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City calls off tech and music conference, which typically draws 400,000, over concerns from public health officials

City officials in Austin have announced the cancellation of this years SXSW festival, a major tech and music conference, citing concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

SXSW, which draws 400,000 visitors, was scheduled for 13 March to 22 March.

Based on the recommendation of our public health officer and our director of public health, said Austins mayor, Steve Adler, at a Friday press conference. Ive gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city and associated with that, have issued an order that effectively cancels SXSW.

The announcement follows several high-profile companies, including Netflix, tech news outlet Mashable, video-based social media platform TikTok and the US chip maker Intel, pulling out of the festival.

SXSW (@sxsw)

An Update on SXSW 2020. Please read our full statement here:

March 6, 2020

More than 50,000 people had signed a petition seeking to get the festival cancelled.

The US death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to 14, with all but one victim in Washington state, while the number of infections swelled to over 200 scattered across at least 18 states, including at least six cases in the Houston area.

Officials in Austin said that festivals planned for later in the spring will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Panic will weaken us, said a city official during the presser, adding that the festivals cancellation is a matter of precaution based on recommendations from public health officials.

The news comes just days after the cancellation of the Miamis Ultra Music Festival, a three-day, electronic dance festival, and is fueling concerns in the music industry that this years Coachella music festival in southern California could be next.

Forbes reports that so far no news has surfaced that Coachella is called off, but that some in the industry are worried about the economic impact of cancelled gigs, lost merchandise sales and more.

SXSW last year was worth an estimated $356m in to the economy of Austin, while Coachellas footprint has been pegged at upwards of $1bn worldwide, reports the outlet.

Were beginning to see it affect the entire music ecosystem, an unnamed artist manager told Forbes. Were getting calls from our agents about promoters canceling individual shows. Songwriters and producers have canceled flights into LA for sessions, so its starting to trickle down to the songwriting and production communities as well.

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The singer emerges as charming and undeniably talented in this Netflix documentary but its too slick for genuine insight

Its safe to say that by the end of Miss Americana, a quickie documentary on the recent trials and tribulations of Taylor Swift opening this years Sundance film festival, few positions will have truly shifted. Those who already idolised the award-winning musician will continue to do so, as will the non-fans who might still begrudgingly admire her undeniable talent. And those who have questioned her knack for playing the victim as well as her lack of self-awareness will also find their minds similarly unchanged. Here is a character study authored by the character whos being studied, a carefully controlled continuation of a story we have been following now for years. Its brand management dressed up as insight and while its not not entertaining, its certainly far from particularly revealing, playing more like a PR exercise than a festival-worthy feature.

At the start of the film, as Swift sifts through old journals, she explains that she always needed to be thought of as good, and its a desire that permeates the film with every possible punch being pulled by director Lana Wilson, whose films have previously focused on hard-hitting topics such as suicide and late-term abortion. Its not that Swift is in need of a dressing down far from it but there are glaring questions left unanswered, avenues left unexplored and a wider perspective sorely missing from her retelling of events.

Wilson has unprecedented access to Swift, the kind of intimacy journalists have been craving for years from an artist who has kept herself understandably at arms length at specific times of her life. The film follows her throughout her two most recent albums, both spurred by very different motivations, and in what feels like a scattered and confusing timeline we hop back and forth to earlier glimpses of the career that got her to where she now stands, as one of the most famous women in the world. But while Wilson is the credited director, its Swift whos in charge, a masterly musical storyteller transporting that gift to the screen, recounting her life and revealing her personality on her terms. Its a celebrity profile thats been sent to the celebrity for approval first.

What the film does show, in some of its most charming moments, is Swifts astonishing talent for music, exemplified in a handful of magnetic studio interludes as we see her create some of her most recent hits. Its a pleasure to watch her in these scenes, cannily crafting lyrics alongside Jack Antonoff and Max Martin, excitedly working with a tangible enthusiasm. Its where she truly shines in the film, as events outside the studio often lack depth and objectivity, something that would elevate as well as ground the stars image. Were shown that Swifts lowest point was being interrupted on stage at the VMAs by Kanye West (It was a catalyst for a lot, she says), and while his behaviour remains unacceptable, theres no realisation from her about the reasons that led him there, the ongoing lack of diversity shown by awards bodies and the effect this has had on artists of colour. When Swift talks about the pressure she has always felt as a woman who needed to be seen as nice and compliant, an explanation for her late-stage embrace of politics, were never given insight into how she was raised and how her parents played a part in the often regressive view of femininity she has learned to push back against. When Swift briefly mentions her mothers cancer or her fathers fears for her safety, we never get to hear from either of them, or much from Swift herself.

