Glastonbury 2023 Was the Happiest Place on Earth

Carly Rae Jepsen, Lil Nas X, Arctic Monkeys and more at England's most iconic festival — where fans sing along to riffs and rave during the daytime

Photo: Stephen Carlick

BY Stephen CarlickPublished Jun 28, 2023

So you survived your first Glastonbury, did you? Congratulations. You've made it to the next level: you sort of know how to get from the Pyramid Stage to the South East Corner; you have learned where the cleanest toilets are, a bit; you know to pronounce it Glastonb'ry, not Glastonberry.

But you know how it goes: the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. So, here are a few more lessons from the farm, learned from the things we saw this year. 

Carly Rae Jepsen

Yes, this is the lesson. Sorry! I'm just a conduit, and the lesson is: Carly Rae Jepsen. Go see her, whenever you can. Bring poppers to a festival and do them right before the big choruses, not that anyone has tried it. 

On Friday at Glastonbury (June 23), where she commanded just as ardent an audience as she does in Canada, she played a perfect selection of songs from Dedicated ("Now That I Found You," "Too Much") and E•MO•TION ("Run Away with Me," "I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance"), and debuted her new song "Shy Boy," already the sexiest jam in her whole oeuvre. When her set was over, I felt sad right away that there wouldn't be any more Carly Rae Jepsen at Glastonbury.

The Glastonbury Mood Cannot Be Soured

But, obviously, my sadness about Jeppo was short-lived. This is going to sound like an overstatement, but it isn't: Glastonbury is possibly the happiest music festival in the world. 

Maybe it's because British people are only happy on holiday, but when you step onto the farm, you will — and I did — hear people literally saying things like, "I'm so happy we're here together." In group chats after the festival, it's normal — traditional, even — to text your friends to let them know how much they mean to you, how lucky you felt to be at the festival with them. 

During Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) on Sunday (June 25), I watched a man and his son, roughly 60-ish and 30-ish, respectively, tearfully embracing; his son, it turns out, was a performer at this year's festival, and it all started because his father taught him a Cat Stevens song on the guitar – "Father and Son", obviously – at a young age. The son bringing his father to Glastonbury was their full-circle moment.

And, to quote a friend: "I think Glastonbury might be the only time I feel pure joy all year." So, you know — it's a real thing, even if people feel it in different ways.

Day Raving Is Actually Good

Last year, I watched Glasto-goers fully raving to drum 'n' bass at, like, 1 p.m. at Silver Hayes, and couldn't quite understand why — I mean, drugs (obviously), but even so. This year, with the late Friday afternoon stretching ahead, and with only a single cider between us and total sobriety, we decided to catch some of Jayda G's set at the Levels. As it turns out, raving during the day, the sun glowing low in the 6 p.m. sky, the music joyously loud, is just as hypnotizing as in a dark club in the early hours. Push into the crowd just enough that you're out of the walking channels, surrounded by people having just as a great time as you. 

Note for Canadians: you might happen to ask for a toke of somebody's joint, only to find that it's just a hand-rolled cigarette; that is why they looked so confused handing it to you. Don't panic — you can smile and politely explain. Cultural differences are worth celebrating!

Make the Most of Golden Hour

Look, I know this isn't my secret — ask basically anyone in the film industry, and many beyond. But good lord, is this ever Glastonbury's time to shine: the brutal heat of the day is over, the night's potential stretches ahead of you, and some of unsung heroes of the fest are just starting their sets, to either hundreds or tens of thousands of festivalgoers that have never looked better in their entire lives. 

I caught Steve Earle as he played a gorgeous early evening set at the Acoustic Stage, but it wasn't just the beams of sunlight pouring in that made the 68-year-old's set poignant; he spoke briefly about losing his son Justin Townes Earle at 38 to a fentanyl overdose, too, telling the audience it left "a hole I'll have to walk around for the rest of my life." Less poignant: Lizzo, that same hour, playing a cover of "Yellow" by Coldplay, an attempt at the most "Glastonbury" thing an American could think of that was so misguided it became charming again. Or was it the gorgeous sunlight that redeemed it? Hard to say.

