Fans of American festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella will yet again debate over which festival is truly the greatest in the country throughout the summer. Such debating is irrelevant when the debate is taken to a worldwide context because there is no Glastonbury in America. Having just celebrated its 40th anniversary, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts in Pilton, UK featured over 2,000 acts on over 50 stages spread across 1,100 hilly, dusty, and surprisingly rocky acres separated from the rest of the world by an impenetrable, multi-million dollar mega-fence. Overwhelming figures aside, Glastonbury is the festival to which every current multi-stage music and art shindig in America owes its existence.
For a lot of acts, playing Glastonbury is about far more than a paycheck, more exposure, or even a badge of honor like with other festivals. They genuinely desire to be part of the Glastonbury experience, and that makes all the difference in the world. Where else but Glastonbury would headlining superstars play for a minimal paycheck, U2’s The Edge perform with Muse, Kylie Minogue sing with Scissor Sisters, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood give a rare performance together as a surprise guest?
With an impressively diverse variety and an unparalleled quantity of musical performers, the music at Glastonbury should be enough to put it at the top of the list of destinations for any fan of festivals or lover of music. However, Glastonbury has always been about far more than the music and this was truer than ever at the 2010 edition of the festival. Cabaret and circus performers offer a welcome distraction from the music, as do a cinema tent and a large field with every craft imaginable. Attendees feeling drained by the elements can seek physical and spiritual restoration in the Healing Field, while those unconvinced by New Age healing or with severe ailments can always visit the Emergency Services tent and consult with the onsite doctors, nurses, and dentists for free medical care.
If the weather had made sleeping through more of the 18 hours of daylight a possibility this year, doing so to spend every night at Glastonbury’s different themed late-night areas would have been worth the trip alone. The largest is Shangri-la, a dystopian labyrinth of crowded alleys full of interactive art exhibits, karaoke, bars, and even more stages. Arcadia’s massive, multi-leveled fire-breathing, and laser-firing monstrosity of a stage is a sight to behold, as is the human Tesla coil. Fine dining, tranny bars, and oddities such as the Dog Faced Geisha bar and Bez’s (of Happy Mondays fame) Acid House all offer diversions that are both entertaining and aesthetically astounding. While the main areas of the festival offer cider, ale, and wine at a variety of stands, it is these themed art installations that double as drinking destinations that are the most intriguing and make Glastonbury a strong contender for the best place imaginable for bar-hopping. Even the Temple of the Blessed Bono, a shrine the size of a broom closet, offered Guiness for revelers wishing to pay their “respects.” At Glastonbury, with attendees having only five days to carefully spend, music has no other option but to be good if it hopes to stand a chance against everything else the festival has to offer.
Thursday, June 24th
Although Boy George arrived almost an hour late to the WOW! Stage, this new addition to Glastonbury’s multi-stage Dance Village remained completely packed with twice as many people swarming the tent in hopes of hearing anything. Although his voice has deteriorated to more of a strained growl in recent years, the crowd had no problem filling in for Boy George. Not content with merely pleasing the crowd with the singalong classics like “Karma Chameleon” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, George filled out the set with covers of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and T-Rex’s “Get It On”.
Friday, June 25th
Pyramid Stage, 3:15pm
After two long, scorching days, attendees were already suffering the effects of an unexpected, rainless heat wave, which resulted in a cloud of dust so thick that it could be seen at any point of the farm at any time of day or night. Luckily for the fatigued, Willie Nelson’s set was at exactly the perfect time. During his hour-long set, the legend performed thirty songs, including all the classics like “On the Road Again” and the transcendent singalong “Always on My Mind”, united the crowd with a healingly chill vibe, and despite being most well-known as a country singer, highlighted the rock, jazz, and blues influences in his sound. In short, it was a typical Willie Nelson set.
