This year's Greenbelt Festival is definitely the best I have been to yet. I'm quite a latecomer to this August arts festival held at Cheltenham Racecourse. Friends went Greenbelting back in the late 70s and early 80s, but I never got round round to tagging along with them, which was a shame as a young U2 played a 25 minute set on borrowed instruments in 1981! Coming late to the party in 2009, I've been very impressed.
Greenbelt is organised by a Christian trust, but its content isn't confined to input from Christians, and it doesn't limit itself to one particular standpoint. There's lots here to challenge, inspire, amuse and entertain. That's what I like - other Christian gatherings tend to focus on one particular theology or style of worship and therefore attract people from that background. It can end up being an exercise in confirming everyone's prejudices. Greenbelt is different.
Image by fidothe via Flickr
This year's programme had an impressive line-up of music and speakers. I started Friday at a special event for people who support Greenbelt through the year. Iain Archer came along to play a few songs amongst the presentations. I glimpsed the end of Blesséd - a eucharist in the Big Top which was both Anglo Catholic and hi-tech. That left time to grab some food from the many and varied outlets (often organic/Fairtrade etc and much better than most places!) before Milton Jones. Milton did a short routine and then talked a bit about a new book, being a Christian and a comedian and some of the issues around that. The rain discouraged me from going to mainstage for Martyn Joseph, but luckily Jono found Largo Embargo (a ska band from Bath!) doing a small gig somewhere warm and dry. Great musicians, one or two strong language moments, completely contagious rhythms and a great cover version of Message to You Rudy.
After some more music in the Performance Cafe, including Duke Special, we adjourned to the late night Last Orders event. More from Milton, music and comedy from Folk On and more took us well into the early hours. Being later and better equipped for cold nights meant the best night's sleep I remember at Cheltenham.