Is Springsteen right for Glastonbury?

The Boss will be headlining at Glastonbury. But, says Elisa Bray, young festival-goers may not be thrilled

Wednesday 25 February 2009 01:00

It's official. Bruce Springsteen is headlining this year's Glastonbury Festival. What does he have in common with last year's headlining act Jay-Z? Well, they are both American, and they both support Obama – as festival organiser Emily Eavis points out. (Then again, which act would admit otherwise? Rock and pop stars are traditionally left-of-centre, aren't they?) But other than that, not much.

The Boss is one of the great songwriters and performers of our time. A legend. But he is also a safe bet. After last year's first experimentation with hip-hop top of the bill, Glastonbury seems to have quickly reverted to its rock roots. Not only that, but Springsteen, great as he is, is the kind of artist that could be put in the "dad music" category. And if the festival's founder and organiser, Michael Eavis, was working hard to change the image of Glastonbury, which has had increasing numbers of silver foxes attend in recent years, this wouldn't be the way to go about it. Especially if rumours that Neil Young will be headlining another night turn out to be true. He is definitely in the "dad music" category. Springsteen is 59, Young is 63. Even (most of) Blur, also rumoured to play, are in their forties. They will be a nostalgia-fest for all twenty- and thirtysomethings. It just seems an odd choice to go for the safe bet. What about Radiohead? They are more cutting edge.

Last year it was the veteran acts Neil Diamond and Leonard Cohen who stole the show. The 73-year-old Cohen's set was one of the most celebrated. Neil Diamond provided some of the best singalong moments of the festival. It takes time to become a legend.

By 2007, Glastonbury had found itself criticised for becoming middle-aged. The Killers, Arctic Monkeys and The Who had headlined. But the demographics made it look like fewer youngsters were attending, replaced by festival-goers twice their age. Even Michael Eavis said so. They had to do something to rejuvenate the festival image. So they brought in Jay-Z. Tickets for the 2008 event took ages to sell. And the financial climate – though the credit crunch was just beginning – was nowhere near the recession we face today. Some blamed the weather. Others blamed Jay-Z.

When his Saturday night headline show was a triumph, proving those who disputed hip-hop as a Glastonbury headline act wrong, the festival had succeeded in boosting its image to show that it could be more cutting edge and not stick to the predictable safe rock acts. Whether people were interested in hip-hop or not, they turned up in their masses to watch Jay-Z play the most talked-about Glastonbury set for years. It became the greatest publicity stunt. And so tickets for 2009 have sold out.

But I wonder how many of those who have bought tickets on the back of last year's success are under 25, and I wonder for how many of them Springsteen is relevant.

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