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Glastonbury Festival 2014 review: Could Dolly Parton upstage Metallica, Kasabian and Arcade Fire?

As Glastonbury Festival opened up for its 2014 outing, there was much talk about the suitability of a band like Metallica headlining on the Saturday night. In reality the weekend was more to do with Country and Western and thunderbolts and lightning than heavy metal as Dolly Parton stole the show and storms broke it.

Many’s the time when the Glastonbury headliners have courted detractors, doubters and general haters for not being the “right” bands for the festival, or that “this year’s lineup is worse than ever”, usually from people who didn’t get a ticket or never would go to the festival. But with a £200+ price tag on the tickets and the fact that Glastonbury is the only festival that sells its tickets before any of the acts are announced it can also often come from the festival goers themselves who feel aggrieved that band X or act Y isn’t playing. 

Nothing stops a Glastonbury crowd, even if it can stop the stages
Nothing stops a Glastonbury crowd, even if it can stop the stages

The thing is, this buy-before-you-try attitude to the lineup is the very thing that actually makes Glastonbury so great. People attend Glastonbury because they want to go to the festival, to be involved in a global phenomena that is unrivalled throughout the world, and getting the lineup of their dreams, their own personal live playlist, is less of a demand and very much a secondary consideration. People just have to trust the Eavis family to arrange a great show for them based on their decades of experience.

So is Metallica suitable as a headline act? Of course they are, they’re just as suitable as when Jay-Z played, and that’s become the benchmark for all genre shaking headliners. The reality is that when the bands roll onto the Pyramid Stage their performance gets amalgamated with the ambience of the festival and is multiplied by the atmosphere of one of the best crowds you could ever want to have as an audience and something special happens. This elevates a great act to a legendary act, a band you didn't like into one that is worth it a go for an hour or so, and a legendary band becomes something that will live with you forever.

Did everyone enjoy Metallica? Who knows, but the crowd was immense and the sheer volume of their a cappella rendition of the verse from "Enter Sandman" was loud enough to carry for a significant radius from the stage. Personally, I thought they were brilliant, I could have done with a shorter intro film and maybe an extra song instead, but as a Metallica fan they showed exactly what they are capable of.

There is such an overwhelming amount of entertainment on each year that people simply vote with their feet and find another headliner if they aren't happy. It's not like you're rooted to the Pyramid Stage, you can just head left or right of the stage and come across something totally different. This year the festival put on over 2500 performances which would take 4 months to watch if you put them one after the other, so there is always something to entertain you. 

While Metallica were rocking the hell out of the Pyramid Stage you could have gone to see Jake Bugg, MGMT, Bryan Ferry, Fatboy Slim, Mogwai or any of the other acts playing at the same time, or gone up to Shangri-La or Arcadia or taken in a bit of cabaret or top of their game circus acts or just found yourself in a random bar or location around the site. If you can't find something you like, I suggest you check yourself for a pulse.

Headline act-wise Arcade Fire, Metallica and Kasabian didn't seem to bring you that one massive world-beating act that electrifies a bill, acts like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Neil Young, U2 or David Bowie, and although Metallica are pretty much one of the biggest acts in the metal world, you'd have to ask a lot of people before you found someone with more than one of their albums. But something special happens when artists step out onto the most famous stage in the world and play to one of the best crowds in the world.

Arcade Fire had enough enough people and charisma to fill the stage and with their back catalogue had more than enough material to work with. Win Butler, complete with Rocket Raccoon face paint, did his best to work every bit of the stage, pit and barrier to bring his music to the crowd. He's a serial camera "borrower", running down his platform to "borrow" a phone from a member of the audience, to take photos and selfies from the stage. The phone was thrown back into the crowd roughly in the same place and I would bet that they got it back (don't try that at V Festival, for God's sake, it'll be gone for good). Shortly after he tried to borrow a photographer's camera, nearly throttling them with their own strap until he got a free one for more photo action.

Kasabian, who closed the weekend's entertainment on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night, were never going to not revel in this position, and even though Serge wouldn't show it, Tom, dressed in a white tuxedo like a Leicester James Bond, was even more fuelled up than normal to be playing such a prestigious slot after getting so close on previous years. Naturally the confident swagger of Kasabian with a raft of great new tracks and a series on anthems like "Club Foot", "Shoot the Runner" and "Fire" was more than enough to close the show, but to throw in a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s "Crazy" and to end on a mix of "Praise You" from Fatboy Slim and "LSF" was a touch of class. Everyone knew they would be able to do it, and they didn't disappoint.

