The best festival performances of all time

11 June 2023, 16:00

Iconic festival performances: Hendrix at Woodstock; Pulp at Glastonbury; Nirvana at Reading
Iconic festival performances: Hendrix at Woodstock; Pulp at Glastonbury; Nirvana at Reading. Picture: MediaPunch Inc/Alamy Stock Photo/Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Were you at any of these? Do you wish you were at any of these? Let's take a look at some of the greatest performances ever witnessed in a field or beneath canvas.

  1. Arctic Monkeys - Reading, 2005

    Their debut single I Bet The You Look Good On The Dancefloor hadn’t even been released when Alex Turner and his merry men played to a packed New Bands tent. "Don't believe the hype, Reading," Alex Turner muttered, but he was fighting a losing battle.

    Arctic Monkeys Reading Festival 2005 (When The Sun Goes Down)

  2. Nirvana - Reading Festival,1992

    Nobody knew it at the time, but Reading was to be the band’s final UK appearance. With rumours of Kurt Cobain’s shaky health circulating, he took the piss magnificently by being pushed onto the stage in a wheelchair… and then delivered one of the group’s landmark performances.

    Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (Live at Reading 1992)

  3. The Killers - Glastonbury, 2004

    Hidden away on the NME stage early on the Saturday evening were the Las Vegas wonders. Fresh from releasing their debut album Hot Fuss, the buzz about them was huge - as evidenced by the huge crowd that struggled to get into the tent to see them. The lights cut out during Mr Brightside, then came back on during All These Things I’ve Done. Drama! But what drama!

    The Killers - Mr Brightside (Glastonbury 2004)

  4. Radiohead - Glastonbury 1997

    Just as the rain and the mud had almost washed away all goodwill at Worthy Farm, on came Thom Yorke and co to deliver a blinding set a mere month after the release of OK Computer. Demonstrating their supreme confidence, they opened with Lucky, closed with Street Spirit and even threw in Creep for good measure. Who needs sunshine?

    Radiohead - Karma Police (Glastonbury 1997)

  5. The Libertines - Reading And Leeds, 2010

    Who’d have thunk it? After years of estrangement, it was all back on, and while they cautiously appeared just before headliners Arcade Fire, any doubts were cleared away with a rousing and often emotional set.

    The Libertines - What Became of The Likely Lads Live Reading

  6. Pulp - Glastonbury, 1995

    Talk about the changing of the guard - with The Stone Roses pulling out, the official death knell of baggy was rung when the Britpop heroes stepped in as subs. They played Disco 2000 and Sorted For E’s And Wizz for the first time, making this a major moment in the summer of Britpop (listen to the total lack of response Disco 2000 gets from the crowd!)

    Pulp - Common People (Glastonbury 1995)

  7. The Smiths - Glastonbury, 1984

    Glastonbury was making the transition between hippie haven to rock stronghold and yer ‘Miffs were at the forefront of the change. Playing early on the main stage, they gave sneak previews of the forthcoming Meat Is Murder album (Nowhere Fast, Barbarism Begins At Home) and chucked out a few hits: This Charming Man and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now included. You should have been there!


  8. Jimi Hendrix - Woodstock, 1969

    The grandaddy of all festivals, this sprawling free event in New York State marked the end of the 1960s and a coming together of like-minded people. And, if they were still awake at dawn on the Monday morning, they could have seen Jimi play one of the most iconic festival sets in history, tearing through his hits and a scorching version of The Star Spangled Banner.

    Jimi Hendrix - The Star Spangled Banner [ American Anthem ] ( Live at Woodstock 1969 )

  9. Metallica - Download, 2003

    Sunday afternoon at second stage at Donington was not the most likely of places to see one of the biggest bands in the world, but it happened. The huge stack of Marshall amps was a bit of a giveaway as to who the “special guests” were going to be, and they did not disappoint.

    Metallica Live @ Download Festival 01 06 20032

  10. Oasis - Glastonbury, 1994

    A couple of months before Definitely Maybe arrived and changed the world forever, Liam and Noel scraped themselves onto the NME Stage on Sunday afternoon and unleashed a stunning display of arrogance, confidence and so much Manchester swagger people didn’t know where to look.

    Oasis - Live Forever (Glastonbury 1994)