Whenever the documentary threatens to lead us to a place thats challenging or dark or knotty, such as Swifts discussion of a previously unrevealed eating disorder, Wilson pulls back. Swift is never challenged by Wilson or by anyone around her. Its almost exclusively a string of scenes where people agree with her, no matter the subject.

Photograph: Netflix

The last act pushes Swift as an activist of some stature and while well-intentioned, the congratulatory nature of the films view is again lacking in context. Like most of the film it feels like self-mythologising, and while Swift emerges as charming, funny, talented and smart, theres a grit missing that would have humanised her further. After the premiere Swift spoke about the hours of interview footage the pair recorded and one wonders what was left on the cutting-room floor because this is too slickly selective to feel like a genuine portrait of a woman with fascinating stories to tell.

Its hard to critique Miss Americana as a real film and as one that would even be showing at Sundance in the first place, a festival aimed at shining a light on diverse and challenging voices. Its hard to see it as an independent piece of work from a documentarian and not a talent-approved Netflix featurette. Fans will surely embrace it, and Swifts brand of feminism and liberalism will definitely be of value to a younger audience, but she remains an enigmatic construct. Like so many documentaries and biopics that have been either produced or authorised by the star at the centre, were being shown exactly what they want us to see and theres something uneasy about what that represents. Swift will remain a deservedly successful singer with a rare talent but we may never get to know her as anything more than that.

  • Miss Americana is showing at the Sundance film festival and will be available on Netflix from 31 January

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The Flight of the Conchords star, who is guest curating the New Zealand festival, reflects on his career and the cost of compromise

Although hes one of Wellingtons best-known pop cultural exports as a musician, songwriter, actor and comedian nobody makes a fuss when Bret McKenzie arrives in a central city cafe.

Fuss wouldnt be entirely unwarranted. McKenzies portrayal of a particular type of socially awkward, deadpan New Zealander helped put the countrys dry humour on the map. And the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords in which he performs with Jemaine Clement so enraptured Hollywood that he could still be there if he wanted to, churning out season after season of the acclaimed TV show of the same name.

Their comedy was deeply strange, and audiences couldnt get enough. Ten years on the pair can still fill an arena as McKenzie puts it with just two little guitars and a xylophone.

Yet McKenzie is happier away from Los Angeles and out of the spotlight. He is inconspicuous his ideal state in a cafe in New Zealands capital, raincoat on thanks to a torrential summer downpour.

He prefers the quiet bustle of home to the bright lights of Hollywood. Next year he is bringing his surreal sensibilities to a local crowd, again from behind the scenes, as a guest curator of the biennial New Zealand festival.

It was so weird

A strange taste of celebrity at the beginning of his career put me off being famous early on, McKenzie says. A few years before Flight of the Conchords blew up in the northern hemisphere, he landed a small role three seconds, to be precise as an unnamed elf extra in Peter Jacksons first Lord of the Rings film.

Hes still not sure how but his silent turn was spotted by Tolkien fanatics, who called him Figwit (an acronym for Frodo is great who is that??!), gave him a website, some slightly disturbing fan art and an unexpected moment of global fame. A story about the Figwit phenomenon appeared on the cover of USA Today.

At the height of Figwit-mania, McKenzie was invited to an event run by the Scottish Tolkien Society. His university friend Taika Waititi now a film-maker of Jojo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok fame went too, as a sort of bodyguard. He got really into it, dressed up as Gandalf, says McKenzie, who did not wear a costume.

When he and Clement travelled to the Edinburgh fringe festival to perform as Flight of the Conchords, they found that those Tolkien fans had flown in from around the world to attend the shows. The fans were lovely and tickets sales to Lord of the Rings enthusiasts paid their rent in Edinburgh. But, McKenzie says: It was so weird.

Such was his popularity that he was upgraded (slightly) in two later films in the Tolkein franchise. But the flashpoint of fame had taken its toll. When he and Clement found the spotlight with Flight of the Conchords, he says: I was quite held back in connecting with fans, I think, as a result of that.

Flight of the Conchords perform live in London in 2018. Photograph: Colin Hutton for HBO

He now travels to the US only for meetings, returning to his wife and three children in Wellington.

Ballet, bowling and Boris Johnson

McKenzie grew up in the capital, the son of Deirdre Tarrant, a decorated New Zealand ballet teacher and dance company founder. By the time he hit high school he was taking ballet classes four days a week.

