An insider’s guide to American Express presents BST Festival
London’s celebrated festival, American Express presents BST Festival returns this summer with a record-breaking sold-out series featuring P!NK, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Lana Del Rey and more
It’s ten years now since British Summer Time launched in London, and what a decade it’s been. The daytime festival, one of the UK’s finest, has played host to Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and no fewer than four shows by the Rolling Stones. But this year is a whopper, with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the E street Band, Guns N’ Roses, P!NK and BLACKPINK competing for your attention over three weekends from 23 June to 9 July. Here, you’ll find our one-stop shop for music tips and practical hacks to help you make the most of the full ten days at this most epic of festivals.
The unmissable acts
DAY 1 (Friday 23 June): ALL THINGS ORCHESTRAL
Must-see: This was the first ever classical day at American Express presents BST Festival and it set an extremely high bar. The host was Myleene Klass, who introduced a bill of beloved classical and movie music performed by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, with special guest Alfie Boe on tenor duty.
DAY 2 (Saturday 24 June): P!NK
Must-see: It’s no mystery why BST booked P!NK twice this year: the rule-breaking US pop star, riding high with her latest album Trustfall, is a dazzling performer with a colossal voice and a penchant for on-stage acrobatics. She was joined on both nights by Gwen Stefani, whose playful shows have lost none of their energy two decades into her solo career.
Hidden gem: Since her 2021 breakthrough with ‘ABCDEFU’, Texan artist Gayle has been fulfilling her promise with a string of grungy, irreverent alt-rock singles – and she knows how to command a stage.
DAY 3 (Sunday 25 June): P!NK
Must-see: Along with Pink and Gwen Stefani (see above), the big draw here was Tinashe, whose delightfully freewheeling approach to R&B is showcased on her latest album, 333, and whose propulsive stage show capitalises on razor-sharp dance moves.
Hidden gems: Family connections may have aided her rise, but Nell Mescal, brother of Paul of Normal People fame, has songwriting talent to burn, as latest single ‘In My Head’ movingly confirms. Also on the up, and contending with heartbreak in her addictive songs, is Hertfordshire alt-pop talent Beren Olivia.
DAY 4 (Friday 30 June): GUNS N’ ROSES
Must-sees: Obviously everyone wanted to catch Guns N’ Roses, who can still summon up that unholy hard-rock magic after all these decades. The Pretenders have been rocking for even longer, but their recent material is just as sharp as their classic work. And, for a shot of operatic high camp, The Darkness put on a reliably fabulous live show.
Hidden gem: James and the Cold Gun declare themselves “South Wales’ loudest” but they’re much more besides. See the fiercely effective guitar blast of recent single ‘My Silhouette’ for evidence.
DAY 5 (Saturday 1 July): TAKE THAT
Must-sees: Robbie may be absent these days, but there were still three excellent reasons to see TAKE THAT, playing their only festival gig this year and their first since the pandemic. Also on the bill was The Script, the all-conquering Irish band.
Hidden gem: A rising R&B singer from south London, Jazmine Flowers is funny, charming and slightly off-kilter with great beats to match, all captured on her 2021 single ‘Awkward’.
DAY 6 (Sunday 2 July): BLACKPINK
Must-sees: The first K-Pop act to headline a major UK festival, BLACKPINK cram more killer hooks into one song than most pop artists can manage in a year. Caity Baser blasted on to the scene during the pandemic posting funny, filthy tunes on TikTok, and her live performances are just as riotous.
Hidden gems: On today’s jam-packed line-up, standouts included LA-based songwriter Mazie, on the strength of her excellent psych-pop album Blotter Baby, and Dublin artist Spider, who mixes R&B and noise-rock to riveting effect.
DAY 7 (Thursday 6 July): BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND
Must-sees: Obviously you won’t want to be missing The Boss: Bruce Springsteen continues to wow audiences with marathon shows after six prolific decades on the road. The Chicks (who dropped Dixie from their name before their excellent 2020 album Gaslighter) are no less of a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, folk-rocker Frank Turner is riding high after his ninth album FTHC shot to number one in the UK last year. He’s joined on stage by his live band, The Sleeping Souls.
DAY 8 (Friday 7 July): BILLY JOEL
Must-sees: Billy Joel, aka the ‘Piano Man’, is a tremendous showman. Expect favourites such as ‘Uptown Girl’, ‘Piano Man’ et al. Daryl Hall has a similar wealth of 1980s bangers to draw on, both solo and from his timeless work with John Oates.
DAY 9 (Saturday 8 July): BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND
Must-sees: Bruce and The Chicks return for their second shows of the week, this time joined by Hertfordshire singer-songwriter James Bay, a consummate performer whose moving, self-assured third album Leap came out last year.
DAY 10 (Sunday 9 July): LANA DEL REY
Must-see: As Lana Del Rey’s work grows quieter and more subtle, her popularity seems to only get greater. If her luminous latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, is anything to go by, her headliner on the closing day of BST will be a finale to treasure.
What makes BST one of the UK’s best festivals?
“Something special happens when artists and fans connect at this festival,” says Jim King, CEO of European festivals at AEG. “Watching the world’s biggest artists perform on a summer’s night in the centre of London is a truly amazing experience to be a part of.”
King should know. He’s been booking acts for American Express presents BST Festival for the past decade. “Every year we try to improve the experience,” he says. “Last year we had a major update with the Great Oak Stage, which now has the biggest festival screen in the world. We’ve added a number of new creative buildings and there’s one in particular I can’t wait to see called The Flatiron. It contains some hard-to-discover immersive experiences that fans should definitely seek out.”
He demurs when asked to disclose the act he’s most excited about this year, but then concedes that, “If I had to choose one, it’s Lana Del Rey. I’ve tried to book her so many times over the years and this will be her first time at BST. I think Lana performing on the Great Oak Stage on the last night will be a special moment.” Why does he think the UK is such a hub for music festivals? “There has always been a huge passion for music in the UK and that extends into outdoor events,” King says. “For sheer scale, creativity and the way fans here embrace festivals so passionately, the UK undoubtedly leads the world – and BST is at the forefront of that.”
How to hack your BST experience
Arrive early. Beat the queues and find your perfect vantage point without having to do a mad scramble. “For me, it’s about creating your own narrative for the day and getting into the right rhythm of the experience as soon as you can,” says Jim King.
Take the VIP route. Upgrade your ticket to get access to special viewing platforms, complimentary bars, the American Express VIP Summer Garden and deluxe restroom facilities, and much more.
Come hungry. Skip breakfast and graze at the array of independent food stalls or snap up one of the last-remaining tables at the Chef’s Table dining experience at The House of Peroni Nastro Azzurro by MOB.
Download the free BST app. Essential for navigating the festival site and finding up-to-date event information. This is also – importantly – where your tickets are stored.
Don’t miss the non-musical events. Open House is BST’s free-to-enter midweek programme of cinema, arts, workshops, family activities and much more. And brand-new Common Ground talks will cover topics around politics, sport, history and current affairs – it kicks off with a debate between Alastair Campbell and John Barnes.
Be open to making new friends. “Connecting with your favourite artist are moments to be treasured,” says Jim King. “And it’s even better to do so with others.”