Summer music festivals are slowly but surely coming back – finally – and we couldn’t be more excited about it! Summer and music go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly, hamburgers and hotdogs, salt and margaritas…you get the picture!
Before we jump into which Fests are moving forward this summer, let’s go way-way-way back to when the first music festival supposedly took place… Though there is no known recording (ha!) of it, the first known music festival was the Pythian Games, which was held from the late sixth century BC at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in Greece. There were lots of competitions during the Games, one of which was musical performance.
If you want to get more current, set your sights on the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, which took place in Marin County California on June 10 & 11, one full week before the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967. It cost $2.00 to attend the 2-day event and it is known for hosting The Doors first large show as “Light My Fire” was climbing the charts. A week later was the Monterey Pop Festival, held over three days in June (16, 17 & 18) with performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar and more. The Monterey Pop Festival is often referred to as the template for all Fests that followed, including Woodstock, which took place 2 years later in August, 1969.
Woodstock was not, in fact, held in Woodstock but in Bethel, NY. While almost every act at the Monterey Pop Festival played for free (with the exception of Ravi Shankar and Country Joe McDonald and the Fish), artists were paid to perform at Woodstock. The first act to sign on was Creedence Clearwater Revival, and as soon as they did, many other acts followed suit including The Who, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Sly & the Family Stone and many more. While Woodstock was meant to be a ‘for profit’ event, and sold tickets in the NY Area in the weeks leading up to the event, it became a ‘free’ concert when there were no ticketing booths or fences in place to keep people out.
The following year, the Glastonbury Festival debuted on September 19, 1970 with Marc Bolan among the performers. It was not a big event by any means, maybe 1,500 people in attendance, and each of them got a bottle of milk from the farm along with their ticket.
The Isle of Wight Festival, also in the UK, had their inaugural event in 1968 and was notable for a performance by Bob Dylan and his band. Subsequent fests took place in 1969 and 1970 before Parliament passed an “Isle of Wight Act” preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. The festival didn’t resume until 2002.
More? The first Rock in Rio took place in 1985 with 1.5 million people in attendance. Lollapalooza launched in 1991 as a traveling festival for “alternative” rock and is now an annual 4-day event in Chicago. The Fuji Rock Festival began in 1997 and takes place over three days at the Naeba Ski Resort in Japan. Maybe the granddaddy of all current festivals, Coachella, now takes place over two different weekends in Indio, CA. When it launched in October 1999, it was a two-day event with music from Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Chemical Brothers and more. It’s worth noting the promoters lost a lot of money on the first outing. The next Coachella will take place in 2022.
Though many Fests have their sights set on ‘22 to come back, there are a bunch going forward and many worth seeing. Now that you have a little Festival history in your back pocket to impress your friends with, check out some of these shows hitting stages in North America this summer.
Moonwalk Festival, June 18-20, Bethel, NY, USA (site of original Woodstock!)
Country Jam, June 24-26, Grand Junction, CO, USA
Quebec City Summer Festival, July 8-18, Quebec City, Canada
FVDED in the Park, July 9-10, Surrey, BC, Canada
Lollapalooza, July 29-August 1, Chicago, IL, USA
Wonderbus Festival, August 28-29, Columbus, OH, USA
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, September 2-5, Manchester, TN, USA
Rocklahoma, September 3-5, Pryor, OK, USA
Pitchfork Music Festival, September 10-12, Chicago, IL, USA
Life is Beautiful Festival, September 17-19, Las Vegas, NV, USA
The Governors Ball, September 24-26, Queens, NY USA