The physical acumen learned from dance meant he also excelled at cricket. But he felt compelled to add his own flair. I would practice ballet in the outfield while I was waiting for fielding, he says. And then when Id run in to bowl, I was a fast bowler but sometimes I would do sort of a pirouette on my run to distract the batter.

At 14 he gave up ballet for music, channelling his obsessive energies into hours and hours of practising drums. In Wellington, a small city in a country of fewer than 5 million people, where work for artists is hard to come by, McKenzie learned from his mothers success. She was all about doing a lot of different things to turn it into an income, he says. I learned that pretty early on how to compromise to pay the bills.

Since his career took off he has also learnt the importance of doing things his own way. I spent quite a few years trying to do things the Hollywood way, he says. Im learning that, actually, its fine to not do it that way.

That sometimes includes walking away which he and Clement did from the Conchords after two seasons of the Emmy-winning HBO show and talk of a third in the offing.

But it also sometimes means skewering expectations. Pitch meetings, for example, often involve delivering dry proposals to executives; no singing, for example, and no dragons, says McKenzie who is very keen on dragons. Doing things the McKenzie way means bringing a slice of Wellingtons experimental theatre scene he describes shows he worked on in the 1990s as ludicrous and bonkers to Hollywood studio lots in the hope of winning over staid suits.

Last year he produced a lo-fi, immersive theatre installation on a Warner Bros soundstage in an attempt to get the green light for a film project a fairytale musical, set in New York and drawing on his perennial influences of Labyrinth, The Muppets and The Princess Bride. A friend of McKenzies, playing the moon, spoke to the audience with her head through this moon thing; McKenzie was part of a three-piece band dubbed the Sleepless Knights, wearing rented suits of armour.

They loved it! They were like, What the hells going on here? They were into it, says McKenzie. The project was approved.

For the New Zealand festival, McKenzie is planning a week-long programme featuring local music, an outdoor adventure for families and performances by the Netherlands clowning group Slpstick, which he says is just a really good time.

Hes also writing songs for a new musical to be performed at the festival, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, based on a novella by the US author George Saunders in collaboration with Londons National Theatre. Saunders work, like McKenzies, is surreal and blackly funny, and McKenzie says the Orwellian parable conjures up shades of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

The character of Phil becomes president, and hes this idiot and his brain keeps falling off, he says.

McKenzie has half of the shows tunes left to compose and a matter of weeks in which to finish them, but writing funny songs, he says, still feeds him spiritually.

Theres something about it thats addictive, he says. Its sort of enlightening and it makes me feel connected to the universe.

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Swift is the first female headline performer since Adele in 2016 and the sixth solo female headliner in the festivals 50-year history

Taylor Swift will close the 2020 Glastonbury festival with a headline performance on the Pyramid stage on Sunday night.

Im ecstatic to tell you that Ill be headlining Glastonbury on its 50th anniversary See you there!

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The disco icon to follow in footsteps of Patti Smith, Yoko Ono and Nick Cave as curator of the London music festival, saying, Its about time, dont you think?!

Grace Jones is to curate the 2020 edition of Meltdown, the nine-day festival taking place at Londons Southbank Centre.

Year after year, the festival continues to spread its colourful wings, allowing its curators to bring together an array of diverse talent not seen anywhere else, Jones said in a press release. Its about time I was asked to curate Meltdown darling, dont you think?!

Bengi nsal, Southbanks head of contemporary music, said: Grace Jones is unlike anybody else. She was the first artist who made me feel that I could express myself, be whatever I wanted to be, and not be afraid of what the world might say.

Jones has performed at previous editions of the festival, as part of Jarvis Cockers 2007 lineup, and the following year with Massive Attack. Her lineup for the festival will be announced in the new year.

Meltdown was founded in 1993, initially as a classical music-focused festival. It soon widened its remit, making curators of artists including Nick Cave and Scott Walker. Jones is only the sixth woman to curate the festival in its history, following Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Anohni, Yoko Ono and MIA.

The next Meltdown will take place 12-21 June. Jones, who is 71, released her last album, Hurricane, in 2008, and published the autobiography Ill Never Write My Memoirs in 2015.

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The troubled 50th anniversary event planned for August in Maryland has been officially called off

The troubled Woodstock 50th anniversary music festival planned for August was officially canceled on Wednesday, with organizers blaming a series of unforeseen setbacks.

The three-day festival, meant to mark the 50th anniversary of the famed 1969 celebration of peace and music, was planned for 16-18 August.

Greg Peck, principal of Woodstock 50, said an unfortunate dispute with a financial partner and subsequent legal proceedings forced them to move venues and claimed that ultimately they ran out of time.

