‘Are you not entertained?’ Russell Crowe’s shockingly good set epitomises the spirit of Glastonbury

There’s something heartening about seeing Crowe live out his rock-star dreams in front of a large and adoring crowd  (russellcrowe/X/AP)
There’s something heartening about seeing Crowe live out his rock-star dreams in front of a large and adoring crowd (russellcrowe/X/AP)

He may have had a Beautiful Mind, but does he have a beautiful voice? The idea that Russell Crowe can’t sing is one of those snarky takes that’s been etched into stone, thanks largely to the Australian actor’s breathy Javert in Les Misérables (2012). And yet, as he marched out onto Glastonbury’s tented Acoustic Stage on a sun-baked Saturday afternoon, to perform with his Indoor Garden Party music project, you would have thought he was every inch the rock star.

It’s easy to be cynical about Crowe’s reinvention as a blues-rock crooner; the words “vanity project” hung in the air like the dust that was, by this point in the weekend, filling festivalgoers’ lungs in every mud-caked thoroughfare.

The Nice Guys star, a busker in his youth, is not the first actor to have reached for the mic at Worthy Farm. Jeff Goldblum regaled Glastonbury crowds in 2019 with a set of easy-listening jazz numbers — as well as the theme from Jurassic Park, because, well, this was Jeff Goldblum after all. But Crowe, to his credit, took the brief seriously: there were to be no Gladiator motifs, no rotely warbled “One Day More”.

Ahead of the gig, he told Sky News: “Chuck all the celebrity bulls*** aside, or the fame for doing some other job. You’ll see a serious band and it’s full of monster musicians who know what they’re doing.”

Watching him charge enthusiastically (if a little bit David Brentishly) through covers of songs such as Dire Straits’s “Romeo and Juliet” and a boldly re-arranged “Folsom Prison Blues”, as well as his own compositions, I found it hard not to be swept along by the pure exuberant eccentricity of it. Speaking between songs, Crowe was incredibly charismatic, delivering name-dropping anecdotes; doing impressions; embarking on an unexpected rant against the city of Southampton. (And his singing was pretty good!) This was, in a peculiar way, exactly what Glastonbury is all about.

The festival’s Acoustic Stage is a billing that, for many musicians, represents a lifelong career goal. For Crowe to stroll into a plum set simply – or, if we’re being generous, partly – by virtue of his Hollywood celebrity, represents on some level the creeping commercialisation of the UK’s foremost left-wing, ostensibly anti-capitalist music festival. But in another sense, there’s something heartening about seeing Crowe live out his rock-star dreams in front of a large and adoring crowd.

Glastonbury has always been a music-first festival, but it’s never just about the music. The yearly feral scramble for tickets always takes place long before the lineup is announced; people want to come for the community, the enormity, the vibes. It celebrates not just musicians but the abstract and specific joy of live music, the sheer vibrant act of performance. Crowe, bearded and imposing – one might even say gladiatorial – was as alive and present on stage as he’s ever been.

Earlier in the weekend, before any of the big acts had played so much as a note, the festival’s founder (and formerly the nation’s most famous farmer, until Jeremy Clarkson purloined his crown) Sir Michael Eavis came out onto the Park Stage to perform a short set of cover versions – Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past” and Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” among them.

Eavis, now 88 years old, sat in a wheelchair and sang words from printed lyric sheets; it was profoundly moving. Like Crowe, Eavis is no great singer. (Though also like Crowe, he was girded by a group of uber-competent instrumentalists.) But music is often about more than just God-given pipes. It is an art form that is, or should be, available to anybody. Can’t write music? Play covers. Can’t sing? Just give it the old college try.

Big, glittery acts such as Dua Lipa or Coldplay may dominate the headlines and TV coverage, but the festival belongs just as much to the unknowns. A couple of hours before Crowe’s set, the Acoustic Stage also played host to Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. You most likely haven’t heard of them: they’re a band comprising professional genre novelists, playing earnest if unvarnished covers of big, foot-stomping hits: Talking Heads; Elton John; The Beatles.

Wearing a bespoke shirt reading “The Gang Plays Glastonbury” in the style of an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode title, singer Chris Brookmyre looked genuinely buzzing to be there, as did the rest of them. They’re one of hundreds of barely known acts to litter Worthy Farm’s myriad stages; this giddy excitement to be playing there is something they all have in common. Among artists perhaps even more than punters, Glastonbury is a superspreader event for broad, goofy grins.

Crowe’s set obviously did not have the same power to it as Eavis’s; the history and significance of the octogenarian organiser imbued his appearance with a rare and delicate heft. But it was, in its own way, a potent deconstruction, an eschewing of celebrity in favour of something real, and immediate, and earnest. Actors spend their lives wearing masks; Crowe here was showing his real face. “Can he sing?” is not the right question at this point. So here’s a better one: Are you not entertained?