"It's Greenbelt, you know?"
Stumbling into a bright field to have a divine experience with God: Alex Baker reports on Greenbelt 2015
The tripod was set up. My camera was ready for an epic burst of time-lapse photography, only for a family to walk into shot.
The father raised his hand apologetically but as he reached down to take his toddler's hand, a teenage boy walked over and sprayed the toddler in the chest with foam, cracked a big smile, and walked off down the path stopping only to spray someone else's backpack with more of the foam.
I turned to the father. "That wasn't your son, was it?" "No sir." "Just a stranger spraying your kid?" He grinned and shrugged, "Yeah, it's Greenbelt, you know?"
Click on the image to see our Greenbelt 2015 Flickr gallery
Greenbelt has always been easy-going and open to such moments of mad creativity (if you're being generous. Frankly, I would have pepper-sprayed the kid for what amounts to vandalism). Without ever writing down the rules, there is a tacit understanding by all festival-goers regarding Greenbelt’s customs. Such moments bring them back.
This year the festival was smaller than in previous years - both in terms of acts and events, as well as tickets sold. Rather than put off regulars, it brought the faithful fans along. The lineup was devoid of any real star headliners too. Remember, last year there was Sinead O’Connor. This year it was, um, Polyphonic Spree who have their indie charms but could not be described as A-listers. Again, this did not deter the loyal lovers of all things Greenbelt.
And that’s what you noticed about this year's Greenbelt. Ask anyone why they were there or who they were there to see and there would be some mumblings and glances at the program before stating: "It's Greenbelt, you know, I'm here for the vibe, the atmosphere, the friends".
Which is true. This includes the friends and family who are brought along, but also that special group in life known as ‘Greenbelt friends’ - the ones only ever seen once a year while walking around the site. The rest of the year you may occasionally like each other’s Facebook statuses or retweet a passionate political musing. But here at Greenbelt, it's always nice to see them. That is the fellowship of the Greenbelt tribe.
This doesn't mean that there weren't stand-out moments on the stages. A lot of time went into selecting a wide range of acts to fill 13 separate venues. Part of the Greenbelt experience is wandering into a tent out of curiosity and leaving entertained or inspired.
Greenbelt’s lure is these moments: meeting friends and encountering God. This year’s festival was aptly named The Bright Field after R S Thomas’s poem. One of the main speakers, Dr Paula Gooder (theologian in residence for the Bible Society), touched on those shining moments in life where we stumble into the ‘bright field’ to have a divine experience with God. We should be open to those moments during our everyday activities so that God can do something unexpected in our lives.
In doing so we give him glory, not because he needs glory (she compared glory to quiches at a church gathering - no need to bring one along - there’s plenty) but because glory recognises who he is - his ‘weightiness’, as she put it.
Whether you are moved by stories from The Forgiveness Project, the devotion of the Goth Eucharist, reflections on Thomas Merton, or the leading of Sunday’s communion by the Franciscans, there are plenty of these moments to encounter God and his glory.
There were, of course, plenty of acts which entertained as well as inspired. Hip-hop MC Testament brought his unique vision to the work of William Blake in a piece entitled Blake Remixed. During the middle of the day, children and parents alike danced to the eccentric rhythms cooked up by Bert Miller and the Animal Folk. I’m sure the parents will have fun explaining some of Bert’s lyrics when their children are older.
In a packed Pagoda tent, BBC Radio 4’s Richard Coles, Gogglebox’s Kate Bottley and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser shared amusing anecdotes from the internet courtesy of their lives as ‘Twitter vicars’. Joanna Jepson spoke in the Treehouse about our relationship with fashion and why we need to make more sacrifices.
On an overcast Saturday evening, a spellbound audience followed every acrobatic twist of Ockham’s Razor’s The Mill. Everywhere you looked there were brightly coloured tents (and the occasional yurt) with something in them for young and old alike.
There were even two days of wonderful sunshine before Sunday and Monday reminded everyone why packing wellies and an umbrella is always a must.
So until next year and more of those Greenbelt moments.