The timing meant we had few choices where our artists would be able to perform. We worked hard to find a way to produce a proper tribute and some great artists came aboard over the last week to support Woodstock 50 but time simply ran short, he said.

Michael Lang, one of the original producers of the 1969 event, added that it had become impossible to carry out the original plan.

We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the festival we imagined with the great lineup we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating, Lang said.

The cancellation was widely expected after a troubled five months, in which organizers were turned down at two proposed sites in upstate New York, lost funding and headliners including rapper Jay-Z and pop star Miley Cyrus.

Tickets never went on sale for the festival.

Organizers last week made a last-ditch attempt to put on a free, scaled-down event at an amphitheater in Maryland, but several of the 80 or so acts began pulling out despite having already been paid.

Lang said in his statement that the smaller event in Maryland would have been aimed at raising funds for non-profits fighting climate change and organizations encouraging Americans to vote in the 2020 US general elections.

Woodstock 50 was first planned for the Watkins Glen motor racing venue in upstate New York, but the site pulled out in June. Organizers then attempted in vain to seek permits in Vernon, New York.

The non-profit Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the current owner of the field where the 1969 Woodstock festival took place, also scaled back plans earlier this year for a three-day anniversary event. It will instead host separate concerts by Ringo Starr, Santana and the Doobie Brothers.

My thoughts turn to Bethel and its celebration of our 50th anniversary to reinforce the values of compassion, human dignity and the beauty of our differences embraced by Woodstock, Lang said in his statement on Wednesday.

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At some point in the late 80s though no one remembers exactly when Glastonbury festival became a nexus of the traveller, free party and acid-house scenes, and the festival was never the same again

Giant rubber duckies; tunnels of flowers; bassbins disguised with gingham tablecloths; sitting in upturned burning cars as entertainment. As if it werent enough of a struggle trying to get people to untangle their first Glastonbury raving memories from three decades ago, the things they do remember feel pretty hallucinatory on their own.

Nobody can be quite sure when raving first started in Glastonbury. Obviously all-night dancing predates acid house, but through the 80s that meant dub reggae: Youth of Killing Joke and the Orb remembers Saxon and Jah Shaka soundsystems as the only music you could go dance to all night long that wasnt acoustic around a bonfire. The Mutoid Waste Companys dystopian wreckage sculptures hosted pagan-industrial metal-banging dances throughout the night. Dance music as such wasnt unknown, though. Mark Darby of Exeters Mighty Force collective says: The first traveller soundsystem playing dance music I personally heard was Crazy Daves Record Bus an old green coach with huge speakers going through a disco phase, one afternoon at Stonehenge 83!

It was 1989, however, when everything came together. The photographer Matt Smith was then a student, and Glastonbury was his first documentary project. I danced almost the whole festival long, he says with a laugh. I remember finding this double-decker bus in the Green Fields, disguised as a cafe but the tables were speakers, playing really beautiful deep house. It was dark when I got there, and I just danced for 14 hours, watched an amazing summer sunrise and carried on well into the next day. Then I remember sneaking down the side of a stall, and finding the Sugarlump tent, absolutely rammed and heaving, acid house and crazy lights. Before I knew it, my mate Dan was halfway up the tentpole raving with one hand, clinging on with the other.

A descendant of the Mutoid Waste Company Arcadia at Glastonbury 2017. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Sneaking down the side of a stall was key in 1989. Though there were soundsystems like the Blim Brothers sound and a mythical rig featuring a rubber duck carousel in the travellers field outside the festival perimeter, the real acid house action was in the traders area, thanks to Sugarlump and Mindscapes. The former were a crew whod been putting on parties in London for acid heads to dance to mainly psychedelic funk from the mid 80s, and gradually turned to electronic music. The latter was a stall set up by the incorrigible Peterborough-born ex-biker turned psychedelic artist turned acid house promoter Nick Mindscapes. I had a stall to sell my paintings, he says, so I set up decks, speakers, a big screen to project my visuals on, got a DJ playing and didnt stop from Thursday to Monday lunchtime.

Sugarlump went even further. Graham Power describes it: We had a whole marquee behind a stall, I think from Wednesday to Monday, with a huge rig. People would come in, drop their rucksacks and not leave because there was everything they needed: music, drugs, food, and haybales to sleep on if they needed. They were not officially welcome at the festival Eavis hated acid house says Power but were given a nod and wink by the ground staff. Indeed, Mindscapes recalls: We blew a couple of fuses but, instead of shutting us down, the stewards got us wired into the festival power supply proper!


Could this be Glastonburys greenest year yet?