However, it didn't matter what happened over the weekend, whether it was the secret gig with HAIM and Mumford and Sons, the incredible performance from Robert Plant, tapping into his Led Zeppelin roots, the return of Lily Allen after 5 years, or the beautiful Ellie Goulding, who is fast becoming a megastar, the whole weekend belonged to Dolly Parton.

I don't like Country and Western, it's just not in my genes, it's too much "y'all" and ten gallon hats for me to feel comfortable with, but Dolly Parton blew me and seemingly everyone else away with her eagerly anticipated Pyramid Stage set in the magic 4pm slot on Sunday afternoon. This is the infamous time that a legendary performer gets their crack at Glastonbury. They may be someone you don't really play in your car, they may be a little cheesy, a bit before your time, or all of the above, but they have a repertoire of tracks that, despite your best efforts, you seem to know every word of. This isn't to demean the acts, they are all world class performers but in this day and age they are like the forgotten geniuses of our time, lost in the torrent of tracks on SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify and iTunes.

In 2014 Dolly Parton joined this illustrious group alongside Brian Wilson, Neil Diamond, Shirley Bassey, James Brown and Ray Davies.

It seemed that the entire site had turned up for Dolly. The crowd was full of Parton tributes, from blonde wigs and fake boobs to respectfully cheekily worded slogans on flags and written in face paint. People stretched back as far as you could see, right up the hill and up to the tents on the ridge of the area and out to the sides. If there weren't 100,000+ people there I would eat my Stetson; you couldn't see a gap anywhere, and whenever there was any chance to wave your arms in time to the music you could see it from the front to the back of the crowd. It was an amazing sight, even for a hardened Glastonbury veteran. I've not seen a crowd like that in the afternoon before, it was the sort of numbers reserved for the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney. It created such a vacuum around the site that other acts, like the immensely talented vocalist Sam Smith, would have been left wondering where everyone was, until they checked who they were playing against.

Dolly turned up in pure white, bejewelled with rhinestones, bounding with energy and proceeded to, quite simply, blow us all away. She was gracious with the crowd, delighted to be there, entertaining between tracks with her life tales and just amazing. You could ask how you could fail to be good when you can roll out "Jolene", "9 to 5" and "Islands in the Stream", but it was more than that, even an impromptu "song" Dolly wrote about mud went down well. It was the sort of performance that worked perfectly in that time slot, in the sun, on that day. It was good enough to even get the security in the pit to do a flashmob dance routine on the barrier - and trust me, this is not something they do, ever.

As if performing her own songs wasn't enough she got ex Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora to join her in a gospel-rock version of "Lay Your Hands on Me", a combination that I never thought I would see! 

Dolly closed the set with "I Will Always Love You", the eye-wateringly high noted and karaoke-proof song made famous by Whitney Houston. Not many acts can finish a set with a ballad and get away with it, but she did.

For 70 glorious minutes Dolly Parton owned Glastonbury Festival and showed her pedigree in a way that only she could. She may confess to being "trash" or a wannabe "drag queen", but this self-effacing lady was as well polished as her rhinestones and as class an act as has graced the Pyramid Stage.

Dolly looked touched and emotional about her reception from the Glastonbury crowd and it was well deserved. She said that if she could she'd like to take all of the crowd on tour with her, and at that point if she'd asked, they would have all said yes.

Although Dolly was the star of the weekend, the other big player had to be the weather. The storm that hit the festival on Friday afternoon was the worst that I can remember, and possibly the worst one in the history of Glastonbury. The lightning from the electrical storm was so localised and intense that it forced the closure of every stage on the site for an hour, cutting short Rudimental's set on the Pyramid Stage and denying them their big finish, which must have broken their hearts. 

