This article was originally published in 2020
Is Glastonbury the greatest place on Earth? Well, to paraphrase Brian Clough, it’s definitely in the top one.
This week marks the return of the iconic festival after two years away and a slightly belated celebration of 50 years since Michael Eavis first opened Worthy Farm to the world back in 1970. The big five-oh might have been celebrated somewhat online back in 2020, but in just a few days the real party will finally get underway.
We here at NME have decided to honour the great and glorious Glastonbury Festival by raising a toast to its half-century milestone and taking a fond look back across the festival’s rich and storied history. From landmark performances and career-defining sets to the introduction of its mind-bending Arcadia and Shangri-La areas, here, in chronological order, is NME‘s pick of the 50 greatest Glastonbury moments.
Words: Alex Flood, Andrew Trendell, El Hunt, Hannah Mylrea, Jordan Bassett, Nick Reilly, Rhys Buchanan, Sam Moore, Will Richards
1T. Rex set a precedent with a last-minute headline set at the first-ever Glastonbury (1970)
What happened: If you can count on anything in the music industry, it’s that rock stars just won’t show up on time — or at all. Michael Eavis found this out the hard way when The Kinks pulled out of headlining his inaugural Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival in 1970. Eavis wasn’t to be discouraged, though, and he quickly rang up Marc Bolan (who was on the way to play another show at a Butlin’s in Minehead), who agreed to fill in at the last minute.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Under 2000 people showed up in Pilton that weekend, but every great festival has to start somewhere — and bagging a bonafide glam rock legend to play was the perfect way to kick things off. AF
2David Bowie plays for the first time as Glasto is captured on film for Glastonbury Fayre (1971)
What happened: After making its ramshackle debut the previous year — charging punters just a quid for a ticket, Michael Eavis didn’t manage to break even and he later told the BBC that it “hasn’t been as good as I hoped” — the festival returned in June 1971 as the ‘Glastonbury Fair’. David Bowie, six months before releasing ‘Hunky Dory’, made his Glastonbury bow by playing at 5AM on the new and now-iconic Pyramid Stage; its Egyptian pyramid-inspired design also making its first festival appearance. Around 12,000 people rocked up to join the free-entry chaos, and the whole thing was captured on film for the documentary Glastonbury Fayre.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Eavis’ decision to stage the festival again less than a year after its stuttering inaugural edition was brave yet ultimately pivotal as the next building block towards creating the greatest music festival in the world. EH
3Emily Eavis is born! (1979)
What happened: Emily Eavis’ arrival on Worthy Farm came during the same summer that Glastonbury embraced the very apt theme of the “year of the child”.
What it meant for Glastonbury: That Glastonbury would be in safe hands for years to come: Emily is now the festival’s co-organiser with her dad Michael. SM
4The first ‘Glastonbury Festival’ (in name) sees the festival’s first big donation to charity (1981)
What happened: After taking a year off in 1980, Michael Eavis was keen to get back at it and so started organising the 1981 event in earnest. For the first time ever, he teamed up with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) — who put flyers for the festival in with the correspondence they sent out to those on their mailing list (as long as the addition of the flyers didn’t mean that the weight of the post went over the cost of a stamp!) — and the festival was renamed the Glastonbury CND Festival, a name it maintained throughout most of the ’80s. That year also saw the festival turn a profit for the first time, and Eavis donated £20,000 to the CND.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Eavis’ donation started the festival’s long-time commitment to large-scale charity work, and Glastonbury now raises millions of pounds for charitable organisations each year. HM
5New Order play to a load of bikers (1981)
What happened: Back when Glastonbury wasn’t the behemoth festival that it is today and New Order were still rising from the ashes of Joy Division, the Manchester legends co-headlined the 1981 event with Hawkwind. As a result, the field was full of confused crusty bikers and hippies who probably thought “new wave” was an IPA. The band’s response? Pure punk abandon, or as drummer Stephen Morris later put it: “Unfortunately Bernard [Sumner, frontman] rather over-imbibed on Pernod, and half-way through one song just completely fell over and started playing guitar on his back.”