Glastonbury is banning single use plastics. The worlds largest greenfield festival wants to avoid scenes of the area in front of its legendary stages being strewn with plastic after the shows have ended. In 2017, visitors to the festival got through 1.3m plastic bottles.

For 2019, festival co-organiser Emily Eavis said Were asking people to bring a reusable bottle to the festival this year, which can be filled up from one of 37 WaterAid kiosks or 20 refill stations.

People are also being encouraged to take other steps to limit their impact on the environment, such as using public transport to get to the venue, avoiding the use of undegradable wet wipes, not leaving their tents behind to prevent them ending up in landfill, and opting for biodegradable glitter instead of the plastic kind.

This year the festival will also feature a procession held by climate crisis activists Extinction Rebellion.

All this represented a schism in the hippy/traveller community. Helen Hatt, a prime mover in the 80s Peace Convoy, says: We thought the party people were litter louts, we wanted the scene to be about acoustic music and being with our families, and we kind of hid away in the Green Fields. After that we had to rename our festivals things like holistic holiday camps, just to make sure the authorities didnt think they were raves. From the other side, Mindscapes says: Watching the pissed folk-heads trying to get their feet round 120 beats per minutes was a whole lot of fun.

Phil and Paul Hartnoll of Orbital on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury in 1995. Photograph: Brian Rasic/Getty Images

Either way, it changed Glastonbury, the festival scene and many lives for good. By 1990 the year of the Happy Mondays and riots in the traveller fields there were mini-raves across the site. In 1992, Sugarlump got given a whole field to do what we wanted in, and renowned soundsystem designer Tony Andrews set up the Experimental Sound Field with Underworld, Orbital and others playing all weekend. Finally, in 1995, it became clear that dance music culture was a major part of the festival, and Eavis brought in Malcolm Haynes to set up the first official dance tent. Contra the idea he hated dance music, Eavis didnt really know what it was: He thought it was Massive Attack and Portishead! says Haynes.

Haynes now presides over the huge Silver Hayes field, featuring multiple dance arenas, while the Arcadia and Bloc areas bring together rave culture with highly advanced versions of Mutoid Wastes vision. Many of those who were there in 89 never stopped dancing. Matt Smith says he went home, developed my pictures then followed the traveller convoy to Treworgey Tree Fayre the Cornish festival that Darby says is where house music really hit the traveller scene and has been documenting subcultures, and especially free parties ever since. Power even remembers meeting a successful sound system designer recently, who had been taken by his parents into the Sugarlump tent in 1989, when he was 14. He thought it was paradise, said to himself: This is how I want to live and thats exactly what hes done.

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Powered by chip fat, this enormous crane rescued from Bristol docks is about to become the festivals dance hotspot. We have no idea if it will work, say the duo behind it

The idea, says Pip Rush, is to take over the sky. Were standing on a 140-tonne crane, 30 metres above the Glastonbury festival site. Rush and his collaborator Bert Cole are sanguine as they take in the view, but Im clutching the railings, summer breeze blowing through the jasmine of my freaking mind.

From its birth in 1975 until it was rendered obsolete by bigger kit, this crane lifted loads at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol. Rush and Cole bought it for an undisclosed sum, chopped it into two pieces, and trucked them 30 miles to Glastonbury. It was quite a performance, laughs Cole. Police escort and everything. Then we had to put it together again. He points out all the boltings and weldings, as well as the 10-metre-deep pilings that hold this beautifully incongruous monstrosity in place. Nice, though appreciating the workmanship is hardly a cure for my vertigo.

This crane will form the centrepiece of the Arcadia art collectives latest installation, Pangea, which premieres this week at Glastonbury and will remain on the site for four years. It is the pairs response to the question: how do you top a 50-tonne, fire-breathing spider?

The Spider bewitched festival-goers for the best part of a decade. Michael Eavis, who created the festival, remembers being approached by Rush and Cole. They said, Give us a cheque for 20,000. I said, But I dont know who you are. They said, Well do a show and if it falls on its face, youll get at least 10,000 back. It didnt go wrong, did it?

Anatomically, it was very incorrect Arcadias spider at Glastonbury in 2017. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Originally a tripod, the creature evolved into an arachnid. Anatomically, it was very incorrect, says Rush. Real spiders dont have built-in fire cannons. Nor do they have abdomens made from jet engines, legs from Customs scanning machines, claws from log-grabbers, and bodies from helicopter tails. We wanted to change the festival experience, says Rush. Instead of looking at the backs of peoples heads while a band plays, youre part of the action.

