Photography by Nathan Dainty
For about a decade, I have been obsessed with Glastonbury. I’ve watched nearly every major set on YouTube over the years, always squealing with delight each time the festival is randomly broadcasted on TV. Reason being, Glastonbury is the holy grail of music festivals – I’ve always dreamed of attending, hoping that one day I too could join the masses at Worthy Farm. Hell, I wrote a shitty song back in high school from my suburban Bay Area bedroom titled, unsurprisingly, “I Wish I Was at Glastonbury”.
So, I nearly broke down the moment I first saw the festival grounds, and I could see the top of the Pyramid Stage, the same spot where Radiohead played the majority of OK Computer in the pouring rain in 1997, where Elbow’s Guy Garvey joined Arctic Monkeys for an orchestral version of “Mardy Bum” in 2013, where David Bowie performed to 100,000 in 2000, and where Pulp famously filled in for The Stone Roses in 1995, just a month after “Common People” was released. It’s perhaps the most historic stage in the world and, suddenly, it was right in front of me. It was all so absurd, so incredibly surreal.
With all of this in mind, I had the highest expectations for Glastonbury imaginable and yet, somehow, it managed to exceed those by a mile. There’s really something special about Worthy Farm; the scale alone is mind blowing. The place makes Coachella look like a small concert venue; it literally extends out to the horizon in three directions. It’s also intricately decorated – each bar has its own quirks, each path leads to somewhere completely unique.
For god’s sake, there’s even a secret underground piano bar – and I literally mean underground – that’s nearly impossible to find and no, I couldn’t locate it after trying my absolute hardest. And with no VIP areas, you end up interacting with the biggest celebrities imaginable. Over a two-night period, I was at the same bar as Noel Gallagher, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Beckham, and Jarvis Cocker without even knowing it (though I did stand a few feet away from former British politician and social media sensation Ed Balls, who is 1000% worth the Google search).
Again, Glastonbury is a festival like none other and even after trying my hardest to see as much of it as possible, I only slightly grazed the surface. It’s impossible to catch every secret set – the festival is famous for not announcing a few key performances, letting attendees piece together who is actually playing. Celebrities show up unannounced for late-night and early-morning DJ sets, creating a mysterious environment, where you just never know what you’ll find at any given corner.
From bands both big and small to legacy acts like Barry Gibb and Kris Kristofferson, everyone was excited to be there and that unbridled joy was contagious. In crowds at times over 100,000 strong, it was impossible not to be moved by the sheer catharsis that came from a mass sing-along, be it a simple “whoaaaa” or the widespread “ohhh Jer-e-my Corbyn” chant to the tune of “Seven Nation Army”. Sadly, those feelings won’t return for another two years — when the festival resurfaces in Pilton come Summer 2019 — but we’ll at least have these memories to revisit.
Alas, check out my favorite ones ahead…
10. Jeremy Corbyn
Pyramid Stage – Saturday
Watch out Dave Grohl, one of Glastonbury’s biggest rock stars this year was Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party Leader, who led an unexpected campaign that nearly wrested away the prime ministership away from Theresa May a few weeks back, amassed what may have been the biggest Pyramid Stage crowd in festival history for an almost 15-minute speech, which served as an introduction for Run the Jewels’ performance just afterwards.
Corbyn, a hero amongst British youths, gave an inspiring speech that touched on many issues dear to his heart: environmentalism, lessening income inequality, and ending gender discrimination and racism. “Politics is about the lives of all of us, and the wonderful campaign that I was involved with, that I was so proud to lead, brought people back into politics because they believed there was something on offer for them,” he said, clearly humbled by the massive response.
Introduced by festival organizer Michael Eavis, Corbyn walked out to a 100,000-plus person rendition of the “Ohhhh Jer-e-my Cooooorbyn” chant sung to “Seven Nation Army”, a tune that made an appearance dozens of times throughout the festival – even during Radiohead’s performance. Glastonbury is a notoriously liberal festival and they were treated to an appearance from their savior, a moment that will be long remembered at Worthy Farm.
09. Black Honey
John Peel Stage – Friday
Prior to launching into set finale “Corrine”, Black Honey lead singer Izzy Baxter tried to contain herself. “I told all of my friends I wouldn’t go to Glastonbury until we played and our friends laughed at us” she explained. “This is our first year and you’ll never ever know how much this means this means to us.”
The Brighton indie rock quartet certainly left quite the impression throughout their Glastonbury debut. Led by Baxter’s powerful voice, the group ripped through the majority of their back catalogue, which simply consists of a single EP and a few one-off singles at this point. The guitars were turned up as loud as possible, giving Black Honey’s songs, especially tracks like “Madonna” and “Hello Today”, an even more anthemic feel to them.