What it meant for Glastonbury: It helped pave the way for Glasto becoming something that was far more than just hippies gathering in a field. AT
6The Smiths’ chaotic Glastonbury debut ends in a stage invasion (1984)
What happened: The Smiths courted controversy with their first and only Worthy Farm slot, with the free-spirited hippy masses in attendance taking offence (again) to the mainstream indie icons’ performance. Despite hostility from some parts of the crowd, it wasn’t long before hordes of actual Smiths fans began clambering their way onto the corrugated Pyramid Stage structure to join Moz and Johnny Marr in a gladioli-wielding Mancunian party.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Michael Eavis has often said that this performance changed what Glastonbury was about musically, ultimately ushering in a new breed of Pyramid act. RB
7The Cure headline as Glastonbury welcomes 60,000 people for the first time (1986)
What happened: A new chapter for Glasto as the fields of Worthy Farm welcomed a serious number of revellers and one hell of line-up to boot. Saturday night saw The Cure headline for the first of four times (a Pyramid-topping record matched only by Coldplay), and with the band having just released the hit-loaded ‘The Head On The Door’ LP, Robert Smith and co. proceeded to belt out a 20-song set (featuring three encores) of giddy, goth-pop classics.
What it meant for Glastonbury: It set the standard for what a Glastonbury headliner could be. AT
8Rave culture officially comes to Glastonbury (1989)
What happened: Imagine Glasto without Block 9, NYC Downlow and Shangri-La; without somewhere to dance with sweaty strangers until the sun comes up and you begin to question the fabric of your very existence. Actually, reader — don’t: it’s simply not worth it. Until the late ‘80s, though, the Pilton party was more of a bonfires-and-acoustic-guitar affair after hours. All that changed, though, as rave culture descended on Worthy Farm in 1989, bringing with it makeshift parties from crews such as Sugarlump and Mindscapes. A few years later, Michael Eavis — who reportedly didn’t even know what dance music was — ushered in the festival’s first-ever official Dance Tent. And the rest is… a very hazy memory for a generation of Glasto-goers.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Your mum and dad lost an important part of their brains somewhere… somewhere in a field in Somerset — all right! JB
9The creation of the Stone Circle (1992)
What happened: Worthy Farm’s take on the prehistoric installations famously seen at the likes of Stonehenge and Carnac was first established by ancient druids in, er, 1992, according to this definitely reputable archaeological source. The Stone Circle has become an essential component of the Glastonbury experience in the 28 years since — just make sure you take plenty of pictures of your visit there, because it’s likely you won’t remember much after taking in its spiritual essence (we’re saying nothing).
What it meant for the festival: That festival-goers have somewhere picturesque to stumble to on site to watch the sun come up each morning, perfectly rounding off the previous night’s festivities. SM
10The Verve keep on jamming (1993)
What happened: Never ones to keep too strictly to a curfew, the Verve‘s NME Stage set in 1993 was a total wig-out. As Richard Ashcroft later explained to NME: “We were doing ‘Gravity Grave’ and there’s these people at the side of the stage waving at us: ‘One more minute’. So I just started chanting, ‘We got one more minute, we got one more minute’ over and over, like: ‘Come on, this is it – play like it’s the last minute of your lives.’”
What it meant for Glastonbury: This display of tenacity showcased The Verve’s headliner potential, which they eventually fulfilled upon their reunion in 2008. WR
11Glasto gets on the telly (1994)
What happened: Glastonbury was televised for the first time by Channel 4, helping it become a nationwide concern — and creating Glasto FOMO like never before.
What it meant for Glastonbury: “I don’t think you can underestimate how important TV coverage has been for us,” Michael Eavis said in the recent Glastonbury 50 book. This first step in 1994 edged Glastonbury closer to becoming the worldwide televised behemoth that it’s now renowned as. It showed the country (and then the world) what a special thing was happening down in Somerset every year. WR
12The NME Stage hosts Blur, Oasis, Radiohead, Pulp, Tool, Björk, Beastie Boys and many more (1994)
What happened: With Britpop about to hit full-force, a mouth-watering bunch of ’90s greats all performed on the NME Stage in 1994 (it became The Other Stage three years later). Many made their Glastonbury debuts that year, including future Pyramid headliners Oasis, Blur, Radiohead and Pulp. It’s one of those special festival line-ups you lament missing out on — even if you weren’t born at the time.
