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Friday, June 21, 2024

The rise of the music festival


The history of music festivals from the 1940s to the present day encapsulates a rich tapestry of cultural, social, and technological transformations. Music festivals have evolved from niche gatherings to large-scale events that shape cultural trends and influence societal norms. This essay explores the evolution of music festivals over the decades, highlighting key developments and their impact on music and culture.

1940s-1950s: The Birth of Modern Music Festivals

The 1940s and 1950s marked the nascent stage of modern music festivals. During this period, jazz festivals began to gain prominence, with the Newport Jazz Festival, founded in 1954 in Rhode Island, being one of the most notable. This festival brought together jazz enthusiasts and showcased legendary artists like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. The Newport Jazz Festival set the template for future festivals by emphasizing a communal experience centered around live music performances.

1960s: The Counterculture Movement and Rock Festivals

The 1960s were a transformative decade for music festivals, driven by the counterculture movement and the rise of rock and roll. The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 is often regarded as a seminal event that signaled the emergence of rock festivals. Featuring performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who, Monterey Pop demonstrated the growing influence of rock music and the power of festivals to launch artists into superstardom.

Woodstock, held in 1969, epitomized the festival as a cultural phenomenon. With an attendance of over 400,000 people, Woodstock became a symbol of peace, love, and music, capturing the spirit of the 1960s counterculture. It featured iconic performances by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Janis Joplin, and its success solidified the idea of the multi-day outdoor music festival as a key cultural event.

# 1970s: Diversification and Expansion

The 1970s saw the diversification and expansion of music festivals, reflecting the eclectic musical tastes of the decade. Festivals like Glastonbury in the UK, which began in 1970, combined music with art, theater, and alternative culture, creating a holistic festival experience. Meanwhile, the Isle of Wight Festival, although facing challenges, continued to draw massive crowds and notable performers like Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.

In the United States, festivals began to cater to various genres, including folk, blues, and jazz. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, started in 1970, highlighted the rich cultural heritage of the region and featured a blend of jazz, blues, and local music traditions. This decade also saw the rise of the progressive rock festivals, such as the Reading Festival in the UK, which showcased leading rock and metal bands.

1980s: Commercialization and Mainstream Appeal

The 1980s marked a period of commercialization and mainstream appeal for music festivals. Corporate sponsorships became more prevalent, and festivals began to attract broader audiences. Events like Live Aid in 1985, organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia, demonstrated the power of music festivals to mobilize global audiences for charitable causes. Live Aid featured performances by Queen, U2, and David Bowie, and was broadcast worldwide, reaching an estimated 1.9 billion viewers.

The 1980s also saw the emergence of genre-specific festivals. For instance, the New Wave and punk movements found a home in festivals like Lollapalooza, which began in 1991 but had its roots in the alternative music scenes of the late 1980s. These festivals provided a platform for emerging artists and helped to define the musical landscape of the decade.

In 1980, promoter Paul Loasby, along with Maurice Jones, planned a one-day festival dedicated specifically for bands within the hard rock and heavy metal genre. Loasby was an established and successful promoter working that year on the Rainbow UK tour and penned the festival as the final show of the tour for the band to headline. Jones knew the owner of the Donington Park race track, Tom Wheatcroft, located next to the village of Castle Donington in Leicestershire, England, and the site was chosen to host the event.[1]

(A year earlier, promoter Bill Graham’s July 1979 Day on the Green Festival at Oakland Coliseum in California was also dubbed "The Monsters of Rock" show. This concert featured AerosmithTed Nugent and AC/DC.)

America had the US Festival too in the early 1980s

Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple and creator of the Apple I and Apple II personal computers, believed that the 1970s were the "Me" generation.[6][7] He intended the US Festivals, with Bill Graham's participation, to encourage the 1980s to be more community-oriented and combine technology with rock music.[8] The first was held Labor Day weekend in September 1982,[3] and the second less than nine months later, over Memorial Day weekend in May 1983.[4][9]

1990s: The Rise of the Mega-Festivals

The 1990s witnessed the rise of mega-festivals, characterized by large-scale events with multiple stages and diverse lineups. Coachella, first held in 1999 in California, quickly became one of the most influential music festivals in the world. Known for its eclectic mix of genres, cutting-edge performances, and art installations, Coachella set new standards for festival production and experience.

Lollapalooza, originally a touring festival in the early 1990s, transitioned to a stationary format in Chicago, becoming a major event that showcased a wide range of genres from alternative rock to hip-hop. Similarly, the Glastonbury Festival continued to grow, attracting international acts and expanding its cultural and artistic offerings.

2000s-Present: Globalization and Digital Integration

The Download Festival was conceived as a follow-up to the Monsters of Rock festivals which had been held at the Donington Park circuit between 1980 and 1996. The first Download Festival was created by Stuart Galbraith and co-booked by Andy Copping in 2003 in the same location.[1][2][3] Download was initially a two-day event, expanding to three days in 2005.

The name Download was chosen for the festival for two reasons. Downloading was a dirty word in the music industry at the time, due to file sharing, and rock is seen as a rebellious genre of music. Also Download was to be a Monsters of Rock for the 21st century and the internet would provide connectivity with its audience.

The 2000s to the present day have seen the globalization and digital integration of music festivals. Festivals like Tomorrowland in Belgium, Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas have become global phenomena, attracting attendees from around the world and featuring top electronic dance music (EDM) artists. These festivals highlight the growing popularity of EDM and the role of technology in enhancing the festival experience with elaborate stage designs and visual effects.

Social media and live streaming have also revolutionized music festivals, allowing people to experience events in real-time from anywhere in the world. Festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury now have extensive online coverage, broadening their reach and influence.

Additionally, the sustainability and environmental impact of festivals have become significant concerns. Initiatives like zero-waste policies, eco-friendly infrastructure, and sustainable practices are increasingly being adopted by major festivals to address these issues.


From their humble beginnings in the 1940s to the global mega-events of today, music festivals have undergone a remarkable evolution. They have not only mirrored but also influenced cultural and societal shifts, providing a platform for musical innovation and a space for communal celebration. As they continue to grow and adapt to changing times, music festivals remain a vital part of the cultural landscape, bringing people together through the universal language of music.

Created with AI and Wikipedia 

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