It might have the ready-made “legends slot” tag to back up whoever ends up playing it, but the Sunday afternoon gig on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage is no easy task. It takes quite the setlist, and a phenomenal performance on top of that, to win over a crowd of festival-goers trying to hold back the dread of a hangover that’s been in the works for the past four days.
Many musical icons have attempted it over the years, with varying degrees of success. Some particular highlights stick out — Kylie in 2019, Johnny Cash in 1994 and Lionel Richie in 2015 all triumphed in front of the gathered masses. But sitting at the top of the pile? It has to be Dolly Parton.
With most of the attendees’ ears still ringing after a cow-botheringly brutal performance from Metallica the night before, it felt like a set from the country music icon could go one of two ways. But from the second she strode on stage, rhinestone-studded suit glistening in the Somerset sun, it was obvious that her set would be one for the ages.
And even without that visual cue, listening back now to the live album from that afternoon in 2014 (a criminally underrated release, tacked on as a bonus CD to the European version of her album Pure and Simple), it’s clear this was going to be a barnstormer. The 180,000-strong crowd erupt, Parton appears, lets out an excited squeal and launches into a song medley energetic enough to make even the most weary reveller forget they’d spent the past few days sleeping in a damp tent.
From then on, it’s hit after hit: Jolene elicits the first major singalong and Here You Come Again has the whole crowd swaying, as does Islands in the Stream. There are some trademark “only at Glasto” moments too — like the song/rap Parton wrote that very day, paying tribute to the famous mud and all those who worked to clear it. And there are some endearingly bonkers features, such as when Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora appears out of nowhere and delivers some killer guitar work. There’s a joyous rendition of 9 to 5, while I Will Always Love You is the most gloriously corny set closer you could ever wish for.
The fact that Parton’s voice is sublime throughout — some naysayers at the time reckoned she might have been lip-syncing, but we have no time for such heresy — and that she seems genuinely awestruck, giggling like a schoolgirl between songs, makes for one of the most enjoyable albums going. In this current gig-less world, listening back is a wonderful reminder of just how heartening live music can be — especially when both Glasto and Dolly Parton are involved.