What it meant for Glastonbury: As well as sparking an enduring love story with all those iconic names and helping them on their way to stardom, this stellar line-up goes to prove that Glastonbury has so often been at the forefront of musical innovation. RB
13Johnny Cash’s unforgettable Pyramid Stage performance (1994)
What happened: “He was spellbinding, bloody brilliant. That was one of my best bookings of all time,” Michael Eavis once told NME about Johnny Cash‘s 1994 Glastonbury debut. Eavis wasn’t wrong: The Man In Black ruled Worthy Farm from the minute he strolled onto the Pyramid Stage, delivering his iconic “hello” to the crowd and launching straight into the unmistakable twang of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. Cash went on to deliver a set that highlighted the best of his past (‘Ring of Fire’ – check, ‘A Boy Named Sue’ – check) and also threw in the odd surprise as he was joined by wife June Carter for a rousing rendition of ‘Jackson’.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Worthy Farm’s unbridled love for the country legend was clearly a mutual affair, and Cash would go on to say that the appearance was a high point of his career. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers may have brought their own slice of Americana to Glastonbury in the years that followed, but Cash will always be the one who triumphed first. NR
14Orbital bring the rave into people’s living rooms (1994)
What happened: The dance titans played the first of their five Glastonbury sets to date in 1994 as they headlined the NME Stage, a show that has since become the stuff of legend — helped by the fact that it was shown on the telly as part of that first broadcast.
What it meant for Glastonbury: It took dance music from the fringes of Glastonbury to its main stages, while also bringing rave to the masses and beaming a vibrant subculture into living rooms across the country and beyond. Orbital‘s game-changing slot also paved the way for every massive Chemical Brothers, Faithless or Fatboy Slim set you’ve seen since on the Farm. WR
15Jarvis Cocker and Pulp save the day after The Stone Roses pull out (1995)
What happened: Stone Roses guitarist John Squire had an untimely cycling accident just weeks before the 1995 festival, meaning that the Manchester band had to step down from their much-anticipated headline slot. Fear not, though: Jarvis and co. were on hand to deliver the goods in what became a career-defining moment for Pulp.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Pulp’s 11th-hour booking was a moment that revealed just how many tricks the festival has up its sleeve, while the resulting set itself helped turn Jarvis Cocker into a national treasure. It should also be noted that The Stone Roses weren’t totally denied their slice of Worthy Farm glory as they performed at the associated Pilton Party later that year. RB
16Massive Attack are among the first acts to play in the brand-new Dance Tent (1995)
What happened: 1995 saw the important introduction of the Dance Tent, and it got off to an absolute flyer with one of the decade’s biggest names: Massive Attack. The group have since gone on to deliver a number of spellbinding sets at the festival.
What it meant for Glastonbury: The Dance Tent arrived at the perfect time to usher in a whole new generation of dance and electronica acts. It’s since evolved from just the one tent to becoming a central part of the festival, from the Dance Village to the Dance Tent’s current guise as Silver Hayes. RB
17‘The Year of the Mud’ (1997)
What happened: If you’ve ever attended a biblically muddy Glastonbury, it’s likely that you wear your achievement like a badge of hardy honour: looking back on the swampy slop that constantly lapped at the brim of your wellies, it’s a wonder that nobody involved got trench foot. The toughest Glasto terrain of all time is constantly up for debate, and there are quite a few contenders: 1985 was a swamp of knee-high muck, while the original ‘Year of the Mud’ title-holder — 1997 — saw a slurry tanker being called in to try and hoover up the worst of it. Eight years later, some innovative punters memorably used canoes to paddle around the site. And, in more recent memory, 2016 set an impressively new soggy record, with Michael Eavis declaring it the muddiest Glasto of all time.
What it meant for Glastonbury: 1997 still serves as a lasting reminder to Glasto-goers each year that they should always, always, always pack their wellies — no matter how sunny the forecast looks. EH
18Radiohead overcome technical gremlins to make history (1997)
What happened: An evening of magic that almost didn’t happen. With Thom Yorke totally “burnt out” from their gruelling ‘OK Computer’ tour and not really wanting to be there, Radiohead then encountered countless technical problems on stage. The speakers were blowing, Yorke was threatening to walk off and it all amounted to what they later described as “a form of hell”. Not to the crowd, though. Radiohead’s blend of anxiety, euphoria and anthems was just what the rain-soaked fields of Pilton needed that year, and it went down as one of the best Glasto sets of all time.
