Make no mistake—Glastonbury is the world’s greatest music festival. Since its inaugural year in 1970, Worthy Farm in Somerset, England has been home to the legendary Pyramid Stage, John Peel Stage and various others, which have been graced by the world’s biggest rock and pop stars. It holds the title of the world’s largest green-field music and performing arts festival, and it welcomes about 200,000 camping festival-goers to its notoriously muddy grounds each day of the annual event. Bets are placed on the next year’s headliners and rumors swirl for months about potential secret sets, which rarely fail to disappoint. Those hoping to snag tickets have to do so many months in advance, and only those among them who violently smash their computer’s reload button will likely succeed in scoring a golden ticket. The 2019 festival just wrapped up, with a lineup of The Killers, Stormzy, The Cure, Vampire Weekend, Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Tame Impala and many more. To celebrate this year’s fest, Paste rounded up 15 great performances from the festival’s lengthy history that remain in our memory (and for which we could track down decent YouTube footage).
Glastonbury Festival has enough show-stopping Britpop footage to make fans of the subgenre foam at the mouth. You can literally track the movement’s rise and fall just by looking at their annual lineup posters. 1995 was one of Britpop’s most important years, and this was reinforced by Pulp’s charismatic performance of “Disco 2000” from that same year, when they filled in for The Stone Roses, who cancelled last-minute.
Radiohead have played Glastonbury five times and headlined it thrice, so there’s an abundance of footage to choose from, but their 1997 headline performance after the release of their artistic breakthrough OK Computer was a snapshot of an influential group at arguably their highest peak. Ripping into “Paranoid Android,” Yorke’s soft falsetto turns into berserk screams, which coalesce with Jonny Greenwood’s wailing guitar outro.
David Bowie had heaps of songs that could move a crowd to tears, but there’s something especially poignant about “Heroes”—you can feel a wave of uplifting exhilaration as Bowie pours his heart into lines like “I, I will be king / And you, you will be queen.” Plenty of classic rock anthems have a triteness or oversentimentality, but Bowie’s never quite stooped to that level. Bowie’s performance of “Heroes” at Glastonbury 2000, fireworks and all, is just pure emotion, infused with just enough theatrical sass and effortless style to signify his unique artistry.
While Glastonbury is best known for its legendary performances by British artists, American acts have also provided some of the fest’s all-time great performances. Georgia alternative rockers R.E.M. invaded the sacred grounds of Worthy Farm in 2003 for a headline slot that further demonstrated the global adoration for one of America’s greatest rock bands.
If you don’t feel a tear forming in the corner of your eye when watching Paul McCartney’s Glastonbury performance of “Hey Jude,” you’re likely incapable of feeling elation. Watching a pack of outstretched arms and fans belting the song’s outro is positively transcendent.
Before her career was cut tragically short, Amy Winehouse’s music reached audiences far and wide after the release of her second and final studio album Back to Black in 2006, which won five Grammy awards. Though Winehouse is best known for songs like “Rehab” and the Back to Black title track, her cover of The Zutons’ “Valerie,” which was recorded for Mark Ronson’s 2007 album Version, is arguably better than the original, especially her live rendition.
No band would be able to headline Glastonbury just a year after their debut album—at least not anymore. Arctic Monkeys accomplished this feat a little over a decade ago in 2007. Not only did the crowd sing along to their lyrics, but they also vocalized their most famous riffs, including the searing guitar that heats up “When The Sun Goes Down,” which opened their set.
It’s safe to say most people attending The Verve’s 2008 headline slot were waiting for this one moment—a performance of their 1997 Britpop classic “Bittersweet Symphony.” The Verve’s future was on the rocks at this point—later that year, the band performed their last-ever live show—but this rendition of their best-known hit shows Richard Ashcroft and co.’s uncanny ability to move a sea of people on a spiritual level.
Nobody quite embodies the grandeur and free-spirited nature of Glastonbury Festival like Florence + the Machine. Florence Welch had a breakout year in 2009 with her debut album Lungs, and she was further elevated by this Glasto performance the following year. In the middle of hit single “The Dog Days Are Over,” she tearfully proclaimed, “This is a pretty big moment for me…It means a lot to be on this stage in front of you,” before inspiring the massive crowd to joyfully hop on her command.
Damon Albarn has provided plenty of notable moments on the Pyramid Stage fronting his band Blur, but a performance with his side-project band Gorillaz really sticks out—particularly because he was joined by Snoop Dogg (plus the usual crew of virtual Gorillaz members 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel) for a spellbinding performance of one of their finest tracks, “Clint Eastwood.” It’s also worth watching just to see Albarn play the hell out of the melodica.
Beyoncé had long been a superstar by 2011, but breaking into Glastonbury’s traditionally male rock headliner club still felt like a big moment. Knowles told the crowd, “Glastonbury, I want you all to know, right now, you are witnessing my dream…I always wanted to be a rock star.” When she breaks into “Single Ladies,” you can hear the masses singing along, what sounds like the moment she was truly crowned the world’s biggest pop star.
Glastonbury might not be the go-to festival for country music fans, but everybody loves Dolly Parton, and everybody loves “Jolene.” Parton held the Sunday “legends slot” at the Pyramid Stage back in 2014 in one of the highest-attended sets in festival history, and her performance of “Jolene” is as sparkling as her bedazzled acoustic guitar and matching white get-up. You can even see the security staff dancing along in front of the barrier.
Young British four-piece Viola Beach died in a car crash along with their manager back in 2016, but that didn’t mean they were finished entertaining crowds. When Coldplay headlined Glastonbury that same year, they decided to “create Viola Beach’s alternate future for them” by covering their song “Boys That Sing,” with a video clip of Viola Beach performing the tune on the big screens. Coldplay’s Chris Martin pleaded the crowd to send their posthumous debut album up the U.K. charts, where it eventually landed at number one.
The xx’s brooding electro-rock always sounds otherworldly, but this jet black-outfitted trio’s music is best-suited to a festival PA. At Glastonbury 2017, The xx performed the intro track from their 2009 debut album xx, the Mercury Prize-winning record that not only crowned them an indie breakout act, but also saw them achieve uber crossover success.
Liam Gallagher is no stranger to Glastonbury. He performed with Oasis three times (1994, 1995 and 2004), with Beady Eye once (2013), solo in 2017 and again at this year’s fest. While the younger Gallagher brother isn’t in the best form of his career, his 2017 a capella version of his brother Noel’s most famous track “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” which was performed as a tribute to the victims of the Manchester and London terror attacks and Grenfell Tower fire, is about as communal as music can feel.