Pyramid Stage, 5:00pm
With two of music’s most notorious marijuana enthusiasts performing back-to-back on the Pyramid Stage, a collaboration between Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg seemed likely and rumors were passed around almost as frequently as spliffs. Unfortunately, this alliance never came to pass. Minus a lull near the middle of the set Snoop Dogg’s valiant efforts to get the exhausted crowd up and bumping were successful, as his performance was yet another reminder that hip hop does, in fact, belong at Glastonbury. Hits like “Gin and Juice”, “Who Am I (What’s My Name?)”, and a cover of “Jump Around” delighted a younger-than-usual crowd, especially those too young to remember these songs when they were released. Snoop Dogg also serenaded the ladies in the crowd with the talkbox-featuring “Sensual Seduction”, paid tribute to Tupac Shakur, and departed with three life tips to follow every day: brush your teeth, thank God for another day of life, and smoke weed.
The Big Pink
The Park, 7:10 pm
A large portion of the crowd for The Big Pink was only there to wait it out to see which superstar special guest rumor turned out to be true after their set. Luckily for the band clad mostly in black (except for drummer Akiko Matsuura’s attention-grabbing leotard), the crowd warmed up to their mix of noise and pop, especially after the extended drone of set opener “Too Young to Love”. On “Crystal Visions”, the buildup to the epic crescendo proved especially imposing live. The Big Pink closed their short set with “Dominoes”, inspiring a small but frenetic spontaneous mosh pit at the front of the crowd.
Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood
The Park, 8:30 pm
Despite the prevalence of texting, tweeting, and smart phones, Glastonbury is a place that exists in a bubble for five days. Rather than keep track with what’s going on the mundane world (with an exception for the World Cup, obviously), attendees are content with rumors of celebrity deaths and special guest performers. For the formally announced “special guest” slot on Friday in The Park, rumored acts included The Strokes, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Peter Doherty, Crystal Castles, Jedward, and Thom Yorke. Surprisingly, it was none other than the best and least expected rumor that proved true.
After an introduction as “the biggest surprise of the weekend; two superstars and I’m not naming them” by festival organizer Michael Eavis, Thom Yorke took the stage alone and adjusted his seat at the piano to better accommodate his modest height, and addressed the crowd with “Short, you see? Hi, my name is Thomas Yorke” before opening with the title track from his 2006 solo release The Eraser. Without Flea or anyone to support him, Yorke looped a bass riff for “Harrowdown Hill” and continued treating the crowd to a sampling of the Atoms for Peace tour that the mostly-European crowd has yet to receive. It was not until four songs into the set that Jonny Greenwood took the stage, joining Yorke for “Cymbal Rush”, complementing the haunting piano with the eerie Ondes Martenot-esque sounds of his French Connection.
While the solo tracks were a rare pleasure, it was the Radiohead material that received the most rapturously. Despite playing the piano throughout most of this stripped-down take on “Idioteque”, Yorke still made the time to treat the crowd to a few seconds of his trademark dancing. The end of “Karma Police” came far too soon for the crowd, with the “I lost myself” refrain repeatedly chanted for over a minute until Yorke picked up the guitar and joined them for a little more, the brightest spot in a performance so magical that the bar for secret sets has now been set unreasonably high. Although the setlist called for “Videotape” to close, they instead opted for “Street Spirit” for yet another powerful Glastonbury moment. Yorke and Greenwood undoubtedly wanted to be a part of the anniversary and Glastonbury was more than pleased to have them.
Pyramid Stage, 10:00 pm
Stepping in to replace the “biggest band in the world” is no easy task and with Blur’s reunion having been the most memorable set of the previous year, Damon Albarn’s current band seemed like a sure thing. Despite the ambitious nature of Gorillaz, their set was a rare headlining miss that largely failed to live up to the expectations or connect with the crowd anywhere close to the level Albarn had with Blur. Considering how the live band includes Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash and a list of guest appearances so extraordinary that it will probably never be duplicated or exceeded at a future gig, Gorillaz should have been another Glastonbury hit. The performance itself was spot-on, with Albarn and all his diverse smorgasbord of collaborators sounding better than ever.
