Glastonbury this year was notable for its patchy early line-up, mud, more mud, and – at least until Metallica’s heavy-metal rearguard action – the sense that it had been slightly underwhelming. That was until Dolly Parton came to town.
Her appearance in a sparkling white pantsuit and with massive (fake) hair was, without exaggeration, surely the biggest attraction since the Rolling Stones packed out the Pyramid Stage last year, her swaying fans and their flags seeming to run right back to the barn doors of Worthy Farm.
What followed was a country hoedown worthy of Dolly’s Smokey Mountain hometown in Tennessee. It came after a Saturday dominated by mud as much as metal, whereas Dolly was treated to fine weather and a series of crowd-pleasing warm-up acts.
It was as if Michael Eavis lined up Sunday’s acts – including the English National Ballet, The 1975, a secret Kooks gig and feel-good folk from Lucy Rose – to give the temporary inhabitants of Glastonbury time to recover from the night before and polish their cowboy boots (or at least knock the worst of the mud off their wellies). Everybody knew Kasabian would have an ambitious set planned to see out the show, but all the talk was Dolly, and which ‘special guest’ she might ask to join her on stage.
The queen of country, who said she grew up on a farm just like “Mr Eavis” and so was used to mud, was soon dancing and prancing across the vast stage to her feel-good hits including “Why Don’t You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That”, “Jolene” and soulful “Islands in the Stream”. She may have had a showy sparkling banjo to pluck, but it was her powerful voice that really impressed.
Even “Blue Smoke” (the title track from her new album, which she plugged heavily) was quickly picked up by the crowd, who had clearly never heard it before.
“Here You Come Again” was a big hit too before “Nine to Five” heralded a mass sing-along, beating Metallica and Arcade Fire’s attempts earlier in the weekend.
Earlier in the day, a Warwickshire vocalist Lucy Rose had delighted on the Other Stage. She was clearly nervous in front of such a big crowd, but it was perfect cider and picnic music and her winsome tones (a gravely, faster Laura Marling) will surely get her a bigger slot next year.
Elsewhere The 1975 offered a rocky warm-up to Dolly, with an exuberant, if unpolished and slightly immature, set that baffled gathering Dolly die-hards. Their mud-splattered, sweaty, scraggly appearance could not have been more different from the American superstar who followed.
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Dolly wasn’t the only American star either; she was joined on stage by Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Samora for a rocky “Lay Your Hands On Me”, which she called, “just a conversation with the Lord”. The crowd loved its fast-pace, rocky tempo and slashed guitars, though it was so vast that some at the back will have struggled to know what was going on.
Fans who did battle in to the front were treated to a conversational Dolly, who ended with “I Will Always Love You”.
The Glastonbury hoedown continued with Kasabian, but Dolly will surely know that she brought more than enough country charm to leave Glastonbury smiling. She had just the superstar quality it had been missing.
The Pyramid Stage remained busy for the rest of the day, unlike some stages earlier in the weekend. A few festivalgoers did take the chance to return briefly to their tents, recharging prior to Kasabian’s attempt at taking the Glastonbury crown off Queen Dolly. She had created a shared experience for all, but would the Leicester band create that fist-pumping, head bashing experience that’s need on a Sunday night at Glastonbury?
Those that did take a break missed a seemingly perpetually love-struck Ed Sheeran keep the Pyramid Stage warm as the teenage-heavy audience swayed and sang, while on the Other Stage it was Bombay Bicycle Club who mesmerised with a synth-laden series of crowd-pleasing favourites; perfect material for the late afternoon sunshine (oddly though, a Kate and Wills flag fluttered, surely ironically, in the cooling wind). It fell to vocalist Liz Lawrence to take centre stage to pick up the pace with a faster, more menacing take on some of the band’s more lo-fi tracks.
Back on the Pyramid Stage The Black Keys a made poor first impression, arriving mutely on stage as the crowd swelled prior to the main attraction. In the end though, they offered infectiously simple rock and as the last of the warm lagers and bags of wine were consumed, they had the crowd screaming along to “Gold on the Ceiling”. We also wondered, for the last time, if Kasabian would offer the unifying performance that you want a Sunday night headliner to give.
We needn’t have worried, as it turned out that Metallica and Dolly Parton weren’t the only performers at Glastonbury this weekend who knew how to put on a show or work a crowd, rather than simply play a set.
Kasabian’s booking to close the show at the Pyramid Stage had seen rumbling that the band were not “big enough” in some quarters, but just like with the murmurs against Metallica, these dissenting voices were quickly put down.
The smack-down began with roadies in white boilers suits, a violent opening salvo of tracks and a band that had learnt the art of showmanship, getting the huge crowd to chat a roadie’s name in unison after singing him happy birthday and lining up comedian Noel Fielding to join them on stage. This was dictatorial rock and it won't have been to all tastes, but it was perfect for a crowd that wanted to an excuse to jump around wildly in a field.
By the time of the encore the crowd had swelled yet more, begging comparisons with the Rolling Stones or Dolly Parton’s packed-out show earlier in the day. In the end, it’s probably impossible to tell, but Kasabian certainly led the festival flare count, with bright red candles lighting the crowd.
And in the bars and tents after the performance Glastonbury veterans were quick to admit they never should have doubted the Leicester band’s credentials, seeing as they learned their trade at Glastonbury supporting the like of Bruce Springsteen and the Arctic Monkeys. In short, they’d seen it done properly, and they'd taken notes.
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