s Rev. Vince Anderson led much of the worship in his “dirty gospel” style, which seemed to me like good old traditional gospel with rough edges. The service followed the idea that God dwelling in tents and the temple in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of dwelling in us in the New Testament. Streams of multi-coloured ribbons were passed through the crowd and hoisted to the top of the stage to create a ’tent’ over us.


Photo credit : © Alison Whitlock / Greenbelt Festival

Sunday hosted one of the big moments of the festival for me (and my family). Although Brian McLaren was not billed so predominantly this year, he showed what a superb communicator he is in his "Naked Spirituality" seminar about the stages of faith. It was the one talk that could deservedly be compulsory listening for almost anyone. If some of it was well-observed common sense, McLaren still delivered his point with hi-def clarity. Heeding it would massively help understanding between Christians and reduce a lot of unnecessary conflict. It is a shame that his work-in-progress talk the next day was so woolly in comparison.

More head-food came from Ann Morisy, who was tackling the issue of generational injustice. The Baby Boomers, who famously “have never had it so good” are part of an approaching “perfect storm,” where a smaller, younger generation will be supporting a growing, ageing population. Morisy urged the Boomers to use their ability to function for longer, and to be generous with their time, talents and taxes to reduce the burden on the younger generation. The audience left with a sense that this issue is just being unwrapped for the first time in a long game of pass-the-parcel.

Duke Special played several sets over the weekend and his mainstage show was immensely popular, including many of his essential songs, several newer ones and a version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Except for a guest appearance from Gordon Gano on fiddle, the Duke only had help from Chip Bailey on percussion and the multi-talented Ben Castle on sax and clarinet. Known more as a session musician, Castle relished the chance to have fun with his performance.

As the set finished, Castle’s girlfriend, Beth Rowley, started her own set in the Performance Café, flanked only by a trumpeter (who got some great audience reaction) and a guitarist. Between songs, she seemed surprisingly short of confidence for someone who has played mainstage and been in the top ten on the album chart not long ago; her introductions were almost inaudible at the back. She need not have worried. The audience was still on her side and – despite some unfortunate sound issues at the start – she sang a collection of blues numbers and her assurance grew as the performance went on.

Perhaps she should have headlined that evening, but she was topped by the blue-blazered Hope and Social. The festival program hyped them, quoting national press ranking them as one of the top few live acts in the country, but they did not move me – except to move me on to other venues. Perhaps I should have made allowances: they repeatedly told us of the dodgy chicken they had eaten on the way to the festival – and its after-effects.  

Greenbelt ended powerfully on the Monday night. Selling out the Playhouse, and performing by candlelight, George Dillon gave a striking one-man performance of the Gospel of Matthew. The script was straight from the biblical text and left very little out. This bold performance of parables, narrative and the Sermon on the Mount reinforced the radical ethos of the festival. Dillon’s bleating tone of voice for some of Jesus’ detractors, or the disciples that did not ‘get’ him, was unfortunate, but he conveyed well the challenge in Jesus’ words and actions.

It overlapped with the start of the final mainstage set of the year, featuring Mavis Staples. She was on fire and it was wrenching to have to leave after only hearing half a dozen electrifying songs. Looking back on it, she was the ideal festival closer. Greenbelt’s strapline is Faith, Arts, Justice. Mavis Staples’ life embodies all three.

Derek Walker