Where Did Music Festivals Start? A Lala History Lesson – Be Bright Girl
Where Did Music Festivals Start? A Lala History Lesson

Music festivals. An event where all walks of life join together to celebrate art, life, and freedom. From grandparents to high school seniors, it seems as though every age group has been touched by the music festival phenomenon.  As much as we would like to accredit Woodstock for creating these uplifting and enjoyable experiences, it’s the 6th Century B.C. Greeks we really have to thank.

Early Origins


The early Greeks held a five-day festival called the Pythian games at the Delphi sanctuary. At this location, Apollo, god of music, poetry, medicine and prophecy, had killed the dragon Pytho. Thus stemmed the name Pythian and the celebratory music competitions. Even as more games and feasting was added to the event, music still remained the most important aspect.

Years and years later more music events such as this began to spring up around Europe. For example, many classical music festivals were held attracting a large audience. However, these were primarily for the wealthy upper class making them very exclusive. Thank God this has changed.



The dawning of music festivals in the West occurred with the creation of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1952. This festival saw artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Nina Simone. The most significant feature of this festival was the shift in audience. What started out as an upper-class crowd, soon grew to become a younger not as wealthy crowd. While the original attendees were angered by the “intruders,” the youth didn’t care and proceeded to camp out in tents to enjoy the music. Sound familiar? Although this festival moved to multiple locations and took a few hiatuses, it continues to feature rich jazz music and is dedicated to help educate young musicians.

In 1959, the Newport Folk Festival was created in order to feature another genre of music. Later in the 1960’s, Bob Dylan preformed a rock n roll set for the first time. A lot of controversy was created with Dylan’s choice to go electric. Despite the booing audience, the song “Like a Rolling Stone” became a hit soon after and the music scene was revolutionized. 


The Monterey Pop Festival opened up in 1967 becoming the first major rock festival. It featured artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Otis Redding, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Mamas & the Papas. One of the most memorable moments occurred when Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire. (Watch here.  Long live Jimi Hendrix). Emerging from the 1950’s beatnik generation, this festival became your classic “hippie” music crowd. This leads us to one of the most famous events in music history – Woodstock.

It seems as though Woodstock came out from nowhere. However if it weren’t for John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang, this festival would have never happened. They were fascinated by the counterculture and wanted to create “3 days of peace and music.” The event was advertised heavily in major news publications and programs and featured many aspects of the rising counterculture. Many found this was enticing and exciting while others felt threatened and immediately associated the event with drug use. Well, you can’t blame them considering that some of the most popular drugs included marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and heroin.

The location chosen was on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York and consisted of over 400,000 people. The founders attempted to control the numbers by recruiting responsible looking people as security guards and passed out wristbands with the password “I forgot.” These efforts failed as the numbers increased and the event ultimately became free. Many performers included Rich Havens, Sweetwater, Joan Baez, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, The Who, The Band, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, and Jimi Hendrix who once again left a legacy with his famous rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Many Woodstock Revivals have popped up since then, but will never attest to the original.

The 1970s and 1980s


Many large music festivals appeared in the UK such as Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, which actually had more attendees than Woodstock. Glastonbury was also created in 1970 and is most famous for their pyramid stage. Artists such as David Bowie and most recently Coldplay and Beyoncé have performed here. It’s known for incorporating many medieval traditions such as dance, theater, poetry, and spontaneous entertainment.

Burning Man is one of the most interesting festivals in the United States. Founded in 1986, this festival is all about self-expression in any way, shape, or form. It all began when a couple of friends burned a nine-foot man on a beach in San Francisco. Rather than hiring musical artists to perform, it is centered solely on the people. People from all over come to camp out, create massive art installations, dance, perform, and experience art in a completely new way. However, the core meaning of this event finds itself threatened by the corporate mainstream.

Austin’s South By Southwest (SXSW) was founded in 1986 and takes place in a variety of venues all around the city. It also features a variety of interests like film, music, and interactive. The founders could feel the coming of the digital age, and wanted a way to learn about technology and to form new ideas for the future.


During this decade, rave and electronic music grew to become more popular. The creation of electronic music festivals was seen more in Europe. By the end of the decade, the U.S. began to see EDM festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival. Other well-known festivals were also established at this time. Lollapalooza was created in 1991 and originally served as a farewell concert for a touring band. Now it has become one of the most popular music festivals in the country. Coachella was originally a touring festival but is now an annual event hosting artists such as Radiohead, The Black Keys, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Eminem, Rihanna, Usher, OutKast, and many more. Many celebrities attend this festival, which makes it all the more cooler.



Bonnaroo appeared in 2002 and is known for its folk rock music and eco-friendly efforts. Austin City Limits was also created in 2002 and is known for its variety of performers, delicious Austin food, perfect

weather…. Ok so I’m probably a little biased considering that I live in Austin, but it seriously is a great experience. Other popular music festivals include Sasquatch, Stagecoach, Rock in Rio, Governors Ball, Hangout Fest, and Summerfest.



It’s great that so many people are able to experience music festivals, but this also means the transitioning into a more mainstream culture. 32 million people in the U.S attended at least one music festival each year. Considering that the country’s population is 318.9 million, this means about 10% of the U.S. population attend music festivals. That’s a lot of people. It’s becoming more difficult to not contradict the heart of music festivals – to celebrate art, life, and freedom. Some festivals like Bottle, Symbiosis, and Lucidity are dedicated to sticking to this purpose. As long as these other popular festivals also focus on their positive mission and strive to uplift people, this should never become a major issue.

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”—Jimi Hendrix.



News Reporter

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