Field of Dreams - Festival History
Summer Festivals Special
This article is from 2009.
Hamish Brown digs deep into festival history and uncovers some truly pivotal musical moments
Jay-Z, Glastonbury 2007
The announcement that Jay-Z was to headline Glastonbury was seen by some – mainly the weekend-hippie middle classes who have adopted their annual pilgrimage as self-serving statement of their true nature whilst working for personal gain – as symbolic of the festival’s severance from its hippie roots. Doubters in attendance were silenced when Jay-Z delivered a storming set, tackling head-on the thorny issue of Noel Gallagher calling his presence on the bill ‘wrong’ by opening with a cover of ‘Wonderwall’. Gathered round a fire somewhere, a long way from the music, and with a moral code firmly rooted in openness and acceptance, the real hippies were wholly unbothered by the fracas.
Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock 1969
The rain which blighted the lynchpin event of the hippie era meant that Hendrix was rained off until the Monday, by which time the mud-covered crowd had depleted from 500,000 to 180,000. He didn’t disappoint, delivering a two-hour set, including a mauling of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, which, in an America questioning its core values, whilst Vietnam raged, is still one of the most timely, potent and eerie political statements in music.
Pulp, Glastonbury 1995
In a swell of synchronicity, the time between the announcement that Pulp were stepping in for an injured Stone Roses, saw set- closer ‘Common People’ become a national anthem. Jarvis’ famous ‘this is the 1990s’ speech was uncannily insightful. Forget ‘Country House’ vs ‘Roll With It’, if any one moment defined the Britpop, it was this.
Orbital, Glastonbury 1994
Although hard to believe, in 1994 a lot of electronic music was the preserve of the enlightened few. Orbital’s closing slot on the second stage changed all that, expanding the horizons of those whose idea of dance music began and ended with the indie disco. Paving the way for indie/electro crossover and dance-music-as-a-gig as epitomised by Underworld and Chemical Brothers, this was the moment that two cells fused.
Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival 1963
The performance that cemented Bob Dylan’s reputation as the most significant voice in American music and led to him being embraced poster boy and saviour of folk music. For a time, he could do no wrong. And that was the problem …
Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival 1965
Painted into a corner with the tag ‘spokesman for a generation’, Dylan’s frustration and desire to experiment saw him go electric. Dylan’s plans to play an electric set were unknown until he took the stage, and allegedly caused protest movement figurehead Pete Seeger to take an axe to the power cables. Still seen as an act of betrayal to the scene that nurtured but ultimately smothered him.
Nirvana, Reading 1991
Nestling between Chapterhouse and Silverfish, low on the Friday bill, the trio stormed into new song: ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and thrashed through a 45 minutes that climaxed with Kurt Cobain launching himself into the drum kit. They blew away everyone that was playing that day – including a lacklustre Sonic Youth and Iggy Pop – and suggested something new was on its way. A year later and they were the biggest band in the world. They returned the following year as headliners in a blaze of neurotic glory, but the energy onstage wasn’t what it was.