Is the UK’s Glastonbury Festival bigger than Coachella?

Glastonbury Festival 2022
Glastonbury Festival 2022 / Dave J Hogan/GettyImages

With the UK’s largest live music event coming up later this month, there is a question mark on just how big the Glastonbury Festival is. How does it resonate and compare on a bigger stage beyond the UK? 

It’s certainly nothing less than massively huge in the UK. The build-up starts well in advance and increases weekly as the event approaches. The festival is broadcast live and on national TV, and radio highlight shows via the BBC. The promotion that brings extensive media coverage means everyone in the UK will be very aware of the festival.  

Huge audiences will tune in to see top acts perform over the airwaves, digitally or online. The BBC coverage, though, is restricted to the UK only for licensing reasons. This certainly doesn’t stop the rest of the world from being aware of Glastonbury as an event. 

In the US, it’s likely that Coachella will be seen as the more significant event of the two.  Set in Southern California, it’s been running since 1999 and is pretty huge, too, with an audience of nearly two hundred thousand.

Coachella 2023 was back in April and spread over two weekends. This year’s headliners were Bad Bunny, Blackpink, Blink-182, and Calvin Harris, with around 150 other acts performing across six stages.

Glastonbury Festival has grown from small beginnings

Glastonbury Festival started much earlier, way back in 1970. Local farmer Michael Eavis decided to use some of his land in Somerset to hold what was then the Pilton Blues and Rock Festival. A much smaller affair altogether at that time.

It’s grown enormously since then, and estimates are that this year's Glastonbury attendance will be over two hundred and ten thousand. The 2023 event runs from Wednesday, June 21, to Monday, June 26. There are more than a thousand acts performing across over one hundred stages, all centered on Worthy Farm. That’s huge.

Famously if the UK weather isn’t kind, which is often the case, you’ll see lots of festival goers wading through and covered in thick mud. Hopes are high for sunny and warm weather this year, even if many relish muddy fields and campsites.

Once again, the Glastonbury 2023 lineup is stellar, with acts from across the world performing. Guns and Roses take top billing on Saturday. The final headline spot in the lineup is Elton John on the main Pyramid stage on Sunday night.

Elton is nearing the end of his lengthy Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which kicked off in September 2018 in Pennsylvania. It's close to ending on July 8 in Stockholm, Sweden, following just over three hundred gigs. The Glastonbury headline appearance will be Elton’s final tour show in the UK and potentially his last ever there. We should expect an emotional set and ending!  

Coachella and Glastonbury Festival are quite different

Glastonbury is perhaps a bit less sparkle and glitter than Coachella. The often present mud, grime, and more basic camping, when compared with much more guaranteed sunshine and glamour in California, sees to that. 

Again Glastonbury has less obvious celebrity attendance and stunning Instagram moments than Coachella. But the stars are at Glastonbury in good numbers, and there’s plenty of social media sharing of festival fun images too. Over the years, the main acts there have been perhaps better known to worldwide audiences than those in California.

Regarding which is the biggest, let’s be clear, neither would get in the world's top ten. Audiences there range from close to 0.5m up to an astonishing 3m for Vienna’s Donauinselfest. Glastonbury and Coachella are pretty unique in the magical experience they provide for those quick enough to get hold of the much-desired tickets. 

When comparing audiences, there are plenty of cautionary notes about festivals being notoriously vague in sharing TV audience numbers. And, of course, there are many different ways of counting attendees over the several days a festival runs for. 

In the case of these two, it’s very close on crowd numbers, though Glastonbury has much more in the way of performers and stages. On that scale, the UK festival has a definite lead. There are so many other factors above to consider, and perhaps it's best to leave the debate open for future years and enjoy the events and the fabulous music.

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