Here in Britain, it feels like the ’70s again. Last week, Kate Bush topped the charts, while train workers went on strike for fairer wages and temperatures soared to numbers that almost reached 1976’s brutal June heat wave. Meanwhile, in Somerset, hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers gathered for Glastonbury Festival, the country’s biggest party in cider-drenched fields, following a COVID-induced three-year hiatus. As heritage acts such as Diana Ross and Paul McCartney took to the stage, a host of younger artists (Yves Tumor, Lorde, and Olivia Rodrigo, to name a few) donned their best funk cosplay.
Yes, the dream of the ’70s was alive at Glastonbury — or so I imagined. I was at home 120 miles away because, well, I forgot to sign up for press accreditation and I’m far too disorganized to make Excel spreadsheets with friends or whatever else it is people do to get tickets — though I did go to absurd lengths to try to re-create the atmosphere from my living room. I watched tens of hours of sets, clocked in around 50,000 steps in my own home, ate four hotdogs over four days, and am now writing this hoarse-throated and beer-bedraggled. This year, the BBC’s expansive coverage was in ultrahigh-definition 4K for the first time, and while I did sleep in my own bed — let’s just call it “glamping” — I felt as though I was really there, sans Wellies.
Here’s how I managed it.
Opening my first beer of the day, alone, in my home. I don’t feel great about myself, but at least this pre-midday brew is staying authentic to the experience.
First things first, though: Glastonbury is fucking massive. Each year, several lunatics take it upon themselves to marathon the 30-mile perimeter, so if I don’t at least clock in around 20,000 steps today, I’m lying to myself. I walk up and down my stairs 15 times before the first set. I may have tripped a couple of times, but at least I didn’t fall over into a rainy, muddy puddle (I’m pigeon-toed, so this would’ve been guaranteed to happen).
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is beamed onto the big screens before the Libertines’ set. In an appeal for the crowd’s support, he describes Glastonbury Festival as “the greatest concentration of freedom.” Quite the surprise guest.
Pete Doherty and Carl Barât take to the Other Stage, and I feel 15 and straight again. Really thankful for that beer now. The crowd starts to sing along to “What Katie Did” (Kate Moss, the inspiration behind the song, is supposedly in attendance), and I soon get into the vibe, sing-shouting “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun” while I have my first hotdog of the weekend. As hotdogs go, it’s pretty mid, though it doesn’t have that festival gristle you usually get (nor was it £12). Basically, it does the job. 6/10.
I walk to a pub a mile and a half away for back-to-back sets from Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg and London’s Dry Cleaning at the Park Stage. The BBC is very much touting Wet Leg as the band to watch this weekend; their single “Wet Dream” is the theme for this year’s coverage, and presenters Jo Whiley and Jack Saunders can’t stop gushing about them.
Okay, fair enough: Wet Leg is really good. Dressed in Miss Havisham–type gowns that I’m trying to get an ID on — a couple of Miista-designed items, I think — the duo inspires full-crowd sing-alongs while they spin with their guitars and sing deliberately glib lyrics like “When I think about what you’ve become / I feel sorry for your mum.” The crowd, most noticeably a pair of men dressed in lobster costumes, go wild for “Chaise Longue,” the band’s breakout hit — which is performed as cleanly as the recorded version. It’s like they have their own subculture, distinct sense of humor, and idiolect that they’ve successfully welcomed the world into.
With Wet Leg done, I squeeze in a couple more pints as the next band sets up for sound check.
Dry Cleaning is great. Lead vocalist Florence Shaw’s brand of anti-charisma has quickly become a pioneering performance style for a new wave of disaffected, tongue-in-cheek post-punk bands in Britain. The band’s internal disconnect never fails to make me laugh. While Florence reels off her spoken-word missives, performatively petrified and emotionless, the rest of the band passionately thrashes around like members of a hard-core group. They cover a lot of ground from their debut album — highlights include “Her Hippo” and “Strong Feelings,” which Shaw performs with a slightly heightened charm.
“Hello, it’s nice to be with you. You all look lovely,” says Shaw. “It’s nice to be on a stage not sponsored by cryptocurrency.” I resent myself for how much I’d like to see Dry Cleaning play to a Bored Apes crowd.