By 2015, the Spider had evolved into a multimedia spectacular called Metamorphosis, firing flames and laser beams up into the sky. The DJ stood in the abdomen/control booth, which hung above the dancefloor, while acrobats, dancers, performers and puppeteers shimmied up, over and across the creature on tightropes, as Tesla coils generated four-million-volt lightning arcs.

Although it takes four days to set up and four articulated lorries to transport, the Spider has toured to Miami, Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei and Perth. The Australian trip blew my mind, says Rush. The indigenous Australians we met told us their ancestors performed an ancient song about the spider spirit, how its web symbolised community connectedness. They hadnt performed it since 1901, after a member of the British royal family was rude about it.

They brought members of the Noongar tribe over to perform this song when the Spider visited Londons Olympic Park last year. It was a wonderful moment, says Rush.

Were all in the zone until Monday morning Bert Cole and Pip Rush with Pangea. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

From a platform on the Pangea crane, DJs including Carl Cox and Fatboy Slim will play to a 60,000-strong crowd, on a dancefloor ringed by huge speakers. Itll be like a giant audio Stonehenge, Rush says. Flames will shoot from the speakers into the night sky. Isnt that a health and safety nightmare? It certainly is, says Cole. But weve been dealing with the challenge of atomisation for a long time. Eh? Youve got to atomise the fuel before you set fire to it, so that you burn all of it and none of it comes back down afterwards.

Greasy machinery, millions of volts, flames rising higher than the surrounding hills, a generator running on recycled chip fat, tens of thousands of revellers who perhaps arent all sober are they worried things could go wrong? We run a tight ship, says Rush. People are always amazed when they visit us during the festival. Its a very sober scene. Not at all what you expect from a rave. Were all in the zone. Well, until Monday morning.

From 30 metres up, we survey Pangeas realm. To the south is Dorset, to the north Bristol, and five miles to the west is Glastonbury Tor, surmounting the legendary Arthurian fairy-land of Avalon. If you climb up that ladder to the top of the crane, you can see the sea, says Rush. Theres a really amazing view to the Bristol Channel and Avonmouth. I look up at the rickety ladder, rising another 20 metres into the sky, and take his word for it.

Pangea, Rush says, is named after the prehistoric supercontinent where every land on Earth was one and the future had yet to be written. It was a time of possibility. A blank canvas? Yeah, that fits with our thinking. We have no idea whether it will work.

Before we return to Earth, I sit in the drivers seat of the crane, wondering what sort of carnage I could wreak with the touch of a button. We got in touch with a guy who was an apprentice when the crane came into service, says Cole. Hes been teaching us how to operate it. Maybe, I suggest, the crane could lift dancers and take them on 360-degree rides. Were certainly thinking about having performers dangling from the boom, says Rush. We dont know what it will become over the next few years, adds Cole. Thats the thrill.

Glastonbury runs until 30 June. Read all of our stories about this years festival.

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As she prepares to take Glastonbury by storm, the country star opens a bottle of red wine and talks about the personal tragedy that coloured her new songs

Saturday night on the banks of the Ohio River, and the most American of scenes is unfolding. At the Ball Park, the Cincinnati Reds are playing the Texas Rangers, while at the US Bank Arena next door Carrie Underwood is making the latest stop on her global tour. Fans spill together through the muggy streets, a mingling of scarlet baseball jerseys and tan cowboy boots.

This is Underwoods first tour since 2016, a huge two-hour, 60-date monolith of a show in support of last years album Cry Pretty. Reaching UK arenas on Friday, it features a hydraulic stage, multiple costume changes and fearsome pyrotechnics, and it will carry her from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Detroit, Michigan, via the Glastonbury festival this weekend.

The most successful winner of American Idol, triumphing in the TV talent shows fourth season in 2005, Underwood has since recorded six albums, sold over 65m records, won seven Grammys, and earned more than $83m (65m). She is beautiful and blonde, and married to a retired ice hockey player: at first glance an unlikely addition to the Worthy Farm lineup.

Underwood and husband Mike Fisher at the CMT music awards in Nashville this month. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

When we meet backstage after the show she is out of her costume but still in her stage makeup teary glitter circles smudged beneath her eyes. I got us wine! she announces from the sofa, pouring a large glass of cabernet sauvignon. This is actually a treat for me because normally I go straight to my bus, and I have a crying baby. Underwoods second son, Jacob, was born in January, and now he, her four-year-old, Isaiah, and her husband, Mike Fisher, have joined her on tour. I actually kicked my husband out of the bed and he sleeps on the couch up front, she says of their onboard sleeping arrangements. Its just a lot easier to wake up in a moving bus and grab the baby and feed him. She says she has puzzled over how to adapt her set for Glastonbury, deciding to largely play the hits, try to keep it eclectic and perhaps bust out an Aerosmith cover.

