How Glastonbury Nearly Went West

Kanye West told the Glastonbury crowd that he’s “the greatest living rock star on the planet,” but not many of the UK’s music critics and social network contributors seem to agree.

Photo: Yui Mok/PA via AP
Performing on The Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset, England.

Not all reports were as negative as one on Facebook that said, “This has to be the worst headline act ever in the history of the festival. Self-obsessed idiot spouting utter crap,” but most of the comments weren’t the sort that his publicists will want to share. It was obvious from the beginning that West was a controversial choice for headliner, with a reported 135,000 people signing an online petition to protest his being given the top slot.

Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis even received a death threat on Twitter from one disgruntled fan. West’s set was briefly interrupted by a stage invasion by British comedian Lee Nelson, although a security guard was quick to ensure the interruption was only a brief one.

“West put on a bold, weird, daringly original production – and got booed and abused for his troubles,” was the Daily Telegraph’s take on it.

“During the troughs he is in effect performing to himself and even highlights as strong as ‘Jesus Walks’ and ‘Touch the Sky,’ which he performs from a crane, can’t elevate this uncompromising set to a triumph when he won’t let the crowd in,” said The Guardian.

However, Glastonbury is an iconic event and a headline set that didn’t live up to expectations of some was never going to be enough to spoil an otherwise successful festival. There were, after all, more than 2,000 performances to please the 150,000-plus festivalgoers.

For those who didn’t make it to the festival, the BBC had almost wall-to-wall coverage on BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, and further choices available at a push of the red button.

The critics did have good things to say about many of them, including Florence & The Machine – which had been moved up to headline in place of Foo Fighters – Lionel RichieThe Who, and many of the newer acts such as Young Fathers and Ibeyi.

In keeping with the festival’s history of booking some usual attractions there was a chance to listen to the Dalai Lama talking about moral education as well as appearances from two rather different women’s groups. Russian activists Pussy Riot were interviewed by Charlotte Church about life in authoritarian Russia, while a scone’s throw away – as the Financial Times put it – members of the Women’s Institute had a stall selling tea and cake.

World-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking had to cancel his appearance at Glastonbury due to “personal reasons.”

The other bad news (for some festivalgoers) was Great Western Railways announcement that mud-spattered fans wouldn’t be allowed to travel on their trains. It was a case of them getting cleaned up or finding another way of getting home.

The acts helping make Glastonbury Festival a unique occasion June 24-28 included Pharrell WilliamsPaloma FaithThe LibertinesGeorge EzraYears & Years, and Mary J. Blige.