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Best Glastonbury Performances Ever: 20 Legendary Festival Highlights
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List & Guides

Best Glastonbury Performances Ever: 20 Legendary Festival Highlights

From long-awaited appearances to history-making headline slots, the best Glastonbury performances have built the festival’s legend.

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From its beginnings as the Pilton Pop, Blues And Folk Festival, charging 2,000 local revellers £1 entry in 1970, Glastonbury Festival has grown into the most influential music festival in the world. With some bands performing in front of crowds nearly 300,000 strong – and broadcast to many more thousands, if not millions, across the globe – the happenings on Worthy Farm, in Somerset, South West England, have become legendary. With many more history-making headline set doubtless ahead of us, here’s our run-down of the 20 best Glastonbury performances of all time.

Listen to our Summer playlist here, and check out our best Glastonbury performances, below.

20: Portishead (1998)

The traditional Glastonbury mud-fest did not spoil the spirits in 1998. Rubber boots firmly on, 100,500 keen attendees witnessed an ethereal Pyramid Stage set from Bristolian trip-hop pioneers Portishead. A lit cigarette in hand, and the mood appropriately set, singer Beth Gibbons delivered a performance of Glory Box for the ages.

19: Arctic Monkeys (2007)

In 2007, Arctic Monkeys achieved a massive feat: headlining the Pyramid Stage a mere year after the release of their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Despite being new to Glastonbury, fans were screaming Alex Turner’s lyrics from the get-go as the band delivered a top-tier set while casually attired in jeans and trackies. They wrapped up their Glastonbury debut with A Certain Romance, but not before a surprise appearance from UK hip-hop legend Dizzee Rascal, who accompanied the Sheffield indie group for their Brianstorm B-Side Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend.

18: Orbital (1994)

Orbital’s 1994 Glastonbury performance was pivotal in deepening the festival’s relationship with dance culture. Orbital stormed the NME Stage with complex electronics and a thrilling light show that dazzled a crowd more used to a four-piece guitar, bass and drums set-up. Before taking to the stage, the duo were sick with nerves, but their career-defining set immediately went down as one of the best Glastonbury performances of all time. A year later, Glastonbury opened a dance-music tent which was so successful it has since become the Dance Village.

17: Blur (2009)

Having played at Worthy Farm a number of times, Blur could always be relied upon to deliver some of the best Glastonbury performances. Their 1992 set was a landmark appearance, paving the way for both the release of their Modern Life Is Rubbish album and the start of Britpop; almost two decades later, a reunited Blur closed Glastonbury in spectacular style with a set that spanned their entire career. Joined by additional musicians, including a brass band and backing singers, the group delivered 13 album highlights such as Tender and Trimm Trabb, while actor Phil Daniels was also on hand to reprise his role on their 90s anthem Parklife. Having reminded the world what the best Blur songs had to offer, frontman Damon Albarn would be back the following year, headlining with Gorillaz.

16: Levellers (1994)

Levellers attracted the biggest Glastonbury turn out to date when they headlined the Pyramid Stage in 1994. After a security fence was breached, the Brighton folk-rockers performed in front of a record-breaking 300,000 fans desperate to see the group in the flesh. In their post-performance interview, the politically charged outfit spoke openly about their dispute with the Criminal Justice And Public Order Act 1994, which gave police the power to shut down events featuring music “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” – a clear attempt to abolish UK rave culture.

15: Kylie Minogue (2019)

Following her shock breast-cancer diagnosis, Kylie Minogue was forced to cancel her planned 2005 Glastonbury appearance. However, the “Princess Of Pop” more than made up for it 14 years later, when she played the Sunday Legends slot in 2019. Replete with a fake wedding, a plethora of the best Kylie Minogue songs and an almost constant stream of confetti, her fabulous set smashed the record for the most-watched Glastonbury performance, with an average audience of 3.2 million people tuning in at home, beating previous highs set by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Adele.

14: Oasis (1995)

A year after their Glastonbury debut, Oasis helped mark the festival’s 25th anniversary when they returned as Friday-night headliners, taking to the stage with confidence and delivering arguably the best of their Worthy Farm performances. Surprise guest Robbie Williams came on to dance during Shakermaker, while the band premiered songs such as Roll With It, The Swamp Song and Morning Glory, from the yet-to-be-released (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? album. With a lone Noel Gallagher debuting Wonderwall on acoustic guitar, the set has gone down in legend among the best Glastonbury performances.

13: Dolly Parton (2014)

Glastonbury’s bookers had been trying to secure Dolly Parton ever since staging their first event back in 1970, and the time finally came in 2014, when the country-music icon performed her greatest hits to over 180,000 festival-goers. Parton has admitted she felt nervous about her performance, thinking she might not fit in with the type of artists who had previously appeared at the festival. However, she was welcomed with open arms – and not just by the crowd, but by many of that year’s other performers, too. With security staff even choreographing their own dance moves for Jolene, Parton was overwhelmed at the reaction, saying, “I’m just a country girl and now I feel like a rock star.”

12: The Killers (2017)

In 2017, The Killers made a surprise appearance at the relatively small (for Glastonbury) John Peel Stage. Walking on to Teenage Kicks by The Undertones – the much-missed DJ’s favourite song of all time – the Las Vegas rockers kicked things off with a bang, opening their set with When We Were Young, then continuing with a collection of their classic hits, including Human and Somebody Told Me. Securing its place among the best Glastonbury performances of all time, The Killers’ set pushed the tent beyond capacity, with organisers having to issue a warning to latecomers: “Please do not head in that direction as you will not get into the venue.”