It must be a strange time for such a quintessentially American artist to be visiting the wider world, especially one who is white, southern and religious. I feel like more people try to pin me places politically, she says carefully. I try to stay far out of politics if possible, at least in public, because nobody wins. Its crazy. Everybody tries to sum everything up and put a bow on it, like its black and white. And its not like that.

She cites as an example the reaction to her recent single The Bullet, which looked at the long-running emotional impact of a shooting death. Immediately people said Oh you have a song about gun control! she sighs. It was more about the lives that were changed by something terrible happening. And it does kind of bug me when people take a song, or take something I said and try to pigeonhole or force me to pick a side or something. Its a discussion a long discussion.

She grew up in small-town Oklahoma, where like most families they kept guns under the bed. We had one stop light, one school, she recalls. Choir, band, football, basketball and baseball. Her parents, a teacher and paper-mill worker, drove her to other small towns in a homemade costume to compete in talent shows. The savings bond I would win wouldnt cover whatever we spent on gas to get there, she remembers.

Carrie Underwood wins American Idol in 2005. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When she was 15, she landed a development deal with a record company and got to record in Nashville, though it came to nothing. I just got my braces off, my acne had cleared up decently but we had no idea what we were doing, she says of herself and her band. She went to college to study communications, joined a theatre group and found for the first time in her life a feeling that this is a safe place, we can sing and its OK here. Apart from the out-of-town talent shows, she had largely kept her voice to herself. I was more guarded with singing anywhere near where I grew up, she explains. Its that fear thing: what will they say? What if they laugh at me?

In 2005 she used her parents dial-up internet to register for American Idol. I thought: why not? she explains. Because then I figured at least the door will be shut and I could stop wondering. I could stop thinking what if? And then I could just come home, and graduate and get a job.

Carrie Underwood in glittery stage makeup. Photograph: Randee St Nicholas

I wonder whether, performing before thousands of people in vast arenas, she still worries about what they might think when shes singing. A lot of times I feel like Im alone, she says. Im obviously aware of people being around me. But its like Im in the song alone on stage. It is a good place. I like to be alone. My husband is probably the only person this planet I couldve married my mom, when I told her I was engaged, was even like I just never really thought youd get married. And so I feel like when Im alone and singing and I hear nothing but music, its a nice place to be.

A recent study found that lately country music has moved away from its familiar subjects of hardship and heartbreak towards party songs. Theres a lot of songs that arent actually saying too much, she says. Fun songs to listen along to; party vibe. She pauses. It makes my skin crawl when I hear somebody say Gurrrl in a song, you know?

Underwood prefers the traditional themes:the woman wronged, the sorrow worn. She will stand looking immaculate in a pretty frock, singing about hard times, being cheated on, drinking, messing up her unfaithfuls car. I hope people know you gotta have a little crazy in ya! she laughs. Ive got long blond hair and I like glitter But theres a little crazy in there, and I like that to come out every once in a while. I went through a phase where I killed a lot of people she mentionsthe Blown Away album in which the body count included Cupid hunted down with a shotgun and an alcoholic father taken out by a tornado. I have no idea why, but I wanted everything to be cinematic and dramatic. This album, things were a little more on the emotional side.

Last autumn, as she launched Cry Pretty, she spoke openly of the experience of suffering three miscarriages in the course of two years, and how that loss coloured many of the new songs, capturing the time when I was still trying to do my job and put on a smiley happy face and be Carrie Underwood. And then Id go home and fall apart.

Watch the video for Cry Pretty

The response to her speaking openly about miscarriage has been deeply moving. Its something that people dont really talk about, she says. Even people who are my friends and I know well, after I talked about it were like, My gosh, me too! And I feel like its something I shouldve known about them.

She takes a moment. I think you feel silly being so attached to something that you knew about for this long, she says, and holds up her fingers a short distance apart. But I still feel it, you know. I mean it took me a while to be able to sing certain songs and be able to get through them without really going there. It doesnt go away. Ever.

Today she finds singing songs such as Cry Pretty and Low difficult but therapeutic. I guess you wait for things to stop hurting at some point, she says gently. But letting yourself go there … other people that are going through the same thing, it kind of connects you to them. I will always mourn those children, those lives that were a shooting star, a breath of smoke, but I have Jacob, and he is incredible, he is the sweetest little baby. At the time it was awful, and it still hurts, but its kind of like OK, I have this.

