PILTON, England (Reuters) - Mud matched the music as the abiding memory at this year’s Glastonbury festival, where U2, Coldplay and Beyonce played the top slots and 180,000 people braved boggy conditions to hear their favourite acts.
Getting from one stage to another on the 900 acre site in southwest England was a major undertaking, requiring the “zombie walk” that did not prevent rain boots being sucked off people’s feet and dozens of fans ending face first in the mud.
Patience paid off and raincoats were ditched for bikinis when the sun came out on Saturday and Sunday, making the festival site easier to navigate.
“I think the main memory has to be the mud,” said Matt Bennett, in his early 20s, sitting at the Other Stage and basking in the hot sunshine.
His friend Amy Mortimer added: “You do get used to it, and once the sun came out you could concentrate on the music.”
Michael Eavis, founder of Glastonbury who owns the picturesque dairy farm where the event has been held most years since 1970, praised the stoic spirit of festival-goers.
“We managed to survive in the most adverse conditions,” he told reporters. “We are survivors after 41 years.”
There will be no Glastonbury in 2012, Olympic year in Britain. Eavis said he already had three major acts lined up for the 2013 edition, but he would not name them.
U.S. superstar Beyonce Knowles was the closing performer late on Sunday, making her Glastonbury debut three years after husband Jay-Z proved a surprise hit.
Jay-Z was in the boisterous crowd of tens of thousands as Knowles gave a high octane performance of her own hits, cover versions and a medley of well-known tracks by her old band Destiny’s Child.
“I want you all to know right now you are witnessing my dream,” she called out. “I always wanted to be a rock star and tonight we are all rock stars ... I want you to get lost in this music tonight.”
On the eve of the festival, Eavis had bemoaned the lack of political activism at Glastonbury in recent years, reflecting some people’s feeling that it was being taken over by middle class music fans out solely to enjoy themselves.
He got his wish in the form of a small protest during Irish rockers U2’s Friday night concert held in the driving rain.
A pressure group called Art Uncut inflated a large balloon with the words “U Pay Tax 2?” in protest against the band’s decision several years ago to relocate its operations from Ireland to the Netherlands for tax purposes.
Campaigners complained of rough handling by security guards who forced them to take the balloon down, but Eavis shrugged off the criticism, saying the story had been exaggerated.
“It was only one balloon,” he said. “It was all churned up as being a huge thing, but it wasn’t at all.”
Headliners Coldplay, “surprise guests” Pulp, blues veteran B.B. King, London rapper Tinie Tempah and Manchester rockers Elbow were all named as favourite acts by fans and critics.
Hundreds of other bands fought for attention in venues across the site, and a handful of celebrities braved the conditions including soccer star Wayne Rooney and supermodel Kate Moss, who watched her fiance Jamie Hince of The Kills.
Casting a shadow over the event, Christopher Shale, chairman of West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, was found dead in a portable toilet in the VIP camping area on Sunday morning.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he and his wife Samantha were “devastated” at the loss of their friend.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato