Over 500 bands, DJs and artists played this year’s Glastonbury festival, but history will record the 2013 edition of the legendary U.K. festival for one performance above all others: The Rolling Stones‘ Saturday night headline spot, which drew a record-breaking 100,000-plus revellers to the main Pyramid Stage.
Opening with a fantastically sprightly “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the Stones – making their long-awaited, enormously-hyped Glastonbury debut – delivered a tight, crowd-pleasing 20-song set that carried a real sense of occasion from the very first lick of Keith Richards’ guitar.
“After all these years they’ve finally got around to asking us,” said Mick Jagger, tongue firmly in cheek, his trademark peacock strut and leather-lipped pout in full effect. They didn’t disappoint with “Paint It Black,” “Gimme Shelter” and “Wild Horses” among the early standout moments that were transformed into gigantic communal sing-alongs by the all-ages crowd.
Despite speculation throughout the day that everyone from Adele to Taylor Swift would be making a cameo appearance alongside the veteran rock band it was former guitarist Mick Taylor who was the night’s sole special guest, bolstering Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ dual guitar attack on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Midnight Rambler.”
A raspy-voiced Richards sung lead vocals on “You Got the Silver” and “Happy,” while the giant mechanical phoenix that was perched atop the Pyramid Stage came to life during a magnificently menacing “Sympathy for the Devil,” firing bursts of flames over the tightly-packed, flag-waving and flare-burning crowd.
“Brown Sugar” preceded a two-song encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and a resplendent “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” before concluding with a fireworks display. Speaking to the press the following day, Glastonbury festival founder and organizer Michael Eavis called the band the festival’s best-ever headliners. Few who were there would disagree.
At the other end of the headlining spectrum, Liam Gallagher‘s post-Oasis band Beady Eye drew a large audience to its Friday morning not-so-secret, Twitter-advertised opening performance on the Other Stage. “You’ve been amazing, but not as good as us,” a typically immodest Gallagher told the crowd at the end of the band’s set, which included ecstatically-received outings for his former band’s songs “Rock’n’roll Star” and “Morning Glory.”
Later in the day, Alt-J entertained the Other Stage crowd with an accomplished selection of cuts from its 2012 Mercury Prize-winning “An Awesome Wave,” complemented by a hypnotic mash-up of Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” and Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.”.
Other highlights from the three-day music festival, which is staged on the Eavis family’s Worthy Farm, in Pilton, rural Somerset and sold out its allocation of 135,000 tickets in under two hours, included a muscular, full-bodied set from Friday night’s Pyramid Stage headliners, Arctic Monkeys. At the same time, over on the West Holts stage — one of over 50 dedicated performance areas spread throughout the sprawling 900 acre site — Nile Rodgers and Chic entertained the masses with a feel-good succession of disco classics including “Good Times,” “Le Freak” and some of the many hits that he has written or produced for others, such as David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.”
Saturday, meanwhile, saw that rarest of Glastonbury occurences: beautiful clear blues skies and blazing sunshine. It proved the ideal setting for Ben Howard‘s mid-afternoon slot on the Pyramid Stage, which saw the double Brit Award-winning singer-songwriter further amplify spirits with some pleasing rootsy folk. Primal Scream‘s incendiary mix of psychedelic stoner rock, rave punk and Stones-indebted garage blues later proved the perfect precursor to Jagger – who rather improbably tweeted a picture of his on-site luxury yurt accommodation – and cohort’s subsequent headline show.
Remarkably, the weather held out for Sunday, which once again saw the site bathed in glorious sunshine. In spite of the soaring temperatures, Tom Odell drew a huge crowd to the (tented) John Peel stage, with the Brit Awards Critics’ Choice winner treating an appreciative audience to highlights from his current U.K. No. 1 debut album “Long Way Down” as well a timely cover of the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
The closing day also saw strong sets from Vampire Weekend, Editors and Park Stage headliner Cat Power before Mumford & Sons brought the Pyramid Stage to a triumphant close with a boisterous two-hour set that climaxed with the band being joined by members of Vampire Weekend, Vaccines and the Staves for a celebratory run through the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
As ever with Glastonbury, the music bill is only ever half the story with the festival’s multitude of other attractions – circus and cabaret fields, a dedicated multi-stage dance village (this year re-christened Silver Hayes), the hippy-strewn, eco-friendly Green Fields and the after-hours wonderland that is Shangri-La, a gloriously twisted party-zone located at the festival’s outer rim – among the many ingredients that makes it unique. Reflecting on this year’s Glastonbury festival, 77-year-old Eavis called 2013 the best yet – as he has done virtually every year, no doubt since the festival started in 1970. This time, however, he may just be right.