The 10 weirdest festival bookings ever

Katy Perry, Lethal Bizzle, James Hetfield and a Womble
(Image credit: Getty (Katy Perry: Noel Vasquez ; Lethal Bizzle: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage ; James Hetfield: Jim Dyson ; The Wombles: Samir Hussein))

Booking festivals can be a tough ol' job. Fall back on reliable, heavyweight headliners and people will accuse you of playing it safe or pandering to past glories. Take a gamble on something a bit fresher or just a little different, and you risk alienating your most loyal customers and angering the purists.

That said, every so often, there is a festival booking that confuses just about everyone. Be it a genre-heavy event booking an artist well outside its usual remit or a booking that was just painfully in the wrong place at the wrong time, festival history is littered with surprising lineup experiments. Some worked out. Some most definitely didn't. All of them were certainly memorable.

With that all said, here are ten of the most bizarre, the most surprising and the most straight-up ridiculous festival bookings ever. 

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Katy Perry at Warped Tour 2008

Even with pop punk and metalcore becoming extra shiny and streamlined around the end of the 00s, it seems unfathomable that pop superstar Katy Perry could have spent a summer slumming it on Warped Tour alongside the likes of Paramore, Bring Me The Horizon and The Dillinger Escape Plan. But, with a backing band in tow and second album One Of The Boys packing a slightly rockier thump than has characterised most of her music, Perry found herself quite at home on punk rock's most iconic touring festival, playing energetic, seven-song sets that must have gone down well with organisers - she was invited to be part of Warped's 15th anniversary celebrations in LA the following year.

Lethal Bizzle at Download 2008

Even in a world where grime has become an all-conquering monolith, it'd be hard to imagine an artist like Lethal Bizzle strolling on stage at Download, the UK's premier rock festival. So, in 2008, when Bizzle was booked for the second stage, it's safe to say eyebrows stayed firmly raised. Unfortunately, Donington wasn't feeling open-minded that day - poor ol Biz got pelted with bottles, cups, food and, in a moment the man himself lamented, a pot of yoghurt. Ultimately, though, the rapper triumphed, winning over (most of) the crowd with a set so contagiously energetic that he had people demanding an encore when leaving the stage. Fair play. 

Metallica at Glastonbury 2014

It shouldn't have been weird to see Metallica's name sitting atop the Glastonbury bill in 2014, and yet, with metal practically non-existent on the festival's lineup through most of its history, it felt like a true novelty. Naturally, Metallica rose to the occasion, proving that metal belonged at Worthy Farm and paving the way for the likes of Motörhead, Bring Me The Horizon, Babymetal, Gojira, Entombed, Venom Prison and more to play Glasto in the following years.

Salt-N-Pepa at Woodstock 1994

Given the recent attention afforded to that Woodstock 99 documentary, it'd be easy to overlook the fact that another colossal and messy - though, ultimately, far less controversial - mega-festival took place under the Woodstock banner just five years earlier. Woodstock 94 might have boasted one of the most diverse lineups you'd find anywhere in the 90s, with everyone from Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jimmy Cliff and The Cranberries getting involved, but that still didn't stop chart-friendly dance-rap duo Salt-N-Pepa sticking out like a sore thumb. As it happens, they absolutely smashed it - even the most cynical Gen X-er couldn't help but be swayed by their energy and class.

Daphne And Celeste at Reading 2000

Daphne and Celeste's Reading 2000 set may have only lasted a matter of minutes, but it will forever be etched into UK festival lore. The teen-pop twosome seemed like a bizarre addition to a lineup heavy on metal and pop punk, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, they got roundly booed and pelted with litter when they arrived on stage. They stuck it out for two songs before the assault of noise and rubbish finally got too much for them, so they deserve major credit for that.

Björn Again at Sonisphere 2009

How do you hype up an excitable crowd of tens of thousands of rock and metal fans at the first ever Sonisphere, taking place at one of rock's spiritual UK homes in Knebworth? You book an ABBA tribute band, obviously. Gamely, Björn Again included a cover of Metallica's Enter Sandman in their set to try and curry favour with with the Sonisphere crowd, but they needn't have gone that far - everyone was throwing shapes within the opening moments of Waterloo. An unlikely success.

The Wombles at Glastonbury 2011

A Glastonbury booking so controversial and dastardly that even relentlessly jovial festival founder Michael Eavis admitted to it being "a bit of a mistake". Alright, so it wasn't that heinous, but was anyone really asking for The Wombles at Glasto?! Giving a prized Sunday afternoon slot to a novelty band based on a 70s kids TV show wasn't the most cutting edge move ever, but believe it or not, The Wombles filled the Avalon tent out that day, so what the fuck do we know?

50 Cent at Reading 2004

In fairness to Reading, this shouldn't have been anywhere near as 'controversial' as it ended up. In years gone by, the likes of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and Fiddy's own mentor, Eminem, had all played prestigious main stage slots at the festival. For some reason, though, 50 Cent was deemed a step too far. Maybe he was considered 'too mainstream'. Maybe it was because he was wedged between 90s/00s rock heavyweights Placebo and Green Day. Whatever the reason, 50 Cent and his crew were on the end of a bottling so vicious that they vacated the stage after less than half an hour. Oh dear.

Robert Plant at Festival In The Desert 2003

Given his fascination with the roots of blues music and the far-reaching influences that have moulded much of his post-Zeppelin work, it's by no means a colossal stretch of the imagination to think that Robert Plant might fancy his chances at an event like Festival In The Desert. Still, a Led Zeppelin legend appearing, bare-foot, at a festival in Mali dedicated to bringing together tribal nomads from across the Sahara is quite the event in itself. Since Plant's appearance in 2003, the likes of U2's Bono and Blur's Damon Albarn have also made the epic trek to the festival, which is currently on hiatus due to ongoing political unrest in the area.

Kevin Rowland at Reading 1999

When the frontman of Dexy Midnight Runners made his first public appearance in nearly a decade at Reading 1999, many didn't know what to expect. It's probably safe to say those in attendance did not expect Rowland to turn up in a dress and stockings, gyrating around the stage with a pair of similarly scantily-clad female dancers. Unfortunately, the crowd wasn't open to Rowland's new image, and made it well known courtesy of bottles and vocal abuse. "On the third song, I actually stopped and said 'look I'm singing to the best of my ability here'" he told BBC Radio years later. "'If anyone next to you is throwing a bottle, please stop them.' And half the audience applauded...Then we went off and it felt like a triumph!"

Kevin Rowland at Reading

(Image credit: Getty)

Chase & Status at Download 2012

Dance music is hardly a total stranger to Download. The Prodigy have played three times. Pendulum twice. And all those sets went down an absolute storm. But, when arena drum 'n' bass heavyweights Chase & Status were booked to subheadline the main stage in 2012, many just weren't having it. Given that The Prodigy were headlining that night, you can certainly understand the logic of booking another big dance act right under them. That said, Chase & Status have never crossed over with rock fans in the same way Pendulum and The Prodigy have, and with Machine Head - a band many longtime Download goers were desperate to see headline - asked to play beneath them that day, there was a certain resentment swirling around the internet in the weeks leading to their set. Most of which evaporated as soon as they actually played, of course. 

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He is also probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.