What it meant for Glastonbury: An irate Yorke spitting, “Can you turn on the lights so we can see the people, because we haven’t seen them yet?”, before illuminating the hollering, delighted masses as far as the eye could see: the moment should now be listed among the dictionary definitions of “a Glastonbury moment”. AT
19Fun Lovin’ Criminals get Glastonbury bouncing (1999)
What happened: Fun Lovin’ Criminals were riding the crest of a wave of popularity when they played the Pyramid Stage in 1999, and Glastonbury was more than ready for them — the above footage of the band playing ’90s classic ‘Scooby Snacks’ is genuinely spine-tingling. A shout-out, too, to the clip’s top YouTube comment: “I was in that crowd, off my face on acid. My best night ever!”
What it meant for Glastonbury: Presumably footage of the mesmerising crowd bounce to ‘Scooby Snacks’, which was subsequently broadcast to the world, inspired a whole host of bands to get grafting in order to achieve the kind of Glastonbury moment FLCs basked in 21 years ago. SM
20Skunk Anansie become the first Black Britons to headline the Pyramid Stage (1999)
What happened: Although frontwoman Skin later pointed out that The Prodigy‘s Maxim “beat us to it in 1997”, Skunk Anansie‘s momentous top billing in 1999 is widely regarded as the first time that Black British artists had headlined Glastonbury.
What it meant for Glastonbury: “Glastonbury had a certain face at that time and it was white rock artists, and not many women either,” Skin said in a 2019 interview. “There were a lot of articles and newspapers that were asking ‘Why Skunk Anansie?’ in the same way that, when he did it, people were asking ‘Why Jay-Z?’ “Because there’s a Black face at the front of the band, maybe people thought it wasn’t rock enough — that it wasn’t the right face for Glastonbury festival.” Skunk Anansie’s headline slot was rightly highlighted again last year after Skin and Stormzy celebrated one another’s achievements. SM
21David Bowie’s iconic headline set takes place as the third and current Pyramid Stage design debuts (2000)
What happened: A Sunday newspaper declared that Bowie would be topping the bill at Glastonbury before he’d actually signed up for it, as he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. The resulting rush for tickets (it didn’t sell out in 30 minutes in those days) hurried the booking along, making Bowie the first-ever accidental Glastonbury headliner. After spending the ‘90s in relative obscurity making experimental music, many feared that his Glasto set would be self-indulgent. They were so, so wrong.
What it meant for Glastonbury: History. Honouring his previous visit to Glastonbury in 1971, Bowie wore an Alexander McQueen jacket based on the “bipperty bopperty hat” – immortalised in his song ‘Queen Bitch’ – from his original costume, and played a banger-filled set true to his legacy. It was one for all time. Don’t believe us? Just watch his performance of ‘Heroes’ and try not to weep. AT
22The Left Field is introduced (2000)
What happened: Glastonbury has a long history when it comes to campaigning, and, at the turn of the Millennium, it was bolstered further by the arrival of the Left Field. Originally a small white marquee, it has gradually evolved into Worthy Farm’s political hub: a place for talks, performances and discussions. The area is currently curated by Billy Bragg and has hosted the likes of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race author Reni Eddo-Lodge and, in 2017, the then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
What it meant for Glastonbury: The festival having a renowned, forward-thinking space that is dedicated, as Michael Eavis says, to “fighting for a change and giving our poorer people just half a chance to live decent, happy and worthwhile lives”. EH
23The site’s “Superfence” goes up (2002)
What happened: After years of notorious fence-hopping and ticket-dodging, Glastonbury erected a massive perimeter fence and made buying an actual ticket that little bit more important.
What it meant for Glastonbury: As well as serving as evidence of just how big the festival had become, the “Superfence” added an even greater air of exclusivity to getting a sought-after ticket. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to carry on [the festival] without [the fence],” Emily Eavis said, adding that 2002’s festival “felt like the start of a new era”. WR
24The Emerging Talent Competition starts (2004)
What happened: Initially known as the Unsigned Performer’s Competition (and first won by Brighton rockers The Subways), Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition now gives new UK and Ireland-based acts of any musical genre the chance to win both a slot at Glastonbury and a talent development fund — a massive opportunity for any up-and-coming artists. Previous winners include Declan McKenna, Izzy Bizu and She Drew The Gun.
What it meant for Glastonbury: That Glastonbury has continued to proactively maintain its long commitment to showcasing new bands and artists. SM
25Paul McCartney headlines for the first time (2004)
What happened: It was always going to be one to remember when Sir Paul McCartney took to the Pyramid Stage for the first time. Armed with the world’s best back catalogue, the veteran favourite treated the crowd to a staggering 33-song setlist — including all the Beatles classics you could ask for.
