Sex, Mud and Rock 'N' Roll; from Woodstock to T in the Park, Open-Air Music Festivals Horrify and Delight in Equal Measure. Here One Veteran Celebrates the Myriad Joys (and Pitfalls) of Al Fresco Pop

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SURVIVORS of the 1971 Glastonbury Festival swear they saw it. The free-floating bioluminescent life form known to posterity as the 'Glastonbury Angel' is alleged to have appeared at the edge of the main stage. It floated around 'digging' the music until a lacklustre performance by the chanteuse Melanie drove it away.

That is mild compared with the more extreme delusions recounted by damaged veterans of Woodstock. Some insist that if you stand by a certain tree near where the stage was, in the early hours of an August morning, you can still hear Jimi Hendrix's Fender Stratocaster wailing to the canopy of stars above.

Strange things happen when the human brain is subjected to the hallucinations brought on by LSD, especially when the drug is potent and dangerously impure.

Today they like to talk about life-changing experiences, but many of the young women who paraded naked at those early festivals of peace, love and understanding were stoned to the brink of no return on 'bad acid'. If that did not persuade them to shed their clothes and frolic in muddy pools, it was probably the double-strength hashcookies which predatory men in striped loon pants told them were baked by pixies on a brazier of glowing karma crystals.

So, as 120,000 young revellers descend on Balado, Kinross, for this weekend's 11th annual T in the Park festival, can we expect more strange tales of weird wildness?.

Rock festivals have generated more myths than most creations of youth culture, and T in the Park is no exception. Parents from the generations that spawned Woodstock, the Isle of Wight, Knebworth and Glastonbury may know the truth about what happens when tens of thousands of people are crammed into fields with no plumbing, but we cannot expect to be listened to.

If festival-going were subjected to rational scrutiny, only the truly mad would do it. But it is not a rational activity. It is a rite of passage and one that the experience of previous generations has imbued with vast symbolic significance.

The event that drew 450,000 people to Max Yasgur's farm just outside the small town of Woodstock in New York State between August 15 and 18, 1969, has an awful lot to answer for. It generated a fairy story that has endured for 35 years.

AMONG those who were really present, honesty is common. Woodstock was wet, cold and filthy. Drug use was ubiquitous, food virtually unobtainable, and the music was largely inaudible or unrecognisable as many of the performers were as stoned as their fans.

But the sons and daughters who have left home to join the throng at Balado with sleeping bags, tents and loo rolls on their backs know a festival has to be endured before it can be enjoyed. Somewhere in their hearts, they nurture a kernel of belief in the myth that Woodstock changed the world.

Their politics are less absurdly naive than the peace and love mantra of 1969. Some among the modern generation dismiss politics entirely. But they cherish the notion that youth brought together in the pursuit of pleasure can do good.

To understand why this matters, it is not necessary to pretend that Jimi Hendrix's performance that August night half a lifetime ago contributed directly to the American withdrawal from Vietnam.

Festivals are about independence, alcohol, sex, experimentation and, yes, drugs. The last item must not be ignored. One recent magazine survey of festival-goers found 67 per cent admitted using narcotics. That almost certainly means a still higher percentage actually did so. No matter how hard the police and the organisers work to prevent it, T in the Park will be awash with marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines.

Responsible young people who have never tried anything stronger than wine will come under unprecedented pressure to experiment with illegal substances.

To most who succumb, this will lead to nothing more serious than a night of gabbling in which several former strangers will agree that it would be 'really amazing' if they could all just live in a field and prosper by trading dandelion wine with the people in the field next door. …