On “Empire Ants” and “To Binge”, Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano was mesmerizing with her natural stage presence and soulful voice, and Lou Reed offered what should have been a legendary Glastonbury moment by sharing a stage with Damon Albarn and half of The Clash on “Some Kind of Nature”. Unfortunately, the crowd just did not care. Apparently most people either never bothered to listen to Plastic Beach or merely did not like it, yet felt obligated to watch Gorillaz anyway, because the crowd was significantly restless, with people leaving in droves throughout the set. Essentially, the Gorillaz live show is an experience for fans of their albums, and will not convert any casual listeners only interested in the hip-hop oriented hit singles and the cartoon imagery. Perhaps the key to a triumphant headlining performance is the presence of anthems, which is something the most well-regarded headliners of the past share. A song can be anthemic even without being a big hit, and vice versa. As diverse and creative as the music of Gorillaz is, headliners at Glastonbury need to have that chorus or even a single line that can be repeated ad nauseam at the campgrounds all night, with edgier and more eclectic fare on other stages and timeslots. What remained of the crowd did show signs of life for set closer “Clint Eastwood”, which featured special guest Snoop Dogg’s rhymes replacing those of the absent Del tha Funkee Homosapien.
Saturday, June 26th
Pyramid Stage, 8:15 pm
Between songs, vocalist Ana Matronic revealed that although this was only the second performance of Scissor Sisters at Glastonbury, it was actually her fifth time at Worthy Farm. The love for Glastonbury was also shared by singer Jake Shears, who proposed to his boyfriend at the fest six years prior in the now defunct Lost Vagueness area. Personal attachments to the festival aside, the glam disco of Scissor Sisters was yet another Glastonbury success story. New songs from the recently released Night Work kept the crowd moving just as much as old hits like “Laura” and “I Don’t Feel like Dancing”. Rumors of a Kylie Minogue appearance proved true as the pop superstar joined the charismatic co-vocalists for the future hit “Any Which Way” in yet another Glastonbury moment for the ages.
Pyramid Stage, 10:15 pm
In 2004, Muse proved themselves as the latest band worthy of headlining the biggest festivals with a performance of epic proportions. Six years later, Muse has only become even more popular, with sold out stadium shows and a massive American breakthrough along the way. Despite having nothing left to prove, Muse played with the sort of intensity that indicates otherwise. With five studio albums under their belt, Muse focused the most on last year’s The Resistance and 2001’s Origin of Symmetry, the band’s finest album to date.
The question over whether a blistering performance of “Citizen Erased” or mega-hit “Time Is Running Out”, with a singalong intro of “House of the Rising Sun” would be the highlight of the evening received an unexpected answer when U2’s The Edge appeared on-stage after an encore break to perform “Where the Streets Have No Name”, with Matt Bellamy sounding more like Bono than anyone could have predicted. While this Glastonbury moment will be remembered as one of the most legendary since the festival’s inception, it was also a bittersweet reminder of what might have been. Considering the frenzied response to the cover and the general love for anthems, one can only imagine how well U2’s version would have gone over at Glastonbury, along with all their other classics. Although the previous towers of light and the still-unseen UFO could not be part of the show, a striking light show spectacle still made it into their set. With anthemic hits, pretty lights, reliable singalongs, electrifying guitar solos, and a once-in-a-lifetime guest appearance, Muse gave Glastonbury the headlining set they desired. Or as Michael Eavis would later say, “we finally got a headliner, and what a headliner that was!”
Jarvis Cocker (DJ set)
Rabbit Hole, 12:00 am
How many festivals can boast a DJ set from Jarvis Cocker in a tiny tent themed around Alice in Wonderland that features “secret” tunnels to other themed areas? Actually, how many festivals would even have such a tent? Combining the unpredictable with the whimsical, it is secret sets such as this that epitomize Glastonbury. The former Pulp-frontman dropped an eclectic and engaging mix songs ranging from The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid” and “Tequila by The Champs to The Cramps’ “You Got Good Taste” that proved pleasing to the crowd of a hundred curious and star-struck onlookers that filled the tent beyond capacity.
