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Radio 1’s Big Weekend 2015, review: ‘a celebration of fine music in the fine city’

Originally published by the Daily Telegraph.

Radio 1’s annual Big Weekend has always been the anomaly on the festival circuit: big on acts but short on stages, widely broadcast but exclusive on guest attendance.

An attempt to give local communities a slice of the festival pie typically reserved for the likes of Reading and Glastonbury, this year’s event found its home in Norwich, with more than half of its 50,000 free tickets reserved for locals.

As such, the weekend was marked by a certain sense of community, evident not only from the residents lucky enough to introduce acts onstage but also by Snoop Dogg, who wore a Norwich City FC shirt for his tent-packing performance. Indeed, Earlham Park remained proud and upbeat despite a cancellation from Sam Smith on account of a vocal hemorrhage.

A similar fate was narrowly avoided by Florence Welch, who was forced to preview her energetic album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful in the confines of a chair after breaking her foot onstage at this year’s Coachella. Nevertheless, she admirably channeled her frustration into raw vocal strength, particularly during the live debut of the album’s title track, a brass-filled ode to the British country.

Redemption remained a running theme as her performance gave way to Saturday’s headliners, Muse. By their own admission, the band fared less than favourably when they graced the festival in 2006, but armed with pyrotechnics, giant balloons and a back catalogue rejuvenated by their forthcoming seventh album Drones, their dynamic return was a triumph.

On the basis of sheer audience engagement, however, Foo Fighters emerged as the stronger headliner, condensing twenty years of music into half as many songs for Sunday’s raucous crowd. The band’s headline slot at Glastonbury looms ever closer, but their finishing one-two punch of Best of You and All My Life proved that they’re more than ready for Worthy Farm.

On numerous occasions, Dave Grohl jokingly referred to “Taylor and the Swifts” as “my opening band”, but the pop starlet drew an equally ravenous crowd for her petite yet polished set. An eighties-inflected update of her first UK top 10 single, Love Story, felt right at home between recent hits Blank Space and Shake It Off, both backed by uninhibited crowd karaoke.

But as visitors of the BBC Introducing Stage can attest, Big Weekend isn’t just about the chart-toppers. Of the many Norwich based newcomers that populated the tent, rising rapper Context shone particularly bright, establishing himself as a deserving successor to The Streets’ Mike Skinner.

In moments like these, Big Weekend proved to be far greater than a council co-operated conveyor belt of live music. Rather, it was a celebration – both of fine musicians, new and established, and the fine city itself.

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