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.
05. Royal Blood
Pyramid Stage – Friday
During their 2013 headline set, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders wore a Royal Blood shirt. The band had yet to release an album, still five months away from even releasing their first single. Four years later, the hard rocking duo attracted one of the biggest non-headlining crowds to that same stage, just moments after hearing the news that their sophomore monster of an album, How Did We Get So Dark?, hit No. 1 on the charts. They’ve officially arrived.
Leading off with the one-two punch of new album highlights “Where Are You Now?” and “Lights Out”, the duo, made up of bassist/singer Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, sounded absolutely massive – it seriously felt like the ground was shaking. Debut album tracks like “Little Monster” and “Come On Over” proved to be most popular, prompting both sing-alongs and mosh pits simultaneously, with the crowd not only singing the words along with Kerr, but along with his bass riffs as well.
As if playing the biggest set of their relatively short careers wasn’t enough, the band was overwhelmed by the news of their charting success. “Excuse us for just one second because we just found out our album is at number one,” Kerr exclaimed just before he and Thatcher popped open two bottles of champagne, prompting the most well-earned victory lap this festival has seen in quite some time.
Earlier in the day, Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders asked her crowd, “Don’t we prefer guitar-based rock?” Clearly this crowd would answer yes … and with only a bass.
Park Stage – Friday
Elbow have never gotten enough love in the United States. Despite being armed with gorgeous lyrics and life-affirming choruses, they never fully caught on back home, which is a huge shame. Out here, however, they’re Glastonbury gods – they’ve never headlined, but they’ve sure come close before.
All of which made their unannounced Park Stage set that much more exciting. It was a horribly guarded secret as festivalgoers quickly realized that the Mancunian favorites were highly likely for the TBA slot as their merch was being sold across the festival grounds, but it didn’t lessen the impact of the surprise. Frontman Guy Garvey is extremely skilled at audience banter – hilarious, self-deprecating, and affable in his interactions with the large crowd, even chugging a beer after the audience started a “Down it!” cheer.
It was a perfect festival setlist — a greatest hits of sorts that featured standouts like “Grounds For Divorce”, “Lippy Kids”, and “Mirrorball”. Almost immediately, the crowd was transfixed, singing back nearly every word along with Garvey’s husky and velvety vocals. By the time they got to the exhilarating set closer “One Day Like This”, much of the crowd had their arms around their friends, swaying back and forth while screaming the final refrain: “Throw those curtains wide/ One day like this a year will see me right.”
“It’s all gonna be magnificent,” Garvey sang during the set’s third song. No lyric could have described my first Glastonbury better.
03. Liam Gallagher
Other Stage – Saturday
The UK has gone through an extremely rough last month or so: the Manchester bombings, the London terrorist attacks, an extremely bitter and divisive election, and the Grenfell Tower fire – the list keeps going on.
In the wake of all of the horrors gripping the nation, Oasis’ 1995 hit “Don’t Look Back in Anger” has become an anthem of sorts, a symbol for the country’s resilience. It was sung spontaneously at a vigil the day after the Manchester attack and later, performed by Chris Martin at the One Love Manchester concert.
But the most special rendition of all came at the end of former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher’s extremely packed Other Stage afternoon set. Originally sung by his brother and potato Noel, this, incredibly, marked the first time Liam had ever performed the song himself. With only a maraca backing him up, the track was sung completely a capella with Liam imploring the crowd to sing with him, prompting the most emotional and cathartic sing-along I have ever been a part of. It was a moment that could only really happen at Glastonbury and I’m still getting chills writing this.
The rest of his set was dotted by Oasis classics like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Morning Glory”, woven in between six songs off of his upcoming debut solo record, including monster of a lead single “Wall of Glass”. Beer was flying, and arms were extended into the air – this was exactly the set this festival and this country needed. Manchester’s biggest rock star is finally back.
Pyramid Stage – Friday
In 1997, Radiohead put on what is widely considered to be one of the best headlining sets in Glastonbury history. In 2003, they matched it, opening with a ferocious one-two punch of “There There” and “2+2=5”. On the backs of those two sets alone, there was a huge amount of anticipation coming into this one with wild rumors abound – would they play OK Computer in full the day they released its reissue? Would they break out “Lift” or “Man of War”?
Though the set was heavy on OK Computer, the answer to both questions was a resounding no, and the setlist didn’t look too different than what they’ve rolled out recently. Many in the crowd were bored quickly and began chatting through the quieter tracks like set opener “Daydreaming” and “Exit Music” (seriously, there’s a special place in hell for people who talk during “Exit Music”). It was obvious early on that this was going to be a much different set than those in 1997 and 2003, more subtle and delicate than before.
It took them a little bit to hit their stride, but once they did, they won the crowd over. Oscillating between their biggest singles and fan favorites, the Oxford fivesome skillfully kept everyone on their toes, sandwiching tracks like “You and Whose Army” between “Idioteque” and “There There”. They even took a shrewd piss out of Theresa May, mocking her “strong and stable” slogan in “Myxomatosis” and imploring her to “shut the door on the way out” after “No Surprises”.
Being a Radiohead obsessive is tough; the band will never play the setlist you really want them to. But whatever you end up getting is a treat. This time, the band surprised the massive crowd with “Creep” as the penultimate song in the encore. “Fake Plastic Trees”, the last song of the first set, was extremely emotional, moving several people in the crowd, including myself, to tears.
The group didn’t need to please everyone – and they certainly didn’t as many left to presumably go check out Dizzee Rascal – but they did give the crowd what they’re best at: a two-plus hour performance of stunningly beautiful music. It wasn’t quite 1997 or 2003, but it was great nonetheless.
01. Foo Fighters
Pyramid Stage – Saturday
Two years ago, Foo Fighters surely would have put on a great headlining set. One of the best live bands of its generation, Dave Grohl and his troupe of rockers really know how to put on an electrifying performance and had that 2015 Glastonbury show actually happened, it probably would have been universally well-received. But as we all know, that show never happened. Grohl broke his leg onstage a couple weeks before at a gig in Sweden, and Foo Fighters were forced to cancel, prompting the Eavises to promote Florence & The Machine up a spot on the lineup.
On Saturday night, Grohl finally got his second chance, and he didn’t let it go to waste. Triumphant from the get go, this was his “I’m-sorry-for-what-happened-before-I-promise-this-will-be-our-best-ever-show” performance, one that will certainly go down as one of the best headlining sets in Glastonbury history. If the band ever wanted to release another live album, this would be it.
Grohl opened the band’s first ever Glastonbury headlining set with a special half-solo rendition of “Times Like These”, dedicated to Florence Welch, who covered the song in her fill-in set two years ago. From there, the hits just kept coming with Grohl working the crowd masterfully, teasing out choruses and starting massive sing-alongs. They were all overjoyed just to be there; guitarist Pat Smear and drummer Taylor Hawkins couldn’t stop smiling all night.
However, the absolute highlight – and the song that will long be remembered – was “Best of You”. It felt as if the crowd wouldn’t let the band finish the song, continuing to scream the “whoas” at the tail-end of the track for at least five minutes, even neglecting Grohl’s pleas to finish. Though they played three more afterwards, including a Hawkins-led cover of “Under Pressure”, this is what the crowd was still singing over half an hour later in the campgrounds. It’s truly difficult to describe what it felt like being in that crowd. It’s the kind of thing that will still give me chills years from now.
Click ahead for our complete and extensive photo coverage…
Photographer: Nathan Dainty