Found in: Miscellany & Merriment
Billboard Magazine recently remarked that the year 2013 looks set to boast the most new U.S. Music Festivals launched in history. It’s easy to see why when music festivals have had a renaissance of sorts lately; in the past decade some of the largest ones sell out before lineups are even announced and feature popular mainstream artists as well as up-and-coming independent artists. Music festivals have become a global phenomenon; the largest music festival in the world is Donauinselfest in Vienna over three days, attracting between 2.5 and 3 million spectators. The contemporary music festival has its roots in the United States but has quickly become a global platform, providing a chance for music lovers to gather to see a variety of some of the greatest bands in the world while also discovering new music.
While the idea of music festivals is by no means a new one, using the contemporary version as a guideline most people agree that the first was founded by George Wein in the form of the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island in 1954. It brought in more than 13,000 people over two days to outdoor performances on a lawn as well as panel discussions and was hailed at the time by major magazines and newspapers. Performers that year included Billie Holiday and later many of the all-time greats in Jazz: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and many more. It moved around the East Coast for a few years with a brief five-year tenure in New York in the 70’s but eventually settled back to Rhode Island from 1981 to today. It inspired the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, founded by the same group as the Jazz festival and also still occurring to this day.
The next crucial festival was the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, regarded as the first-ever major rock festival. It was three days at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, CA and its Board of Governors (consisting of such icons as Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney) agreed that all acts would be treated with the same first-class travel and accommodations, and it would feature a lineup with a variety of genres from eras past, present and future. The festival only happened one time and included some of the biggest names to exist in music: Otis Redding, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix being some. It is also memorable for the infamous performance by Hendrix where he set his guitar on fire near the end of his set.
One can’t discuss music festivals without looking at what is often regarded as the most famous festival of all time, Woodstock. Held on a farm in Bethel, New York in 1969 over three days, it included 32 acts that ranged from The Grateful Dead, The Who, Canned Heat, Sly & The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. The legacy of the festival has had a lasting impact on not only the music industry but also even contemporary culture, inspiring a 1970 documentary that captured the epic concert and free-love spirit that eclipsed the decade. The festival was also plagued with technical difficulties, ranging from finances, water hazards and equipment issues, but is largely regarded as a success and inspired festivals for years to come as well as a revival festival in ’79, ’89, ’94, ‘99 and 2009.
Obviously Music festivals are not exclusive to the United States. One of the most popular contemporary music festivals today is the Glastonbury Festival, originally in Pilton, England from 1970 and still held near there today. More than a music festival, the gathering incorporates several other types of art: dance, poetry, theatre and more. The festival began small and has become one of the largest in the world, selling out in hours and attracting 175,000 people. Headliners in its early years included The Kinks and David Bowie and it has been able to maintain that level of quality to today, recent headliners including The Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons, U2, Coldplay, Blur among many others.
Recent festivals are numerous but a few are worth noting. Originally envisioned as a farewell tour for his band Jane’s Addiction in 1991, Perry Farrell founded Lollapalooza as a touring festival including acts from alternative rock such as Ice-T and Nine Inch Nails. The tour ran through 1997 and took a hiatus until 2003. During its time away two noteworthy festivals found a way to fill the void, Coachella in 1999 and Bonnaroo in 2002. Both festivals differ wildly but have embraced the alternative forms of music entertainment as well as rare performances and acts by bands. Coachella originally took place over two days in Indio, California, and has since expanded into being a three-day festival that repeats over 2 separate weekends. Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee eschews traditional advertising and is considered an eco-friendly festival that promotes sustainable and eco-conscious practices. When Lollapalooza returned in 2003 it was largely unsuccessful mainly due to Farrell attempting to make it another touring festival, but it now finds residency in Chicago’s Grant Park over three days in August and regularly sells out every year, returning as one of the premiere music festivals.
Music festivals are cropping up more than ever and with great intentions, trying to get great music performers together at one location over a few days for the public to enjoy. All are trying to find their own unique voice and niche to fill in the music world and not all will succeed, but those that are well-thought-out and executed will hopefully find their strength and rise to the top of this current surge in music selection. Most likely wherever you are you’re near a music festival, and if you’ve never been it’s an experience well worth exploring. The variety of people gathering with the same love for music, and the different music and arts one gets exposed to at festivals make them sometimes the best experience for seeing some of your favorite bands. They won’t be going away anytime soon.