There’s a hell of a lot at stake when performing at a festival – potentially the biggest crowd of an artist’s career, being pitted against nature’s elements, sound and lighting that could go wrong at any moment. There’s the pressure to blow the act after you off stage, there’s the pressure to live up to hype and show that you are capable of pulling off a show on a massive stage. Mnay acts have come a cropper when trying to do this but many have risen to the occasion; the adrenaline and the massive crowds either overcoming them or proving that they are capable of being one of the best bands in the world. Join us as we count down some of the best festival performances ever.
Pulp, Glastonbury 1995
The Stone Roses had been slotted in to headline Glastonbury in 1995 as part of their comeback after drug and record label issues saw them disappear from the public eye for five years. Unfortunately, guitarist John Squire broke his collar bone a few weeks before the festival, necessitating organisers to scramble for a last minute replacement.
Enter Pulp, who had just begun their ascent up the charts with their classic album Different Class which was about to spawn the Britpop anthem ‘Common People’. Rushed in at the last minute as a replacement, the band had to buy tents as there was no suitable other accommodation left for them. Within the space of an hour they had stolen the festival and their finale of ‘Common People’ is regarded as one of the best Glastonbury performances of all time.
Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival 1965
The young folk pied piper led his followers to this event with performances in 1963 and 1964 that had the beatnik folk crowd eating out of his hand before turning around the following year and, gasp, playing a plugged in electric set which saw the thousands of bearded beatniks howl in despair.
Nirvana, Reading 1992
Kurt Cobain had been subject to much speculation in the media prior to the Reading Festival in the UK in 1992, with rumours of heroin addiction and being hospitalised. Cobain was infamously wheeled on stage by self-aggrandizing music critic Everett True in a wheelchair wearing a hospital smock, which he wore through the performance which included one of the first ever airings of ‘All Apologies’
Radiohead, Glastonbury 1997
Fresh from releasing the ground breaking Ok Computer, Radiohead performed an era defining set headlining the Pyramid Stage amidst apocalyptic rain and thunder. It was almost as if ‘Paranoid Android’ had been composed specifically for the occasion, as they asked the lighting crew to turn the lights on the crowd as they began the intro.
U2, Live Aid 1985
U2 were on the brink of stadium success when they took the stage to play Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985 before a televised audience of half a million. Their set was cut short and Bono, for the last time in his life, was worried that he’d made a dick of himself. The crowd thought otherwise though, as Bono leapt in to them during ‘Bad’ and U2 were one of the biggest bands in the world within two years. It also proves that the worst mullet you’ve ever seen wouldn’t scare punters off.
Rolling Stones, Altamont, 1969
One of the greatest festival performances for all the wrong reasons, many say that this signalled the end of the peace and love era of the 1960s. The Rolling Stones were headlining a festival at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California which had up to 300,000 people in attendance. The Stones hired the Hells Angels to provide security for the event which ended in disaster after a fan was stabbed to death in front of the stage by the security as the band performed.
Flaming Lips, Big Day Out Melbourne 2004
Amidst a sea of people wearing animal outfits , balloons and bubbles floating over the crowd against the backdrop of fluffy little clouds racing across a blood red sunset, The Flaming Lips played a set that belied the fact that they weren’t even headlining on the main stage. Then … they kicked in their legendary cover of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army…’
Iggy & The Stooges, Big Day Out Sydney 2011
Almost every Iggy & The Stooges performance at the 2006 and 2011 Big Day Outs was iconic, but it was the moments in which they dragged the crowd on stage to dance despite the despair of security guards in attendance that to them in to the realm of legendary.
Arcade Fire, Lollapalooza Chicago 2005
The Arcade Fire’s place in the rock n’ roll pantheon was sealed by a triumphant performance at Lolapalooza in 2005 in which front man Win Butler was so overcome during the finale of Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) that he ran out in to the crowd to decompress from the incendiary set – in turn sending the crowd in to rapture.
Jimi Hendrix, Monterey Pop Festival 1969
Hendrix might have turned in better known performance at the Woodstock Festival two years later with his performance of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but this was the first time that US TV audiences had seen his guitar prowess and his legendary finale of setting his guitar on fire.
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