Big stage she wrote and co-produced her album. Photograph: Ralph Larmann

Underwoods producer, David Garcia, says the number one question she gets asked is whether or not she genuinely writes songs, or does she just show up and Instagram the whole time? Underwood not only writes, she also co-produced this record an anomaly in the male-dominated world of country music. I mean, I get it: if you were a songwriter in Nashville, and 90-plus per cent of artists are male, are you going to go into your writing session and write a song for a woman?

She looks resolute. It doesnt bother me, she says. Ill do it myself. She pours one last glass before she heads to the bus and the crying baby. But we do it all. In high heels. Ill be waking up at God knows what time in the morning feeding my baby no one else can do that, and Im proud of that.

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Taron Egerton does a good impression of the flamboyant musician in this sucrose treatment, a by-the-numbers approach authorised by Elton himself

Dexter Fletchers rousingly good natured Rocketman is the authorised-version movie about the legendary singer-songwriter Elton John: written by Lee Hall, produced by David Furnish and exec produced by the man himself. Its had to follow the John Lewis Christmas TV ad that everyone loved, which delivered a very similar narrative in a miniaturised version; in fact theres a moment here with Elton musingly picking out a single-finger tune that even appears to allude to that small-screen gem. Rocketman has also, in a way, had the burden of following or living up to Elton Johns sensational songs, the masterpieces which each seem like mini-movies in themselves or at the very least the euphoric accompaniment to the most moving final montage youve ever seen.

Rocketman is a sucrose-enriched biopic-slash-jukebox-musical hybrid which sometimes feels like it should be on the Broadway or London West End stage and very possibly will. Sometimes the songs are woven realistically into the action, with Elton performing one of his nuclear-payload belters live on stage, or sometimes musingly trying out a song on the keyboard, giving us all goosebumps as we recognise a prototype of Candle in the Wind. But sometimes the songs are part of a fantasy sequence, choreographed in such a way as takes us close to Lloyd Webber territory.

As Elton John, Taron Egerton gamely does a middleweight impersonation, more comfortable with the lighter side: better at the tiaras than the tantrums. The story takes us from the world of Reg Dwight, a bright, shy kid in Pinner, living with his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard) and emotionally stilted dad (Steven Mackintosh) who without knowing it is sowing the seeds of creative pain and rage. Theres also his adoring gran (Gemma Jones) who encourages his music.

Then theres the miraculous meeting with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), the gruff philistine-yet-shrewd promoter Dick James (Stephen Graham) inventor of the old grey whistle test for determining a hit and finally his devastatingly handsome lover and manager John Reid (a toxically sexy Richard Madden) with whom he falls out horribly. It skates us through the glory days of the 70s, the astronomic record-sales, the coke and booze, the misjudged straight marriage and perhaps equally misjudged purchase of Watford FC, concluding with rehab and a 12-step meeting from which the movie is recounted in piously conceived flashback.

The movie disconcertingly ends before he meets the true love of his life David Furnish; theres no mention of Princess Di, and nothing about his mums legendary 90th birthday when they werent speaking and she hired an Elton John impersonator to come to her party instead.

Egerton looks the part and carries off the costumes and glasses, the sequinned baseball costumes and jaunty bowlers well enough, but I felt he never quite delivers Johns woundedness when those he loved let him down; he couldnt quite do the lower-lip-trembling humiliation and hurt which fed into the rage and the fear. I found myself wondering what Bell would have been like in the role.

Of course, this Rocketman resembles the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in a dozen different ways, although these are arguably genetic music-biopic standards: the poor upbringing, the manager, the scene in the record studio, the fateful first encounter with drugs and the joyful montage as the first hit climbs up the charts. Rocketman is candid enough about Johns identity as a gay man.

I didnt think this is a case of straightwashing: more unenjoymentwashing, a refusal to portray hedonism in any terms other than doomy disapproval. Elton himself is shown defiantly saying he loved every minute, but the film cant help tacitly tutting and shaking its head at scenes of him going wild they lead here to a gesture of attempted suicide. And of course Eltons indulgences and abuse were dangerous, but they were also part of his creative genius.

There is no central love story here: Bernie Taupin, despite his central importance to Elton life and art, isnt in the action much and it is not easy to invest in Reid either as a lost love or a bad guy who broke Eltons heart. Lee Halls dialogue, robust enough, is often a bit on the nose, making sure we know what were supposed to be thinking and feeling. Its a bit by-the-numbers but again, it could well sound better on stage

What the movie made an honest job of, was conveying the meaning of the song itself: the rocket pilot who is afraid and lonely and for whom the apparently mind-blowing business of space travel is all in a days work. Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton Johns music and his public image. But the man itself eluded it.

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