11: R.E.M. (1999)

R.E.M. put on a historic Pyramid Stage show at the end of a long hot, day in the summer of 1999. Looking back at their performance, singer Michael Stipe later said it proved to be the moment when the band cemented their place in UK music history – and yet it almost didn’t happen when a security guard tried to stop Stipe from entering the grounds. Crisis averted, and history made, the alt-rock icons from Athens, Georgia, delivered a powerful set encompassing classic material, from Everybody Hurts and Man On The Moon to Losing My Religion.

10: Stevie Wonder (2010)

One of the most legendary soul singers of all time, Stevie Wonder blessed the Pyramid Stage in 2010, playing a remarkable set full of all-time classics as he brought an unusually sun-drenched and rain-free Glastonbury to a close. Forever securing its place among the best Glastonbury performances, Wonder invited founder Michael Eavis on stage to join him during Happy Birthday – an apt ending to the festival’s 40th-anniversary event.

9: The Rolling Stones (2013)

In 2013, the time finally came for The Rolling Stones to headline Glastonbury. And it was absolutely worth the wait, with Michael Eavis himself going on to say that the group delivered one of the best Glastonbury performances in history. There was some speculation beforehand as to whether the group would be joined by any special guests, with the likes of Adele and Florence Welch rumoured to be making appearances. In the end, the Stones supplied a stunning stripped-back set joined only by their former guitarist Mick Taylor, who was on hand for Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Midnight Rambler and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

8: Metallica (2014)

Proof that heavy metal had well and truly entered the mainstream, Metallica were the first metal group ever to headline Glastonbury. Fulfilling a “bucket-list” dream, the thrash legends put on the show of a lifetime, using the stage to encourage the organisers to book more metal acts. “This is dedicated not only to the crowd but to all the British heavy metal bands that have been dreaming and still dream of playing this stage,” said frontman James Hetfield. They even let a lucky group of fans on stage for the entirety of their set.

7: Foo Fighters (2017)

Having had to cancel their 2015 appearance after frontman Dave Grohl broke his leg during a show just weeks before, Foo Fighters were finally able to prove they had what it took to deliver one of the best Glastonbury performances, when they headlined in 2017. It was a show full of electricity, F-bombs and dedications, with Everlong going out to Laura Plane, a campaigner and fundraiser for breast cancer who had passed away from the disease in May. Fittingly, Walk was performed for the surgeon who worked on Grohl’s broken leg, while My Hero was dedicated to a naked fan. The group also performed a fantastic collection of covers, among them Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop, with Grohl swapping places with their late drummer Taylor Hawkins to perform the signature punk tune.

6: Jay-Z (2008)

In 2008, Jay-Z became the first rapper in Glastonbury history to headline the Pyramid Stage. His appearance was generally acclaimed, but some rockists felt sour about it, with Noel Gallagher telling the BBC, “I’m sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance. Glastonbury has the tradition of guitar music… I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.” The former Oasis star could not have been more wrong himself: hip-hop was the most thriving genre of music at the time, and Jay-Z played on the controversy by opening his set with a sarcastic rendition of Wonderwall before thundering into the Rick Rubin-produced 99 Problems, soaking it in high energy and classic rock guitar riffs.

5: Beyoncé (2011)

In 2011, Beyoncé became the first solo Black female to ever headline the Pyramid Stage, making history and delivering one of the best Glastonbury performances in the process. The Sunday Legends set was pure Bey greatness, too, with the star running through an abundance of pop masterpieces, including Crazy In Love, and even delivering Bootylicious with the other members of the group she found fame with, Destiny’s Child. The Single Ladies hitmaker hurled herself across the stage for a full 90 minutes, delivering a flawless performance made even more impressive considering she was secretly pregnant with her first child at the time, yet she barely broke a sweat.

4: Pulp (1995)

Stepping in as a last-minute replacement for The Stone Roses, who had to pull out a week before, after guitarist John Squire broke his collarbone while mountain biking, Pulp’s career-making 1995 appearance more than deserves its place among the best Glastonbury performances. Despite having to camp on-site, the group took the stage as though they’d been preparing for this moment their entire lives, and pulled off one of the greatest feats in the festival’s history. With their Different Class album just months away, Pulp saw a fitting opportunity to debut their new song Sorted For E’s & Wizz, and effectively became national treasures overnight.

3: Paul McCartney (2004)

The first Beatle to appear at Glastonbury, Sir Paul McCartney certainly delivered on all that promised in 2004. Stealing the weekend with a mix of Beatles classics, some Wings numbers and a heartfelt George Harrison tribute, McCartney brought his main set to a close with Hey Jude, striking out the chords on his piano as the audience sang along, standing side-by-side in a muddy field, lit by pyrotechnics and sprayed with confetti.

2: Radiohead (1997)

Regarded as one of Radiohead’s greatest gigs, despite being riddled with technical difficulties, the group’s 1997 headline slot came only two weeks after the release of their classic album OK Computer, and they delivered definitive live versions of that record’s highlights, Karma Police, Airbag, Paranoid Android and No Surprises among them. Even though the band have since admitted they were close to walking off stage due to the sound issues they were struggling against, their perseverance prevailed: not only one of the best Glastonbury performances, this is one of the most legendary gigs of all time.

1: David Bowie (2000)

Returning to Worthy Farm after 29 years, David Bowie performed a dream set executed with flair. A virtual wish-list of the best David Bowie songs – just about everything of significance form his lengthy catalogue, including Wild Is The Wind, Ashes To Ashes, Changes, Life On Mars?, “Heroes” and The Man Who Sold The World – the show was arguably one of the greatest headline appearances of any festival as, with impeccable showmanship, Bowie cemented his status as a Glastonbury icon. Easily topping our list of the best Glastonbury performances ever, we will never see the likes of it again.

Looking for more? Find out the best David Bowie songs of all time.

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