Glastonbury is one of the ultimate festival experiences for music lovers with around 200,000 people heading to the event every time it’s run. So for a brief period every few years, a farmer’s field in Somerset becomes the UK’s 32nd-largest town, surpassing York, Colchester, Peterborough, Oxford, and Dundee.
To attract this many people, Glastonbury has to book some of the greatest artists the music world has ever seen who put on some of the best shows of their careers. Over the years, this has meant we’ve been treated to some incredible performances, here are some of the best.
Metallica fans didn’t have to wait quite as long to see their favourite band perform at Glastonbury, but 33 years is still a long time. Like with all the other rock legends that performed at the festival late into their careers, Metallica didn’t disappoint.
The set included bangers like Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman before performing an encore of Seek and Destroy. At the same time, they released a bunch of balloons into the crowd, causing quite a lot of commotion.
Formed in 1969, ZZ Top has been rocking all over the world for several decades. The band has had many huge hits over the years including Legs, La Grange, Tush, and Gimme All Your Lovin’.
Unlike other rock bands of their era, ZZ Top have continually experimented with different ideas such as their incorporation of synthesisers throughout the 1980s. Even to this day, this experimentation continues as the band are featured in movies, TV shows, and games. For example, Dusty Hill has made appearances in Back to the Future Part III (1990), Two and a Half Men, and WWE Raw.
Similarly, ZZ Top has featured in their own video slot game, ZZ Top: Roadside Riches. They join Guns N’ Roses and Motӧrhead in being featured in casino games as leading sites like PokerStars Casino have worked with artists like these to diversify their catalogue of content.
So with so much success and so many appearances in pop culture, it was, perhaps, surprising that ZZ Top didn’t make it to Glastonbury until 2016. But when they did, they didn’t disappoint.
Taking to the stage with their trademark beards, the band created what NME described as “Rock’nRoll Gold”.
In 2000, David Bowie returned to Glastonbury for the first time in almost three decades to perform a collection of his greatest hits. It was a fitting performance for the first instance of the festival in the 21st century as it remains many people’s all-time favourite.
Festivalgoers were treated to live renditions of tracks like Life on Mars?, Changes, Wild Is The Wind, Ashes To Ashes, and the Man Who Sold The World all delivered in his trademark flare.
The Killers’ relationship with Glastonbury is somewhat different to the likes of the Stones and Metallica. They first appeared at the festival in 2007, just six years after they formed. But while many were happy with that performance, they turned it up a notch in 2017 when they appeared as unannounced special guests, performing a set of ten fan favourites including Mr Brightside, Human, and Somebody Told Me.
Stevie Wonder is a performer who can raise the roof anywhere, even at a festival in a farmer’s field. He made his debut at Glastonbury in 2010 that was packed with mega hits like I Just Called To Say I Love You, For Once In My LIfe, and Superstition.
Among his own tracks, Stevie also treated fans to some incredible covers, including one of Michael Jack’s Human Nature. He then closed with a song that only he could make work at Glastonbury when he sang Happy Birthday to the festival’s organiser.
Considering their fame and the fact that they’ve got two entries in our top ten list of the most expensive items of music memorabilia ever sold, The Beatles never got to play at Glastonbury, so Paul McCartney’s set in 2004 was the first time a member of the band made it onto a stage at the festival. As you’d expect, he did not disappoint and fans were blown away by his performance.
He stole the weekend by delivering a mix of hits from both The Beatles and his own solo career. The final track of his set list was a live piano performance of Hey Jude with the audience singing along.
Beyoncé became the first black solo female artist to headline Glastonbury when she performed on the Pyramid Stage in 2011. Like McCartney seven years earlier, the American packed her set list with both solo work and tracks from her time in Destiny’s Child. Her former bandmates even joined her for Bootylicious, much to the crowd’s delight.
For a full 90 minutes, Beyoncé sang, danced, and entertained the 200,000 people packed into the fields.
Three years before Beyoncé, her husband also made history at Glastonbury by becoming the first rapper to headline the show. This choice by the organisers was a little controversial at the time, with some purists lamenting that it was a sign of the festival diverging from its roots.
Noel Gallagher even weighed in, saying that hip-hop should not be at Glastonbury because it “has the tradition of guitar music”. Jay-Z said very little at the time and chose his music to do the talking. He included a unique rendition of Gallagher’s track Wonderwall before mixing his own tracks with classic rock-style guitar riffs.
Not only did Jay-Z settle a war of words with a member of Oasis on stage and make history as the first rapper, but he also stunned the audience with an incredible set list of his best work.
The Curve are so well-loved by Glastonbury festival-goers that they’ve made four appearances over the decades. The first was in 1986 with a second just a few years later in 1990 and then a third in 1995. The band then closed the show in 2019, 33 years after first appearing on stage.
However, it was the 1986 performance that stands out as the greatest, though they can’t take all the credit. An epic thunderstorm provided a spectacular backdrop to the show which was concluded with three energised encores.
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones are another band that waited a long time to first appear on the Pyramid Stage. 50 years into their music-making journey, the Stones headlined Glastonbury in 2013. With a five-decade build up, you can be sure they made it worth everyone’s wait, diving right in with epic hits like Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Gimme Shelter before treating fans to a rare rendition of 2000 Light Years From Home.