Music Festivals: Past and Present

There is nothing like seeing music being performed live. For musicians, concerts are exhilarating experiences. The stage is set for them to exhibit their talent, work and heart on the world’s stage in front of tens, hundreds, or even thousands in person, and millions around the world with the help of the Internet. For attendees, concerts are just as thrilling, but for a different set of reasons.

Concert goers are there to take in the energy that musicians are emitting, to revel in the camaraderie of an experience that is open to interpretation by each present party as it is happening, to discover new artists and sounds, and enjoy themselves.

As an avid concert goer myself, I can personally attest to live experiences serving as a means of making or breaking an artist and their music for me because it’s a testament to their skill. With an album, you can re-record, edit, mix and master things time and time again to get them perfect, but each and every time you step out on that stage you only have one shot to get everything right in rapid succession.

Live performances of music isn’t anything new; however, within the last 60 years in North America, a relatively massive trend amongst concert event planners has raised the bar for how much live music one attendee can experience in a succinct amount of time: Music festivals. In 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival was held in Newport, RI.

Headlined by Billie Holiday and Stan Kenton, a cool 13,000 people made it out to the nation’s smallest state to witness these performances, which heralded great press and reviews. Following this festival came others like the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California in 1958, Monterey and Newport Pop Festivals, and perhaps the most famous music festival of all, The Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

Woodstock took place on August 15th-18th in White Lake, NY in 1969, during which 32 acts performed for a crowd of 400-500,000 people, peacefully. Musicians include some of Rock & Rolls greats like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, amongst others.

Resemblant of a major turning point in music history, it is festivals like The Woodstock Music & Art Fair that, schematically, serve as predecessors for today’s festivities.

Perhaps the most iconic music festival of all time just based off of sheer volume, with the different performers and ask, “is it even possible to see all of these acts in a weekend?” It isn’t. From Coachella, to Bonnaroo, to Lollapalooza, to South by Southwest, often times these events are stacked with so much entertainment that it forces you to make decisions about who you want to see, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

This year Coachella had over 150 artists and groups slated to take one of many stages in Indio, California. To match the weight of the performers, hundreds of thousands of people make their ways out to these various festivals, armed with coolers, tents, and a desire to make memories that they may not necessarily remember.

In 2004,  Coachella grossed over 78 million dollars with over 570,000 attendees. I believe that’s where the appeal in stacking the setlist with a variety of performers takes control in the way that it has recently. Giving people the opportunity to see Drake, Steely Dan, Toro y Moi and Lil B in the same venue wouldn’t happen anywhere else but at a festival, honestly.

With SXSW for example, the festival is divided into three different sections over the span of ten days: Interactive, Film and Music. This includes live demos of upcoming applications, websites, video games, and other innovations in tech, keynotes from directors such as Ava DuVernay, information sessions on the backstory to the production and development of films, looks into artist’s lives, input from economists, and much much more.

Music festivals have been prevalent and progressive in diversity of sound as well as magnitude within the last 15 years. Founded in Jazz, over the past half of the century these events have picked up steam and become about much more than just the tone. Today they represent an opportunity for attendees to have great experiences and learn a thing or two as well.

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