Sunday, June 27th
Other Stage, 4:00 pm
Grizzly Bear seemed in good spirits and expressed gratitude for the considerable crowd that chose one of Brooklyn’s best over the England versus Germany match. The band sounded spot-on as usual and the set drew heavily from 2009’s Veckatimest, with “Two Weeks” proving to be the biggest crowd pleaser. After Chris Taylor brought out his radio, which revealed that England lost to Germany 4-1, Grizzly Bear went back to elevating the spirits of the crowd with their irresistible harmonies.
The Park, 5:10 pm
A sparse crowd made the trek to The Park for Beak>, the current project of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, but the band did not seem to mind. In response to the applause at the beginning of their set, Barrow reminded the few but faithful that they did not know whether or not they liked the “angry” music of Beak>. Joined by Matt Williams of Team Brick on guitar and keyboards and bassist Fuzz Against Junk’s Billy Fuller, Barrow took the drums and played a set of heavily inspired by Krautrock. Although absorbing at times, Beak> was missing the kind of spark that makes even the avant-garde compelling.
Other Stage, 7:00 pm
On Congratulations, MGMT admirably eschewed the obvious hit singles of their enormously popular Oracular Spectacular in favor of a more psychedelic sound. If their Glastonbury performance is any indication, hearing the new songs live will fail to convert anyone that dismissed the album as a sophomore slump. Opening with “It’s Working”, MGMT sounded lifeless and devoid of energy, a trend that continued throughout the set for older material as well as new. Numerous fans seemed perfectly content with hearing the old gems, even if they sounded just like what they do on the radio, only not as good. MGMT’s set did not show any true sign of intensity until the end of “The Handshake”, and kept the momentum going for a compelling rendition of “Kids”, which featured friends of the band dancing onstage.
Other Stage, 8:30 pm
In stark contrast to the earlier set from MGMT, every song at LCD Soundsystem’s set was a force of nature. With its throbbing disco beat and bassline, set opener “Us Vs Them” established James Murphy and company as the dance party of Glastonbury 2010. Before going into life-affirming crowd favorite “All My Friends”, Murphy informed the crowd of their collective odor and the dubious sanitary conditions of Glastonbury by singing “It smells like human poo.” Rather than calming down the crowd by closing the set with “New York I Love You”, Murphy instead ended things on an awkward downer note by exclaiming “I can’t have babies!” at the end of “Yeah”.
Pyramid Stage, 9:45 pm
After the last-minute cancellation of U2, the biggest star was unquestionably Stevie Wonder. Fifteen minutes before the legend took the stage for the closing set of Glastonbury, the Pyramid Arena was completely packed with overflow crowd extending well into neighboring campgrounds Row and Kidney mead and food vendors at the main entrances reaped the benefits of thousands of people unable to watch from anywhere but in front of their stands, which made it that much easier to actually eat that overdue dinner. Wonder has an astoundingly rich discography consisting of a seemingly endless supply of hits, and the depth of their impact and influence on all genres of music continues to reveal itself greater with each passing year, so the question is why did it take so long for him to play Glastonbury?
Motown’s brightest star offered something for everyone in attendance. Obviously a festival crowd needs the hits, and with the likes of “Superstition and the now guilt-free pleasure “I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder delivered them from all eras. He even went back to the days of “Little Stevie Wonder” by distorting his voice enough to give it a child-like quality for “Fingertips”, his first hit. Other highlights include a tribute to Michael Jackson where Wonder performed a harmonica cover of “Human Nature” and “Happy Birthday”, which included both a duet with Michael Eavis and Wonder presenting him with a harmonica as a gift.