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Glastonbury festival kicks off with megastars, music but no mud

By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Glastonbury, the world's largest music festival known for megastars and mud, opened its gates on Wednesday to 135,000 fans with the Rolling Stones and more than 2,000 other acts set to perform at the sprawling, five-day event.

Now in its fifth decade, Glastonbury has grown from a gathering of 1,500 hippies on a dairy farm in 1970, each paying one pound and receiving free milk, to a family-friendly festival costing 205 pounds ($315) a ticket with an average age of 36.

Campers reluctant to rough it can opt for a more glamorous stay known as "glamping" with accommodation companies offering ready-pitched tents, golf buggies to navigate the 900 acre site, champagne on ice, and private toilets and hot showers.

A major talking point ahead of Glastonbury is Britain's fickle summer weather with photographs of mud-covered revelers coming to typify the event held on a working farm in southwest England that turns into a huge tented city.

Over the years the event has survived floods, lightning and become known as the origin of "mud-surfing" but this year the outlook for the festival which ends on Sunday looks fair.

"The good news is that the weather looks set to be kind to festival goers," said a spokeswoman for Britain's national weather service, the Met Office.

Early Wednesday the site opened to music fans who missed out last year when Glastonbury skipped a year as control barriers and portable toilets were needed at the London Olympics.

For the resources needed at Glastonbury are staggering.

Thirteen miles of fence is installed around the site where there are about 350 food stalls, 198 pubs and bars, and up to 1,000 stalls selling everything from blankets to new-age gadgets, with 4,500 toilets and an army of 34,000 workers.

RECORD TICKET SALES

This year's major act at Glastonbury is the Rolling Stones on Saturday who celebrated 50 years in music last year and are performing at a list of U.S. and British venues this year.

Festival founder Michael Eavis, who now runs the event with his daughter Emily, has publicly expressed his delight in bringing the Rolling Stones' line-up of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood to Glastonbury.

"There's always a wishlist, and only the best bands are on it - about 20 of 'em. And we've been ticking 'em off and ticking 'em off. The Rolling Stones were the only ones that were left," Eavis told magazine the Radio Times this week.

Other headline acts are Britain's Arctic Monkeys on Friday and British folk band Mumford & Sons on Sunday who confirmed on Tuesday that bassist Ted Dwane is well enough to perform after undergoing surgery this month for a blood clot on the brain.

Pop pundits have singled out acts including rapper Dizzee Rascal, indie rock quartet Alt-J, Malian musician Rokia Traore, and U.S. hip hop artist Nas as ones to watch across the 58 stages alongside more eclectic acts such as some exiled Tibetan monks.

Despite the draw of the Rolling Stones, the festival was sold out before the veteran rockers were even added to the lineup, snapped up in a record one hour and 40 minutes.

For although Glastonbury is part of an increasingly crowded live music calendar in Britain, its popularity remains strong while poor ticket sales have forced other festivals to cancel.

British performance rights group PRS for Music estimated there were a record 157 music festivals in the UK in 2012 with ticket sales worth around 180 million pounds.

Research by website MSN found music festivals are no longer just a rite of passage for students, with an average age at Glastonbury now 36 and festival-goers spending 425 pounds each.

"The festival experience has become a very different affair than it was 10 years ago," said James McCoy from market research firm YouGov, which conducted a survey on festival-goers' spending.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casciato)

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