What it meant for Glastonbury: He was the first Beatle to ever headline Glastonbury; it would be bizarre if the immortal influence of the Fab Four didn’t have its own special place in the festival’s long and proud history. Macca made sure of it, though. RB
26The John Peel Stage becomes a haven for new music (2005)
What happened: Glastonbury got itself a dedicated new music tent in 2005 that was named after the legendary late BBC DJ.
What it meant for Glastonbury: 15 years on, it’s hard to remember that the John Peel Stage didn’t always exist. But its introduction in 2005 saw Glastonbury laying down a marker to get fully behind the freshest, most exciting new music from Britain and beyond, something that they are now notorious for. A slot on the John Peel Stage is a surefire tick-box on any band’s road to success. WR
27The Park Stage debuts, as does the Ribbon Tower (2007)
What happened: Emily Eavis launched The Park Stage and area in 2007, and it’s hard to imagine the festival without it these days. It was also the first year that we saw the now-iconic Ribbon Tower in place, as well as staple Glastonbury spots like The Rabbit Hole (look out for A-listers lurking here) and the Stonebridge Bar.
What it meant for Glastonbury: As well as becoming a stunning feature on the festival landscape, the establishment of The Park area also played a huge part in Emily Eavis’ learning process ahead of her taking over the reins of the festival itself. And what would the modern-day Glastonbury be without all of those now-traditional secret sets over on The Park Stage: from Radiohead and The Last Shadow Puppets through to Biffy Clyro and Pulp, The Park is definitely the place to be to catch the biggest names in more modest settings. RB
28Arcadia sparks into life (2007)
What happened: Worthy Farm got weirder and more wonderful in 2007 with the introduction of Arcadia, the awe-inspiring brainchild of creative engineers Bert Cole and Pip Rush. Its annual return to Glastonbury over the years has only got bigger and better, and has since led to the biggest party on the planet being crashed by a fucking enormous fire-breathing spider.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Arriving a year before Shangri-La landed at Glastonbury, Arcadia was a huge leap forward in the festival’s nightlife scene — something which defines a huge part of the Glastonbury experience as we know it now. Arcadia’s successful introduction 13 years ago arguably made it all possible. WR
29Jay-Z brings hip-hop to the Pyramid! (2008)
What happened: When Jay-Z was announced as a Glastonbury headliner in 2008, Noel Gallagher wasted no time in letting the Brooklyn rapper know how he felt about the whole thing. “I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong,” he infamously remarked. Jay, of course, didn’t give a single shit. Instead, he threw the criticism right back in Noel’s face by owning the furore in the most genius way possible: rocking up on the Pyramid Stage while strumming along to ‘Wonderwall’. With further nods to British music culture (he covered both The Prodigy and Amy Winehouse) mixed in with a full set of his own incredible tunes, here was an artist utilising Glastonbury’s massive platform to prove they’re truly one of the greats.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Once the controversy about his booking had been so casually tossed aside, Jay-Z wasted no time in fully seizing his moment by delivering an incendiary set that unquestionably proved why both rap and hip-hop firmly deserve their place at Worthy Farm’s top table. NR
30The arrival of Shangri-La (2008)
What happened: Nowadays this hedonistic festival-within-a-festival is as essential as the Pyramid Stage: no longer a cult favourite for those in the know, but a multiverse that’s part art installation — in 2019 the theme was ‘JUNKSTAPOSITION’, its junkyard aesthetic peppered with messages both reassuring (“Let there be good in every day”) and urgent (“WAKE UP CHANGE IS NEEDED”) – and part mega-mash central. Shangri-La replaced Lost Vagueness, a pastiche of the Las Vegas strip, and has become such a destination that, in Glasto’s absence this year, its creators have produced a really quite convincing virtual reality version to satiate punters. The good thing about that is that you still get to party and the VR goggles catch your tears.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Glasto is forever pushing forward: many mourned Lost Vagueness, but the Eavises never stand still. JB
31Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ moment (2008)
What happened: The late singer/songwriter legend finally made it to Worthy Farm in 2008, putting in what many regard as the best performance ever seen at Glastonbury. Cohen’s refusal to grant the BBC access to film his set has surely heightened the show’s mythical status, too.