Baxter just oozes stage presence and she commanded the crowd as well as anyone else this whole festival. She resembles a modern Debbie Harry and is on the fast track to be Britain’s next big rock star. Right now, they appear to be emulating the strategy of their pals Wolf Alice — whose multiple pre-first album EPs and singles built considerable buzz — which means we should probably expect their debut LP at some point later this year or early next.
You may not know the name now, but you soon will – performances in the John Peel Tent frequently represent an indication of what’s next. If anything was clear from their first Glastonbury set, Black Honey will be playing bigger stages very soon.
08. Boy Better Know
Other Stage – Sunday
“Dem boys are idiots/ We don’t watch them,” rapped Jme and Shorty on the former’s song, “Calm”, toward the end of Boy Better Know’s takeover of the Other Stage. Though the song is about not starting drama, it sure felt like it was a dig at Ed Sheeran and his mass of adoring fans across the way at the Pyramid Stage. While Sheeran may be the biggest pop star in the UK at the moment, the Boy Better Know collective don’t care – they know that their grime movement represents a cultural moment, one that will continue to grow in influence over the coming years.
Led by Skepta and the aforementioned Jme, the rap crew was larger than life during their set, closing out the festival for a huge crowd at the festival’s second biggest stage. Complete with a dazzling light show with intense imagery and heavy usage of flame machines, the set also prominently featured Shorty, Frisco, Jammer, and Wiley, the latter of which rarely joins the collective onstage.
Excluding the last two songs, there was rarely a moment with more than two artists onstage as they decided to showcase individual talents rather than as a group. Skepta was undeniably the star here; his infinite bravado was constantly on display, especially during his hit song “Shutdown” and on “No Security” when he danced with a red umbrella, possibly a throwback reference to Farnsworth Bentley.
Boy Better Know didn’t have the biggest crowd in their time slot, but there’s a good chance they will be by the time the festival returns in 2019. But for now, their enormous beats and larger-than-life personalities really did shutdown Glastonbury with a triumphant set that put an exclamation point on a movement that’s been building for years.
07. The Killers
John Peel Tent – Sunday
It’s seriously hard to remember a time when The Killers played a stage this small. Brandon Flowers & co. have headlined nearly every festival in the world at this point, including here 10 years ago, playing the planet’s biggest stages and arenas multiple times over in the interim. The John Peel Tent is massive outside of Worthy Farm, but here, it’s generally reserved for up-and-coming indie acts – Temples played this time slot the day prior.
So, imagine the mass surprise when the news spread that The Killers would be playing the final major unannounced set of the festival. The word broke a couple hours before and hoards of people flooded the area surrounding the John Peel Tent, which was overflowing already a full hour before Flowers took the stage. In fact, Glastonbury had to announce via Twitter that the tent was full to capacity, writing, “Please do not head in that direction as you will not get into the venue.”
For the lucky festivalgoers who managed to get there early enough – and unfortunately this didn’t include any photographers – The Killers put on a bombastic greatest hits set, spanning their entire career. The crowd ate it all up; it was nearly impossible to even hear Flowers’ voice for much of the hour-long performance as every word (and, at times, even select guitar riffs) were screamed back to him as loud as humanly possible. From the opening strum of set opener “When You Were Young” to the final “I never” of “Mr. Brightside”, the audience could barely hold it all together, jumping and shouting for the whole hour, never letting up for an instant. Glastonbury truly had four headliners this year, though one of them didn’t make the festival posters.
06. The National
Pyramid Stage – Saturday
“So this is the Pyramid Stage,” asked Matt Berninger before launching into “Fake Empire”, the second song of The National’s set. “This is ours now.”
He wasn’t kidding – Berninger tore the stage up, stumbling around nearly the entire space, screaming his lungs out. This was The National at their loudest and angriest, from the deafening wall of noise at the beginning of “Sea of Love” to the rockiest (and dare I say punkiest?) song in their back catalogue, a track off of their upcoming record, Sleep Well Beast, called “Turtleneck”. The ferocious song featured dueling guitar solos from both Dessner brothers, bumping traditional show closer “Terrible Love” down a spot on the setlist.
In addition to recent single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, five of the 12 songs the morose Brooklyn rockers played came from their upcoming album, meaning live favorites like “Squalor Victoria” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” were omitted. Although many of these new tracks were only debuted live earlier in the week at a show in Paris, this was an incredibly satisfying set, complete with multiple guitar solos, a horn section, and Berninger’s usual drunken onstage tendencies. The album’s September 8th release really can’t come soon enough.