7 Groundbreaking Glastonbury Performances That Changed The Festival For Good

by Emma Madden
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One of the most exciting things about attending Glastonbury 2019 is knowing that you may well be in for a chance of experiencing history. And with sets from the likes of Stormzy, The Cure, and Lauryn Hill this year, if you're heading to Glasto 2019, you're sure to experience a festival like no other. And even for those who didn't get tickets, you can still see musical history being made from the comfort of your sofa. So, now that we're all looking forward to the 2019 kick off, let's look back to the seven best performances in Glastonbury history, to see if any of this year's acts can stack up against these lot.

In this list, you'll find everything from your usual suspects to more lowkey acts who put on sets so innovative that they went on to change Glastonbury's set up and history entirely. Originally conceived as a rock festival, Glastonbury's bookers and punters have had their listening habits challenged over the years by acts who have pushed past the genre's perimeters and reimagined the live music experience entirely. Some of these sets inspired Glastonbury to become what it is today — a true confluence of musical ideas that's always pushing forward in an attempt to stay as the frontrunner of the festival scene.


Dolly Parton, 2014

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While I wasn't even at the festival in 2014, I'll forever have Dolly Parton's set burned into my brain. Sat watching from my sofa, my mouth was agape as Parton, after many decades of proving herself to be one of the world's greatest songwriters, reeled through a set of well-known classics, as well as bringing in some new tunes that even managed to stand up to "Jolene." Sitting alone in my living room, her set inspired me to dance, scream for her as the crowd in the Somerset field did, and cry as she sang "I Will Always Love You: in what was a career defining performance — inasmuch as it proved that Parton never once fails to astound. The country singer delivers magic every single dang time, and this was a moment that we all got to share in together.


Portishead, 1995

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Beth Gibbons, better known as the lead singer of '90s Bristol-based trip-hop group Portishead, delivered one of the performances of her of life at Glastonbury 1990. Alongside the likes of Oasis and PJ Harvey, Portishead were one of the most hotly tipped acts to see that year, having released their genre-shifting and deeply innovative album Dummy the year before. But even after releasing one of the UK's most critically acclaimed albums that year, Portishead still managed to surpass expectations for their Glastonbury set. As NME recalled, what made the set even more special is that the group insisted on the lowkey setting of the festival's acoustic tent, with everyone in that squashed setting getting to experience a bit of magic. And musical history.


Sinead O'Connor, 1990

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I've always felt dismayed at how the world looks at and treats Sinead O'Connor, who, in my mind, is one of the world's greatest voices. O'Connor's 1990 set at Glastonbury coincided with the release of her most famous single: that cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U." She makes up the handful of female headliners in the festival's history, but her talent transcends gender. Her powerful voice could have been heard by the sheep in a further field, as O'Connor brought more emotion to the Pyramid stage than we all thought possible.


Curtis Mayfield, 1983


Back in 1983, a ticket to Glastonbury would have only set you back £12, according to the festival's site. And for that price, you would have been able to see legendary singer-songwriter Curtis Mayfield. The politically conscious soul singer headed up the festival that year, enrapturing the audience with renditions of famous hits such as "Move On Up" and "Power To The People." Mayfield was one of the first performers to prove that Glastonbury could expand beyond its rockist limits, as soul took to the stage and reinvigorated everyone's hearts that day.


David Bowie, 2000

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David Bowie's 2000 set was so good that it's since been memorialised onto CD and DVD, so that everybody, not just the people who were lucky to share that field with him, can experience it. What made Bowie's set so good was that it was sort of like a live re-enactment of a Greatest Hits album. Bowie became Ziggy, and went all Hunky Dory, and then poppy, and back again. He showed off his whole wardrobe. Many music journalists often cite this performance as the greatest in Glastonbury's history, and who am I disagree?


Beyoncé, 2011

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I mean, come on, of course this performance was going make it on this list. It's Beyoncé. But seriously, though, everyone's throats were sore after this one, as Bey put on one of the most glorious sets Glastonbury had ever seen back in 2011, when she brought herself, her band, and back up dancers along for the ride. The choreography was tight, the vocals were note PERFECT, and the songs, which covered all Bey's best hits, were made larger than life.


Orbital, 1994


Orbital's 1994 set at Glastonbury not only made history for the festival, but dance music as a whole. Back in the mid nineties, the festival was wellies deep in Britpop, and you'd hardly see a set without a bunch of lads playing guitars, but Orbital came to shake things up. Wearing torch lights on their head, the two brothers who comprised Orbital proved that tens of thousands of festival goers could be moved by music made by machines. They proved it so much, in fact, that the next year Glasto introduced its Dance tent for the first time.