Glastonbury Festival kicks-off in sweltering sunshine

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The weather gods were smiling on 170,000 party-goers Friday as Britain's Glastonbury Festival got under way bathed in unexpectedly glorious sunshine.

After Wednesday's visit by Prince Charles, it was the turn of rock-royalty to make the headlines as giants of the music world took centre stage at the world's largest open-air music and performing arts festival.

The main event on the first day of music was a set by Gorillaz, the rap-influenced project of Blur singer Damon Albarn which stepped in to replace Irish rock-legends U2 after their lead singer Bono hurt his back.

Most music fans seemed to be happy about the last-minute change.

"I'm not disappointed at all," said Johnny, 26, from Coventry in central England. "I really don't like U2, Bono is awful, and I quite like Gorillaz."

Rumours abounded that the headliners would feature some very special guests, with New York rocker Lou Reed being a name on everyone's lips.

Other first-day highlights included country legend Willie Nelson, British rapper Dizzee Rascal, US quartet Vampire Weekend and hip-hop veteran Mos Def.

The mood of the guests couldn't be more upbeat following three days of sunshine and England's World Cup win on Wednesday, watched by almost 60,000 fans on screens by the main Pyramid Stage just after the gates opened here.

It was in stark contrast to last year when thunderstorms and the news of Michael Jackson's death meant that the festival, which takes place at Pilton Farm in Somerset, south west England, got off to a sombre start.

There was bad news for some revellers, however -- police questioned two men after stopping their car on the way to Glastonbury on Thursday and allegedly finding 100,000 pounds worth of drugs inside.

Festival creator and organiser Michael Eavis, 74, is a dairy farmer by trade, but there are no cows to be seen on site as over 50 stages prepare to host almost 2,000 performers.

Australian all-round entertainer Rolf Harris kicked off proceedings on the main stage, inspiring a mass sing-a-long with opening classic "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport."

It isn't every day that the Aussie octogenarian shares a stage with a notorious gangster rapper, but this was Glastonbury and Snoop Dogg's scheduled performance later in the day epitomised the festival's inclusive spirit.

The event is better known for rain and mud but this year revellers were more worried about sun-stroke than trench-foot with 1,185 people requiring medical attention, mostly for heat-related problems, up from 166 last year.

Amid the vast expanses of pink flesh which had been hidden away since last summer, there was the usual array of fancy dress on show.

This year's offerings included the Incredible Hulk, a posse of Indians, pirates by the boatload and a wilting Chewbacca. Some fortunate souls were also lucky enough to find God, standing outside a cider tent.

Harry Potter star Emma Watson was also spotted on site, enjoying drinks in the sun with a group of friends.

It is a far cry from 1970 and the first festival when Marc Bolan and Al Stewart perform to a crowd who had paid one pound for entry and a pint of milk from the farm.

The festival's evolution into an event which now is now part of Britain's cultural fabric has been nothing short of mind-boggling.

"I don't think Michael can quite believe that it's the 40th birthday," Emily Eavis, co-organiser and daughter of Michael, told the on-site newspaper.

"We've really pulled out all the stops this year and there's a real pride in what we have done.

"It's been emotional, we were disappointed when U2 pulled out but we've got a great line-up in place and we think it's going to be the best festival ever."

© 2010 AFP

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