Rick Astley Wishes He Was Morrissey, and So Do We

I'm not ashamed to say that my favourite set at Glastonbury this year was Rick Astley with the Blossoms, covering the songs of the Smiths. Yes, you read that correctly: the larger-than-life voice behind "Never Gonna Give You Up" singing in a cornflower blue blazer, a quiff and glasses, waving flowers and gesturing grandly while an audience lost their minds to "This Charming Man," "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "Cemetry Gates," "Ask," "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," "Panic," "How Soon Is Now?" and, obviously, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." No Morrissey, but all of his dramatic flair. Such a heavenly way to die!

Find the Good Food (and Eat It Again)

If there's one thing Glastonbury is not known for, it's culinary delights: a friend of mine lamented that even Tea & Toast, a food stand dedicated to the only foodstuffs Britons truly love, couldn't do toast right; elsewhere, I ate a burrito so wet that during one bite it sprung a trickle. So if you find something delicious – especially if it's a vegetable (you will not see very many of these) – you go back again the next day. In the Worthy View camping area, I fell in love with a breakfast bap so delicious – peppery seitan bacon, grilled halloumi, tomato chilli jam, garlic mayo and crunchy lettuce – that I got it every single morning. I do not have any regrets.

Dress Correctly ("Wellies" Part Two)

I say Part Two here because I spoke at length last year about the importance of wearing wellington boots to Glastonbury. Now, I'm toying with the formula a bit: just wear the right footwear. Last year, I hauled a gigantic pair of rain boots to the festival and back, only for it not to rain once. This year, after checking the forecast first, I took a calculated gamble: I brought a pair of comfortable sneakers and, in case it did happen to rain a little, a crappy pair of Vans knockoffs. If it rained one of the days — and it didn't seem like it would — I didn't mind sacrificing these to the mud, and I could change back into my other pair the next day. 

Good news: it didn't rain, and I was glad now to have overpacked. I did absolutely destroy my arches by walking in flat shoes for 30,000 steps a day (Arctic Monkeys on the Pyramid Stage to Bimini Bon Boulash at must-see Glastonbury nightspot NYC Downlow is a long way back and forth), so maybe wear better shoes than me. But I didn't get wet! If I could it all over again, I'd have titled this lesson "check the weather," but it is too late for that now.

See Things You Like That You Wouldn't Pay for Independently

I'm not a big enough fan to pay for a ticket to a Lil Nas X or the Chicks show, but they were two of the festival highlights for me. Lil Nas X's MONTERO has several enduring hits ("INDUSTRY BABY," baby!), and "Old Town Road" doesn't sound like a novelty song live; it's gargantuan. 

The Chicks were even better, playing a Top 5 festival set that showed their veteran status. "Ready to Run," "Cowboy Take Me Away" and "Goodbye Earl" from 1999's Fly were all major hits, but it was a cover of Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons" and then a rendition of "Not Ready to Make Nice" ( which doubled down on the pro-immigrant, pro-trans stance of "March March" right before it) that provided the set's emotional core. These are the moments that make a festival; take a chance on the artists you like but only know a few songs from.

Do Not Be Afraid to Sing Along – Even to the Riffs

No people on Earth love to sing along to a riff more than Europeans. Not just lyrics; riffs. It's a central part of football (soccer) culture: Italians turned "Seven Nation Army" into "bah bah BAH bah bah bahh bahhh" in 2006 when they won the World Cup, and Brits have done it with the riff from Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" and many more for decades. 

So it's no surprise that they are, were, in full voice during Glastonbury: not just for the lyrics to every song from Elton John's towering Sunday night headlining slot, which rained ash the fireworks were so bombastic, but during the keyboard stabs of "Crocodile Rock," too. They sang most of the riffs, too, from Arctic Monkeys' headline set on Friday, most notably those from "Fluorescent Adolescent."

I'm not knocking it; if anything, North Americans should take note. Why don't we appreciate riffs more? Should you find yourself at Glastonbury (or any show in the UK, really), take part and put your whole voice into it — even if the singer's isn't. 

Plan Your Journey – and Follow Through

If you plan a car ride home, don't sleep through your alarm – you will be stuck in a 90-minute wait for a bus that takes 90 minutes to get to Bristol, then you will need a 90-minute train from Bristol to London, and then almost an hour's commute across London to your place. Stay up all night if you have to. What's one more, anyway?

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