Rudimental never got to finish their set ... they'll never get those two songs back
Rudimental never got to finish their set ... they'll never get those two songs back

The rain was so heavy that it came down like 50p pieces, some people reported getting hailstones on their tents. Coming on the back of heavy rain overnight on Thursday it converted the site to mud and it didn't recover until Sunday. But that's not the sort of thing that stops Glastonbury, it just makes it more difficult to get places quickly and dry places to sit become as precious a commodity as gold or beer, it does not stop the stoic Glastonbury crowd.

After the storm things started looking up ... for a bit
After the storm things started looking up ... for a bit

With so much going on over the weekend it would take a Tolkien-esque tome to comment on all of it, so here are a few of our musical highlights:

Kaiser Chiefs opening the show on the Other Stage by launching right into the crowd, Este Haim's bass-face, Sophie Ellis-Bextor (pop princess of the Avalon stage), "Debaser" from Pixies, anything by Robert Plant, Lana Del Rey smoking a fag on stage, George Ezra growing bigger and better everyday, Yoko Ono at the Park for all sorts of reasons, Ellie Goulding for being more bendy than I thought, Foxes and Lily Allen for showing us how to have fun performing and Ed Sheeran for being good enough to take over the Pyramid stage after Dolly Parton, on his own, and do it with style.

A final note has to go to Imagine Dragons who came out covered in mud to get a closer connection with the crowd (if only for the duration of their set, until they got to the showers) and put in more energy in the time they were on than nine or ten other bands that I saw, and that was before they did "Radioactive".

So how did Glastonbury 2014 compare against other years? Despite the rumblings about the headline acts and the mud it was another halcyon year for the festival, partly down to Dolly Parton, who owned Worthy Farm for an all too brief but unforgettable time and will have etched 2014 into the history books. 

Lily Allen returned to Glastonbury for a great performance
Lily Allen returned to Glastonbury for a great performance

Each year we write about how amazing the festival is, not just for bands, but for its sheer size and variation in entertainment across the site. You can lose yourself for the whole festival in a single corner and never leave or make your way around and see something different every time you change direction. The site is bewilderingly large, even for Glastonbury veterans, and getting from one side to the other can take some serious time, but if you make the effort to move around and take in as much of it as you can then Glastonbury will reward you with an amazing experience that you will never forget. By all means stay close to the Pyramid Stage if you want to catch your favourite band, you can choose to do Glastonbury any way you want, it's your festival after all, but if you've not found the Rabbit Hole, or wandered around Block 9 and Shangri-La, or marvelled at Arcadia or watched a band on every stage you can, then you're missing out on a large part of the festival. It's not the destinations that matter, it's the journey through the site and the marvellous, unique things you'll find on your way that you'll be talking about when you get home.

Glastonbury people are an amazing bunch
Glastonbury people are an amazing bunch

Glastonbury has always been and always will be a very special festival. That's why you'll find artists that play there will frequently stay for the whole weekend to enjoy the festival and soak up the atmosphere, walking casually past you like they were staying in the tent next to you (they are so not). It's also why the place is crammed full of celebrities of all list ratings, from A-Z, alongside charities, campaigners and people of all age ranges and nationalities. There's not a genre of music missed out, nor a square metre of land left idle, there's not a type of food or drink that you can't find or a minute of the 5 days that there isn't something going on for you to watch or participate in.

Pedometer Stats: In 4 days we walked a total of 65.53 miles
(Debs 28.21 miles, Derren 37.32 miles)

This comprehensive (and slightly overwhelming) amount of things to do and experience helps to shape the festival; everyone is so busy enjoying themselves that you'll not hear a raised voice in anger. And it is the history of this great festival that draws people who want to experience it as a whole and ensures that it sells out within hours every year before a single headline act is released. It's the festival of the summer, one that I hope to be at for many years to come and the one that I would recommend to anyone who has never been.

Long after your gear has dried out, your muscles have stopped aching and you've caught up with your sleep and returned to "normal" life you'll remember the year that Dolly Parton stole the show from Metallica, Kasabian and Arcade Fire. So was Metallica a good choice for the Saturday headline act? Of course it was, it's Glastonbury, and it has been and always will be bigger than any single act, no matter who they are, and just like the festival, there will always be another one around the corner. Roll on 2015!

All of our photos from the weekend can be found here.

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Derren Nugent
1st July 2014
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Glastonbury Festival 2014 review: Could Dolly Parton upstage Metallica, Kasabian and Arcade Fire?

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