Although Green Man, the festival that was held this summer from August 18-21, has been around for two decades now, its popularity has literally soared in the last few years. In 2010, it won Best Medium Sized Festival at the United Kingdom Festival Awards; now, it is one of only five independent large music festivals in the country, and the only one with a woman-majority ownership. Like the time-hardy folk figure of the Green Man, the festival has endured and thrived; it is free from sponsorship, so it can support and champion Welsh business. Overall, it brings fifteen million pounds into the Welsh economy every year.
You may not have heard of the Green Man – the folk symbol, not the festival – but the silvan image of a man’s head leering from foliage will no doubt resonate with something of your experience. Since before even Medieval times, his likeness has been found all around the world, and like ivy which crawls up a building, has coexisted with and in spite of morphing social mores; he has even been carved into churches and drawn into manuscripts, showing at least a degree of tolerance from the church. The Green Man typically represents rebirth, and in the 20th century was reborn as the ubiquitous traffic light symbol (probably unrelated), and more recently as the central effigy of Wales’s Green Man in the stunning Brecon Beacons, which celebrated its 20th birthday this year.
Many festivals, explicitly or otherwise, look towards the metropolis for their model. Some are simply gargantuan, leaving no hope for finding your friends should you lose them; others, like Boomtown, are literally conceived of as cities, with districts, buildings, and performers playing inhabitants. On a more (or less) pragmatic note, Primavera this year was heaving, and will probably be remembered best for its shambolic bar service on the Thursday – you could easily expect to wait over an hour to be served. Perhaps as a reflection of either the post-lockdown compulsion to rush headlong back into city life or our collective estrangement from monolithic crowds, the larger festivals this season were just overwhelming.
Green Man (or ‘The Green Man’ to the locals), on the other hand, rests confidently on its metaphorical centre of gravity: the natural beauty of the Brecon Beacons. Despite its capacity, you could walk the diameter of the arena within 10 minutes, but it was never cramped. I was by myself at Green Man, but found familiar friends at almost every show I went to. (Clarification: this is a statement about the festival, not a humblebrag about my popularity.) And more figuratively, there was space for everyone; there was a tent for comedy and speakers, a film tent, a stage for kids, and a tent guarded by a ‘Teenagers only’ sign.
The curation of the festival was truly stellar. Yves Tumor and Metronomy kicked off with festival fervour on the Thursday night; some notable acts from the greater part of the festival were Parquet Courts, Deathcrash, and Cate Le Bon. Lice delivered a show both gnarly and nerdy, with frontman Alastair Shuttleworth adopting an almost Charlie Chaplin-esque slapstick character.
The Green Man Rising competition, which happens in the months leading up to the festival, earns the winning independent artist both a slot opening the Mountain stage – sloped into a natural auditorium by the hills and loomed over by the Black Mountains – and a slot on the Rising stage, which is reserved for up and coming acts. Tapir!, a new kind-of-folk band, played here, and they invited a kid to be their dancer. In addition to being precocious, their set was exceedingly wholesome, and was a snapshot of the festival’s spirit. Another of the most touching moments was the film Arcadia, a compilation of archival footage by Paul Wright of village-ish England. A nine-piece band playing a score written and led by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Portishead’s Adrian Utley accompanied it.
The more ‘audiovisual’ sets led by Bicep and – dare I say it – Kraftwerk, did leave a little something to be desired. They attracted the viewership of the House Lads and the Beardstrokers, respectively. But whatever the shortfall, it was more than recouped by Arab Strap, described by one unsuspecting friend as “a Glaswegian filth account.” I couldn’t agree more – and they were amazing.
Green Man offers nothing short of a powerful community, amazing music, a beautiful landscape, and a celebration of Welsh business and culture – one bar served over one hundred Welsh cask ales. Unfortunately, I can even confirm that the first aiders went above and beyond for the wellbeing of festival-goers, and it would be a crime not to applaud them here. The burning of the huge Green Man himself after Michael Kiwanuka headlined the Sunday night was a confirmation of the unanimous joy for all attendees. And so next year, when he will be rebuilt, reignited, and rejoiced in once again.
Green Man   Ezra Furman   Mountain Stage   Credit Parri Thomas.jpeg 2.jpg
Ezra Furman
Green Man   Arab Strap   Far out  Credit Parri Thomas.jpeg.jpg
Arab Strap
Green Man   Parquet Courts   Far out   Credit Nici Eberl.jpeg.jpg
Parquet Courts