Back to the house for TLC at the West Holt Stage. I’m miles away, but I still feel starstruck when T-Boz and Chilli show up on screen. Their backup dancers are incredible and stupid hot. They give that stage the most action it’ll see all weekend; all violent gyration, there is nothing “abstract” about their performance style. I’m here for it. They run through all the hits including “Unpretty,” which goes down as well as a day-one hotdog, before leaving the megaclassics for the end. “This one’s for Lisa,” T-Boz says, honoring the group’s late third member, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, before launching into a pitch-perfect “Waterfalls,” which leaves me a little misty-eyed.
Time for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I’ve been standing all day, but this one feels very much like a “sit down on the hill and eat pizza” type of set, you know? So I’ve got my slice, I’ve got my beer, and I’m very much ready to be serenaded to. “Bloody hell!” is all I can think when I hear Krauss’s voice. After reeling through a couple of songs from their sophomore album, Raise the Roof — which are nice enough but don’t quite wake me from my pizza reverie — the duo launch into some classic Led Zeppelin tunes including a kind of lo-fi take on “Rock and Roll,” smiling at one another from across their microphones.
Time for a little break and to get some more steps in. I’ve been on my own all day, which doesn’t feel very “Glastonbury,” so I open the front door in hopes some neighbors will come in and join me (don’t worry, I live in the quaint south of England, so I’m not expecting a Mother!–type situation).
No humans, but a couple of cats have decided to walk in and join me. One is called Malcolm, which I think is a great name for a cat. Also: the perfect company for the festival’s youngest-ever headliner, Billie Eilish.
Eilish emerges onto the stage wearing squash-playing attire. Admittedly, I’d just seen her on tour a couple weeks ago, and the minimal set design and setlist itself go un-tweaked. Fine by me. But there are shades of humility and disbelief that I didn’t see on the tour. Eilish truly doesn’t seem to understand why she’s there even while the crowd cries grateful tears for her. Members of the audience hold each other while she plays her last two songs, including “bad guy,” which the crowd bounces up and down to like entangled pogo sticks. During set closer “goodbye,” I decide I, too, need someone to hold and go to pick up Malcolm, but he leaves in a huff.
I spend the next couple of hours enjoying my own silent disco, to-and-froing between Kate Bush and Aqua’s discography, the still-blue TV light as my disco ball.
I take a shower (once again staying authentic to the experience, albeit the VIP Glasto experience).
I start the day with another can of beer and a hotdog while singer-rapper Sampa the Great absolutely torches the Park Stage. At times, her Doberman-like growl sort of makes me think of a female DMX. I love it — not to mention how special it is to see a Zambian artist singing in Bemba.
Another jaunt to the pub for Yves Tumor at the West Holts stage. They come out wearing fetish leather gear with “sex” spelled out in studs on the garter belt and “69” written on the back. This is the best fit of the weekend.
This is certainly the best set of the weekend so far as Tumor spits and gyrates their crotch into the camera before stage-diving into the crowd and giving the security guards a cuddle on the way back. They play a generous mix of old and new — veering between their latest EP, the glam-rock-inspired Asymptotical World (which sounds a lot more accessible than its name suggests), and their 2018 breakout album, Safe in the Hands of Love. The band sounds hot-blooded and urgent while Tumor keeps a cool disposition, sounding totally sanguine even when they let out the occasional scream.
Time for something to eat: an ostrich burger, for some reason a British festival staple and surprisingly easy to acquire here in Brighton. I take a bite and become one of those people who eats exotic meat and says something like “It’s fine — it just tastes like chicken, actually” (it really does, though).
I then queue outside of my own toilet for 15 minutes (an existentially mortifying experience). Ah, Glasto.
Some friends arrive just in time for Burna Boy’s set. Easing the audience in with 2019’s pioneering astro-fusion track “Gbona,” he then quite literally sets fire to the stage with an array of pyrotechnics while performing a squeaky-clean set list of classics and tracks from his upcoming album. He’s a superstar. I’m in bliss.
My friends are really, really excited for Paul McCartney’s set (a bit annoying to me because I’d rather watch Megan Thee Stallion on the Other stage. And if I were actually at the festival, I absolutely would have ditched my friends for her, but alas.)
For some reason, the BBC isn’t showing McCartney’s set until an hour later — I find a livestream on Twitter instead, where people are theorizing that the BBC’s late coverage is due to the postproduction they’ll need to do because McCartney is “old” or something to that effect.
Oh! The dodgy livestream is on! Macca’s here! At 80, he is the festival’s oldest ever headliner, and he doesn’t look a day over 64! The crowd whips out their phones for all the Beatles tracks and then fades back to black when Macca plays any of his solo material (which doesn’t go unnoticed by him).
