One of the all-time great and greatly underappreciated music festivals is taking place this weekend. A festival filled with rain, mud and of course, great music. Founded in 1970 by Michael Eavis, the Glastonbury Festival was founded after Eavis witnessed an open-air concert by Led Zeppelin. The inaugural festival was headlined by T. Rex, since then many a rock headliner has graced the main stage, or Pyramid Stage as it’s known. The festival has long since been home to rock artists and rock music, though in recent years it has since branched out to other genres.
Having discovered the festival when bored one summer night in 2013, I became enthralled with it. It was like a modern-day British Woodstock. Hippies of all kinds and generations gathered on the mud filled field. The headliner on stage that night was The Rolling Stones. The Stones didn’t sound great that night, but the audience didn’t care. The headliners killed it while the predominantly young audience, whose first Rolling Stones album might have been 2005’s A Bigger Bang, lapped up every word.
Part of the appeal of Glastonbury is that while the audience does turn up for the other rock and pop acts, it’s the legacy headliners who get all the attention. For good or bad, the legacy acts on the Pyramid Stage are the main draw. Sometimes they are met with praise, others, controversy. This blog delves into the controversies that permeate the festival, and the triumphs the artists endured to become festival legends.
Controversies at Glastonbury
1984: Storming of The Pyramid Stage during The Smiths
During 1984, one of the festivals first acts to stir controversy for its indie sound. Many concert goers thought that their indie sound was too heavy for the festival’s hippie vibe. The rockers won over the crowd. So much so that The Smiths performance caused the fans to spill onto the stage, climbing on the Pyramid as they performed.
2002: The Ring of Steel Was Erected
Fans can always find ways to get into shows. At Glastonbury, there is no exception to this rule. The ring was made by festival organizers as a sort of a check point. As a result of cracking down on the concert goers, there was pushback from fans. They complained that it went against the free-spirited nature of the festival. In years since, Michael Eavis has decried that that the wall is a necessary evil to maintain peace at the festival.
2008: Hip Hop Has Its Place
In 2008, Noel Gallagher of Oasis criticized the festivals organizers Michael and his daughter Emily for the lineup. The reason for the criticism was that they had finally added a hip hop artist as a headliner. Gallagher didn’t believe hip hop had its place at the festival. The headlining act in question was Jay-Z. The rapper upon stepping out on stage with a bright yellow Stratocaster. To add insult to Noel Gallagher, Jay-Z and essentially said “anyway, here’s “Wonderwall”. After he got the crowds attention with Noel Gallaghers’ hit, he was off to the races performing his own song “99 Problems”. With the crowd into it, Jay Z proved that hip hop did have its place at an almost all rock festival.
2014: Metal Makes its Mark
In 2014, it was announced that Metallica would take the stage as headliners. The group had come under fire for clashing with the festivals mostly hippie vibe. Metallica’s sound made The Smiths perceived heaviness sound like Jimmy Buffett in comparison. Front man James Hetfield had his share of problems too. Hetfield was a known hunter, and that did not sit well with a lot of concertgoers. Metallica turned the tables on the haters by creating a new intro, where in the hunters had become the hunted. Metal had officially made its mark on the festival when they took the stage shortly thereafter.
2023: All Male Headliners
Despite the presence of rap star Lizzo on the docket, this year’s festival is entirely all male. 2000’s rock icons The Arctic Monkeys are slated to perform. Elton John is expected to take the legacy stage, and Guns N Roses are bringing back the metal. Even some of the smaller acts on the bill are predominantly male. While these shows will most definitely rock, some female representation would be appreciated. It was rumored that Taylor Swift would headline this year, but scheduling conflicts prevented her from doing so.
While Glastonbury is a festival that is historically steeped in controversy, it is a festival that turns those controversies into triumphs. After 51 years of hosting festivals. Glastonbury remains a bucket list festival. Hopefully the festival will continue for another 50.