What it meant for Glastonbury: As the festival neared the 2010s, it seemed no level of superstar was out of their reach: Glastonbury had become the must-visit festival for all. WR
32Blur reunite on the Pyramid (2009)
What happened: One of Britain’s biggest bands made their comeback, putting on a show that’s since gone down in Glastonbury legend.
What it meant for Glastonbury: As the undoubted king of British festivals, Glastonbury quickly became the go-to venue for any huge reunion party, with Blur announcing their glorious comeback with one of the best headline sets Glastonbury has ever seen. It also just served to remind us all that there’s no place quite like Glastonbury for reuniting with old pals. WR
What happened: After years of being asked, The Boss finally checked in to Worthy Farm for a glorious, mammoth and career-spanning set.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Glastonbury is now no stranger to superstars from the US and beyond taking to the Pyramid Stage, but in 2009 the influx was only just beginning. When Bruce Springsteen (and Jay-Z the year before) agreed to headline the festival, it opened the floodgates and confirmed to the world’s biggest stars that Glastonbury was the place for them — across the next two years, they got both Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder. Speaking of whom… WR
34When Michael Eavis duetted with Stevie Wonder (2010)
What happened: The legendary Stevie Wonder was behind one of the festival’s most endearing moments as he invited Michael Eavis on stage during his 2010 headline set to duet on ‘Happy Birthday’, toasting Glastonbury’s 40th anniversary. In the book Glastonbury 50, Eavis recalled: “It felt quite surreal to be standing up there with a music legend, looking out at the sea of faces and flags.”
What it meant for Glastonbury: It was an opportunity for festival attendees to give back and thank Michael for all of the memories he’s helped create at his farm over the years. Also, who better to deliver such a momentous birthday toast than the one-and-only Stevie Wonder? RB
35Beyoncé brings pop to the Pyramid! (2011)
What happened: Before Beychella (her legendary 2018 Coachella performance that was filmed for the Netflix documentary Homecoming), Beyoncé brought pop perfection to the Pyramid Stage with her flawless 2011 headline slot. It was pure euphoria: a show stuffed with smash hits (as well as Prince and Kings of Leon covers, and, of course, a Destiny’s Child medley), slick dance routines and a whole farm’s supply of goosebump moments — just watch the above version of ‘Irreplaceable’ if you still don’t believe us.
What it meant for Glastonbury: After her performance, Beyoncé breathlessly told the BBC: “This night was a dream: I felt like a rock star.” Glastonbury’s power of elevation even applied to the already heavenly Beyoncé. HM
36Radiohead play a secret set on The Park Stage (2011)
What happened: Four months after its release, Radiohead brought their eighth album ‘The King Of Limbs’ to Glastonbury for a not-so-very-secret set up on the hill.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Since its inception in 2007, Emily Eavis’ Park Stage has become a magical corner of the site. Most notably, it’s played host to a number of high-profile secret sets, with Foals, Vampire Weekend and Radiohead all popping up there without (much) warning over the years. It’s given Pyramid Stage headliners the chance to road-test new material or build-up to their next Pyramid-conquering, while also giving everyone a nice big surprise. WR
37The Rolling Stones finally have their moment! (2013)
What happened: A match made in music heaven finally came to fruition in 2013 when one of the oldest bands in existence headlined one of the oldest festivals going. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the gang rattled off a greatest hits set that included ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Satisfaction’ and even a reworked version of ‘Factory Girl’, renaming it ‘Glastonbury Girl’ for the occasion.
What it meant for Glastonbury: The Stones were always destined to headline Glasto: it was just a case of when (and for how much). That they were still so keen to nail the slot even after 50 years in the biz is a testament to the festival’s enduring importance. AF
38Arctic Monkeys play ‘Mardy Bum’ with an orchestra as they right the wrongs of 2007 (2013)
What happened: It was a baptism of fire when the Monkeys made their Glasto debut by headlining in 2007, a set marred by horrific sound problems. “Glastonbury is like this old wise wizard or something; [it] kind of controls the tides of the rock‘n’roll universe,” frontman Alex Turner said before returning in 2013. “I’ve got a respect for it. Maybe that wise wizard’s got a respect for us now. Hopefully he’ll turn the speakers on or whatever; turn us up a bit this time”. The wizard delivered, sprinkling a little magic on this gorgeous orchestral version of ‘Mardy Bum’ (arranged by Guy Garvey of Elbow, no less).