He’s now projecting a video of Johnny Depp while he sings his 2012 track “My Valentine.” Time to switch over to Megan.
A friend texts me that Macca’s just brought out Bruce Springsteen (classic). Also I know this is sort of cheating — flicking between stages on my TV — but I don’t care. Megan is syllable-by-syllable perfection, and she commands the crowd like she’s whipping Seabiscuit to victory. Better yet, I make it in time for “WAP”!
11:30 p.m.–2:30 a.m.
Time for another silent disco and early-hours shower.
Another bloody hotdog for lunch while I watch Cate Le Bon. Day one’s hotdog lunch was fine — “a fun treat” — but only three days in, I feel as if I’m in a hotdog-eating contest. It’s all mulch, no fun. Anyway, back to Cate, who’s dressed in chain mail and is playing the cleanest set you’ve ever seen — mostly material from her latest album, Pompeii. Stouthearted and full of effortless grace, she’s probably one of the only cool people left in the universe.
A two-mile walk to the pub for Diana Ross’s set at the Pyramid Stage. You’d be off your nut for this one, wouldn’t you? (That’s British for “k-holing.”) I’m not quite there, but I am hastily sinking the Stella Artoises being served to me while Ross plays a perfectly pandering set of classics. She quite literally comes out to “I’m Coming Out,” for goodness’ sake. I love her for it. Then there’s a nonstop cavalcade of bangers: “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name Of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Chain Reaction” — none of which is totally sung in tune, but I’m charmed by her all the more for it.
A sign for “Goan Fish Curry” at the Pyramid Stage has me, for the first time in my life, craving — you guessed it — Goan fish curry. (Again, how are ostrich burgers and Goan fish curries the British festival staples? Why did this happen?)
It’s harder to source than I imagined, but I eventually find one from a restaurant with a one-out-of-five hygiene rating. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to dampen the chef’s spirits as it was bloody lovely.
My friend George arrives. I’ve been waiting all weekend for George. He’s far and away my most chaotic friend; he can make absolutely any situation feel a bit precarious and disorienting. He’s the perfect person to have around while I’m trying to mirror the Glastonbury atmosphere.
We watch a little of Turnstile’s set as they bring their latest album, Glow On, to life at the John Peel stage. We re-create the mosh pits by repeatedly banging into each other and accidentally clunk heads.
Time for Lorde at the Pyramid Stage. She has a beautifully tacky lemon-stained blonde dye job while her band is outfitted in yellow suits; they all look as if they belong in a ’70s children’s TV show.
For my sins, I’m not the biggest Lorde fan, so my mind begins to wander. I think of all the other things I could be doing instead: changing the channel, cleaning the kitchen, searching outside for Malcolm. This freedom of choice makes me think about the blissful restriction of Glastonbury, the beautiful inconvenience of a crowd. It’s a whole weekend centered on music among the masses who care about and love that music, whose spirits are moved by it. How many weekends can you say that about?
I then train myself back on Lorde and find myself coming around to her. “Supercut” is a really wonderful song. It’s a fullhearted and full-throated performance — a welcome break after a set list of Solar Power songs, an album whose satirization of “wellness” culture felt a bit artless and simply lifted from a Jia Tolentino essay. Lorde’s much better at melodrama than she is at cerebralism, basically. The crowd, half-crying, half-gurning, seems to agree. The Solar Power songs don’t get the elated reception that older cuts such as “Ribs,” “Royals,” and “Liability” get.
Kendrick’s on in 15 minutes, and the anticipation is high. This is the set I’ve been looking forward to most. He comes out wearing a bejeweled crown of thorns, dressed like a holy waiter. This man is truly transcendent. He seems able to warp and contort time like a god as his backup dancers move around in slow motion while Kendrick slows his flow. He delivers his verses with a calm confidence I’ve not seen from any other act this weekend. The crowd chants “Keeeendrick Laaamaaaar” very Britishly, which goes unacknowledged by the rapper. He seems far above the crowd — we are ants; he is an airplane.
The set turns into a wonderful career retrospective. He dedicates a good section to good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly, and DAMN. before capping off with material from his latest, the pandemic-produced project Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Just over an hour in, he takes a good look at the audience for the first time. “On behalf of me and everyone in my team, I thank each and every single one of you.” His crown of thorns begins to drip blood as he screams, “They judge you, they judge Christ, godspeed for women’s rights!’
I feel a part of the crowd. I feel a part of the religion of Kendrick. I feel a part of the cult of Glastonbury. I don’t want to go home, I think, before realizing my surroundings.