Glastonbury Expectations vs. Reality: Underwhelming Headliners, Celebs Galore and Plenty of Hidden Gems

Having come of age in the Tumblr indie sleaze era of the early 2010s, I’d always wanted to go to Glastonbury Festival. My mood boards were littered with photos of Alexa Chung traversing Worthy Farm’s muddy grounds wearing a mini skirt and wellies, and I fantasized about being part of the seemingly miles-long, flag-laden crowd that got to watch an iconic British band like Arctic Monkeys or Blur light up the Pyramid stage. So, when I moved from L.A. to London last year, I knew where I would be come the last weekend of June.

As the festival approached, I purchased my first pair of Hunter boots, haphazardly packed camping gear and meticulously picked out my outfits to match the vibe of each headliner: Dua Lipa, Coldplay (for the fifth time, a Glastonbury record) and SZA. Though the lineup wasn’t completely my cup of tea, I was determined to make the most of the experience — and five days and 66 miles of walking later (yes, really), I did just that. Sure, not everything turned out like my teenage dream — I certainly won’t be camping again anytime soon, and all three headliners in general underwhelmed me — but, as it turns out, some things were even better. Read on to see how my Glastonbury expectations compared to reality.

More from Variety

Expectation: Camping is optional, like at Coachella.

Reality: It really isn’t. Technically, there are small inns and hotels in the nearby town, but with Worthy Farm covering a whopping 1,500 acres, it’s hard enough to navigate the festival site. Plus, with sets happening until the wee hours of the morning, you’d end up with a heavy case of FOMO if you left the grounds (trust me, staying out until 3 a.m. to see Fatboy Slim was totally worth it).

Expectation: Rain is pretty much a given, so prepare to be drenched in mud.

Reality: Surprisingly, not necessarily. I had all the essentials — the aforementioned wellies, a compact umbrella, a raincoat — but the closest this year’s Glastonbury came to a storm was a light sprinkle on Friday morning. However, it wasn’t perfect weather the whole time. It reached as low as 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) at night — and, even without precipitation, I still found myself covered in a layer of dirt.

Expectation: Attendees will be mostly young people.

Reality: When Glastonbury says all ages, they mean it. I was shocked by how many families and children were on the farm — not kidding, I saw a baby that looked like it had been freshly born and plenty of toddlers running free. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were many an octogenarian roaming the grounds at an impressive speed, and plenty of ages in between.

This may play a role in how the festival traditionally books its acts, which was made clear to me on Sunday night when SZA’s headlining set at Pyramid was half-empty and the National’s at the Other stage was packed. “Do you know who she is?” a middle-aged woman asked me as SZA was performing, then left shortly after. From the looks of it, the median age of attendees at SZA’s set was no older than 25. For the festival’s longevity, it’s a smart play to book someone popular with Gen Z, but in this case it seems to have backfired.

Expectation: The headlining sets will be the best you see at the fest.

Reality: They won’t. Don’t get me wrong, they were all proficient performers, and there isn’t a festival-going experience that beats being in a massive crowd at the Pyramid stage. But, to me personally, all three of the headliners fell flat.

Dua Lipa’s Friday night kickoff was enjoyable to watch, with plenty of outfit changes and choreo, and it’s clear that her stage presence has improved impressively in the past few years. However, it felt almost too well-rehearsed — with no time allotted for any raw, real moments — and, next to her “Future Nostalgia” material, “Radical Optimism” just doesn’t have the same spark. Coldplay’s headlining slot was by far the most packed I saw the Pyramid all weekend, with the crowd going all the way back to the campsites — but as someone who is only really a fan of their earlier work, it was never going to hit it out of the park for me. Bringing Michael J. Fox out for “Fix You” was a sweet touch, though. SZA had the potential to be great, but as I mentioned above, she just didn’t have the draw to make it a truly epic show. In addition to the lack of people in attendance, she was also plagued by mic problems throughout the whole set — and unfortunately, not enough of the crowd knew the words to fill in the blanks.

Where I found gold at Glastonbury was in the little things, like a set at the fest’s hidden-up-a-hill Strummerville stage from the band Fat Dog, who had the whole crowd moshing to a guitar-driven cover of Benny Benassi and the Biz’s “Satisfaction”; stopping by a 2 p.m. show from two-man punk band Soft Play, only to be so entranced by Isaac Holman’s frantic stand-up drumming that I stayed the rest of the time; and a DJ set from Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who played Charli XCX and Lorde’s “Girl, So Confusing” with a completely straight face. There were also some pretty great big things, like Charli XCX’s “Partygirl” DJ set with Robyn and Romy, which required waiting in an extremely chaotic line for an hour and proved to me that she will one day headline Glastonbury; and Avril Lavigne’s Sunday afternoon slot that drew one of this year’s largest crowds and had people singing “Sk8er Boi” long after she left stage.

Expectation: You’ll see a lot of celebs.

Reality: In my case, yes. Having a press pass has its perks, like getting access to the hospitality campsite and backstage area where stars mingle about. But even those without a way in seem to have an easy time spotting celebs — since everyone is forced to camp, Glastonbury becomes a great equalizer. If Coachella is all about glamour, this fest is exactly the opposite.

I spotted Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones heading to a set with friends. Cara Delevingne and Anya Taylor-Joy asked me if the ridiculously long queue I was waiting in was for coffee, and then proceeded to grab burgers instead. Chris Martin took a selfie with a man dressed like a “Despicable Me” Minion as I walked back to my campsite at 2:30 a.m. Louis Tomlinson of One Direction fame brought a TV into his campsite to watch England beat Slovakia in the Euros, and invited his tent neighbors to join. But my Glastonbury dreams didn’t really come true until deep in the crowd at LCD Soundsystem’s set, when I started dancing to “I Can Change” and looked up to see Alexa Chung, in an all-yellow festival-chic outfit straight off my mood board, swaying along too.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.