Feature: The Death of the Festival Headliner

So, another year of festivals completed. Having attended Reading along with a host of smaller local festivals, and having read about and seen the TV coverage of Glastonbury, I was left with the feeling that maybe the notion of the true ‘headliner’ at such events has had its day – either that or maybe this just wasn’t the year for it.

I’ll start with Reading as thats the biggest festival I attended this year, with the three headliners being Guns ‘n’ Roses, Arcade Fire and Blink-182.

On first inspection, only one of these leapt out a bona fide show stopper, which to me is what being headliner is all about; something that will draw people in whether the casual music listener or the die-hard fan, and that was Guns ‘n’ Roses. And, despite all the stories surrounding the band that really should be known as ‘Axl & Co’, things had seemed promising, with reports of a very talented group of musicians playing a bunch of undeniably classic songs, along with some stuff from the recent album Chinese Democracy.

Sadly when the band eventually hit the stage (an hour and half late – thanks Axl!), though the music was there, it was one of the most heartless displays of rock ‘n’ roll I have ever witnessed. This was just compounded by the crowd’s reaction; hearing 80,000 people boo is quite a sound, and sadly many, myself included, were left majorly dissatisfied by the Friday headliners.

So, I thought to myself, that wasn’t so good, but Blink-182 should be a fun, upbeat crowd-pleaser on Sunday.

Maybe I came to this show with rose-tinted specs having attended my first Reading festival in 2000 with the express purpose of seeing Blink, but I don’t think my disappointment can be put down solely to fanciful memories.

While bassist Mark and drummer Travis were both on fine form, the band and the show were let down disastrously by Tom De Longe. Whether he was actually out of his tree, or just acting it, was unclear. And it really didn’t matter, as either way his performance was abysmal. It felt like watching a member of an under-rehearsed teenage band playing their first show. Maybe this was intended as charm to remind us they were a ‘punk’ band in their heyday, but if it was, it sadly didn’t work.

So another headliner and another disappointment.