"We pulled ourselves back to the front of the line and proved, ‘This is what we’re capable of'.": revisiting R.E.M.'s iconic Glastonbury set 25 years on

REM live at Glastonbury in 1999
(Image credit: Getty Images)

R.E.M. arrived at for their Worthy Farm debut in 1999 on the back of one of the most uncertain periods in their history – well, apart from when they actually split up a decade or so later, anyway. Their drummer and emotional rock Bill Berry had quit after the release of 1996’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi and remaining members Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills had wondered whether they could continue. They did, with Stipe famously reasoning that “a three-legged dog is still a dog, it just has to learn to run differently”. Glastonbury 1999 was where the world was about to find out if the trio could still gallop with the best of them.

There had been a few one-off shows in the run up to it – their first post-Berry record Up had been released the previous October – and their European tour had begun the week before but there was nothing as high-profile as a headline slot at the world’s most famous festival. With former Beck drummer Joey Waronker joining them behind the kit, they knocked it out the park (or farm). It was this writer’s first ever Glastonbury and what a way to see it in – R.E.M’s performance was a glorious, triumphant set that pulled from their rich history with euphoric renditions of Losing My Religion, Everybody Hurts, Man On The Moon et al as well as lighting the way forward. From the moment the swaggering groove of opener Lotus kicks into gear, all was reassured. One of the biggest bands in the world were still one of the best bands in the world.

Speaking on R.E.M.’s official website a few years ago, Stipe looked back on the show as a line in the sand for the Athens, Georgia trio. “I think it was maybe a moment for R.E.M and the UK where we had kind of been forgotten or pushed aside by younger bands,” said the frontman, “and that was a particular moment at Glastonbury where I think we pulled ourselves back to the front of the line and actually proved, ‘This is what we’re capable of. It was a great show for us.”

R.E.M. returned to Somerset just a few years later, headlining again in 2003. “I felt triumphant every time we played Glastonbury,” Stipe recalled. “The band really stepped up. It’s such a beloved and legendary event that whatever stars are aligned for us personally and as a group, we managed to show the best of ourselves at each of the shows we played there.”

The four original members of R.E.M. recently reunited for a one-off performance at their Songwriters Hall Of Fame induction. Watch them kick off their second imperial phase by digging into their inaugural Glastonbury set below:

R.E.M. - Live from Glastonbury Festival, 1999 (Complete BBC Broadcast) #AtHome - YouTube R.E.M. - Live from Glastonbury Festival, 1999 (Complete BBC Broadcast) #AtHome - YouTube
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Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.