What it meant for Glastonbury: A career-defining set by Sheffield’s finest has led to subsequent requests for AM to return to headline Glastonbury each and every year for the rest of time. AT
39Dolly Parton owns her ‘Legends Slot’ (2014)
What happened: When the Great Smoky Mountains’ finest Dolly Parton took on Glastonbury’s Sunday afternoon ‘Legends Slot’ in 2014, pulling the biggest crowd of the entire weekend was just the cherry on top. In a spangling white trouser-suit, the Tennessee country singer yodelled, punned, hoe-downed and whooped her way through a perfect set of absurd, over-the-top genius. Her set was further furnished with a rendition of the Benny Hill Show theme on sax, a tear-jerking belt-out of ‘I Will Always Love You’, the flawless ‘Islands in the Stream’ and an entire bespoke rap song about mud, written especially for Glastonbury.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Dolly showed us once and for all: that, friends, is how the ‘Legends Slot’ is done. EH
40Metallica bring metal to Glasto! (2014)
What happened: Metallica brought the riffs to Worthy Farm in 2014 as one of the first major metal acts to take on headline duties. Despite their illustrious career, the metal juggernauts were considered underdogs with a point to prove before their performance. Yet even their biggest doubters would have struggled to conjure a negative word about the set that followed: after all, how can you argue with the likes of ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘One’ rolling out over such sacred grounds?
What it meant for Glastonbury: One musical powerhouse meeting another, this was one of those glorious examples where the festival’s booking team took a risk and offered up something unexpected in an ultimately successful bid to prove that Glastonbury is a place for all genres. RB
41The Dalai Lama turns up (2015)
What happened: We were left second-guessing the percentage of that cider we’d just gulped down in 2015 as His Holiness The Dalai Lama took to the Pyramid Stage with Patti Smith to celebrate his 80th birthday. The Buddhist leader brought messages of compassion and mutual understanding across the site in a truly surreal yet serene scene.
What it meant for Glastonbury: One of those unique guests that only Glastonbury is capable of producing, the Dalai Lama’s messages of personal responsibility towards the planet chimed perfectly with the festival’s renowned ethos and values around making the world a better place. RB
42Kanye West trolls and triumphs (2015)
What happened: “For half an hour, it was as good as it gets,” Noel Gallagher later told NME about Kanye West‘s set. Love him or hate him, Kanye’s all-encompassing yet very divisive 2015 headline slot (which isn’t available to watch back on YouTube, sadly) will always go down in Worthy Farm history as one of the festival’s most unforgettable sets — even if it didn’t all go entirely to plan…
What it meant for Glastonbury: That you can squeeze in a stage invasion, a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ karaoke session, multiple false starts and technical hitches, a stint on top of a fucking cherry picker AND proclaim yourself as “the greatest living rock star on the planet” all within one Pyramid Stage headline slot. Beat that, everyone else. SM
43When the Brexit referendum result couldn’t keep festival-goers and Christine down (2016)
What happened: Picture the scene: thousands of bleary-eyed revellers awake to the news that the UK would be leaving the European Union. A poll found that 83% of Glasto-goers had voted to remain: the mood was bleak. Then – Christine & The Queens blasted through the gloom with a message of hope, unity, liberté, égalité, and fraternité with her life-affirming Euro-pop.
What it meant for Glastonbury: That we could party for the rest of the weekend without feeling totally defeated. AT
44Adele makes Glastonbury weep en masse (2016)
What happened: During her 2016 headline slot, Adele somehow managed to turn the Pyramid Stage into your cosy local. Riotously rude — she alleged that the BBC had to issue a warning about her swearing before airing her set — she chatted away (“Have any of you had to do a piss down the front?” she asked those hardy punters patient enough to have waited on the barrier all day for her. “Have any of you had to do a shit?”), brought fans on stage and relished every second. But in between her nattering? Vocal perfection that brought the tens of thousands watching on to tears, while also soundtracking a handful of proposals. “There’s no place like Glastonbury,” Adele later said of her headlining experience. “It was the absolute highlight of my career, and one of the greatest moments of my life!”
