By Carmen Lees | FM Music Columnist
2023 was the year that 76-year-old musical legend Elton John headlined Glastonbury Festival, making history and bringing together a variety of fans of all ages. Yet surprisingly, the sea of faces that gathered to watch Eltons Last UK performance were mainly younger, who may not have even been born when Elton was at his prime within the music industry.
Is it now more common for a festival line up to include names that were huge in the 70s & 80s, bringing acts that dominated the world into the musical history of these festivals themselves. With aging voices and more restricted showmanship, these acts are still able to deliver a powerhouse performance and have millions of people rushing to the stages. Elton is not the first older act to be asked to headline Glastonbury, with Beatles icon Paul McCartney headlining the previous year on the Worthy Farm’s Pyramid Stage.
Festivals stereotypically are events targeted and marketed at Gen Z and are one of the most popular activities in the Summer. With an excuse to let loose and party, they are a social event that offer a space for young people to come together. Winning the hearts and loyalty of many young people, you’ll often find those who haven’t had a year in their teenage/adult life not attending festivals like Glastonbury.
Glastonbury is known for showcasing those who are dominating the current music industry, bringing the best of current pop culture to Somerset.
Contraditicating this selling point, Mumford & Sons are the only recent British festival headliners that have released an album within the last five years. Are British festivals now no longer aiming at selling to younger people? It seems that way.
Whatever the target market may now be, the youth are still being drawn to these older headline acts. Maybe it’s nostalgia or the thought of being part of musical history. It could be the excitement of having an opportunity to see in person some of the British acts that caused media frenzies across the UK during the 70s/80s, fully knowing that we haven’t seen such dominating musical acts since.
There’s current debate that shining a light on acts that have had their prime time is currently taking opportunities away from the young talent rising in the British music scene. Almost completely removing a space that was always designed to fuel the current chart topping acts strips the chance for other young talent to follow in these legends footsteps.
One element I really admired about the Elton John set is that the pop-icon used his platform at Glastonbury to invite younger acts onto the stage, showcasing the next generation of Elton approved hits. Joining him live, Jacob Lusk, Stephen Sanchez, Brandon Flowers and Rina Sawayama took to the stage where they were just as celebrated and supported by the crowd.
Is this change in line ups now redefining festival culture? Currently yes, but I’m not too mad about it.
As much as I love upcoming talent within the UK, there is something magical about capturing Eltons last UK performance or Paul McCartney’s first and last headline Glastonbury set. With a music industry that is now changing and representing a scene driven by popularity, these older acts set an example of what British Music really represents.
I find myself being proof of this as I’m still singing Bennie & The Jets.
Words by Carmen Lees