What it meant for Glastonbury: That million-selling, chart-dominating vocal pop acts can both rule Worthy Farm and cause a mad dash on the few shops available on the festival site that stock Kleenex. HM
45The Killers’ jaw-dropping secret set (2017)
What happened: Secret sets are one of the things about Glasto, and it doesn’t get any better than The Killers taking to the John Peel Stage to the sound of The Undertones‘ ‘Teenage Kicks’ – aka late DJ John Peel’s favourite ever song. “They say you play the John Peel Stage twice in your career – once on the way up and once on the way down,” Brandon Flowers wisecracked. “It’s good to be back.” With a greatest hits set that included ‘Mr. Brightside’, ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ and then-new song ‘The Man’, he was the only one feeling chuffed.
What it meant for Glastonbury: John Peel’s legend lives on. JB
46Jeremy Corbyn takes over Glasto (2017)
What happened: You couldn’t move for hearing the mass chants of “Ohhh, Jeremy Corbyn” at Glastonbury 2017. The former Labour leader reached cult status that year and was being chased around the festival site by excitable crowds throughout the Saturday. It all climaxed as he delivered one of the weekend’s most anticipated moments with a rousing speech before Run The Jewels’ set on the Pyramid.
What it meant for Glastonbury: With the festival’s deeply political roots, this was a moment of sheer unity that echoed the days of Tony Benn’s strong affiliation with the Left Field. It was palpably emotional as Corbyn implored Trump to “build bridges, not walls” during his speech, asserting the importance and platform for change that the festival is. RB
47Kylie’s momentous debut (2019)
What happened: Back in 2005, Kylie Minogue had to pull out of her Glastonbury headline slot: she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and required treatment, finding herself watching the festival instead from her bed in Australia. 14 years later, though, Kylie finally got her Glastonbury shot. Bringing her glossy pop to Sunday’s ‘Legend Slot’, her wild, career-spanning show featured a fake wedding, multiple costume changes, guest appearances from Nick Cave (for ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’) and Chris Martin (who joined her for ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’) and, of course, a whole lot of hits from Kylie’s 30 years in the biz. It was an arena-level spectacle plonked on the Pyramid Stage, and a total triumph for Kylie.
What it meant for Glastonbury: That good things on Worthy Farm come to those who wait — patience more than paid off for Kylie as she rightfully basked in the appreciative glory of Glastonbury. HM
48Stormzy smashes it! (2019)
What happened: “This is the greatest night of my life,” a grinning Stormzy declared just three songs into his 2019 headline slot. While it heightened his reputation as a formidable live performer, the set also saw the London MC seizing the chance to raise awareness of major issues of racial and social injustice. After momentarily leaving the stage to showcase the talents of two Black ballet dancers, Stormzy’s performance of ‘First Things First’ began with a sample of a stirring speech made by the MP David Lammy which highlighted the disproportionately high re-offending rates among Black men in the UK. It made for the most powerful and affecting headline set to hit Worthy Farm in a generation.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Stormzy’s stunning headline slot felt like an era-defining moment and a defiant masterclass in how to use your platform to elevate others. NR
49Dave introduces the world to ‘Alex From Glasto’ (2019)
What happened: “Who is sober enough to sing these lyrics along with me?” Dave asked during his blistering Sunday afternoon set on The Other Stage. Scanning the crowd to see who he should pluck out from the audience to join him in performing his AJ Tracey collaboration ‘Thiago Silva’, he set eyes on one Alex Mann, an unassuming teenager sitting on his pal’s shoulders. The rest is history: Alex got on stage and proceeded to rap every single word of the song (including Dave’s parts) like it was his own, with the moment subsequently going viral.
What it meant for Glastonbury: That anyone lucky enough to attend the greatest festival on Earth can have the chance of performing on one of its biggest stages with one of their heroes. HM
50Emily Eavis is crowned as NME‘s Godlike Genius for 2020 (2020)
What happened: Emily Eavis watched her dad Michael pick up a Godlike Genius gong at the NME Awards when she was 16, and at the start of this year she was honoured with her very own hugely deserved award in the same category. Godlike indeed.
What it meant for Glastonbury: Since becoming Glastonbury’s co-organiser, Emily Eavis has overseen all kinds of huge changes and milestones: from booking the festival’s first hip-hop headliner in Jay-Z, to pushing for greater representation of women and non-binary artists on the line-up. In 2019, Emily banned the sale of all single-use plastic at the 2019 event, setting an important industry precedent in the process. What a ledge. Here’s to the next 50 years of Glastonbury! EH