POPSUGAR Celebrity

A History of Music Festivals

Apr 8 2014 - 3:05am

Music festivals are nothing new, but the popularity of events like Bonnaroo and Glastonbury has grown even larger in recent years. The alternative, countercultural spirit of festivals has evolved into more mainstream, all-encompassing events. And although 1969's Woodstock may be the most talked-about music festival in history, it wasn't the first of its kind.

Pinpointing the origins of these events depends largely on your definition of "music festival," but we're taking a look at some of the most popular, history-making festivals from the past century. Just in time for Coachella [1]'s kickoff this weekend, take a look at this brief timeline of music festivals through the years.

The Newport Jazz Festival

In 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival [2] in Newport, RI, marked America's first annual jazz festival. That year, the event brought more than 11,000 people to the East Coast resort town for a mix of academic panels and live performances.

Over the years, iconic acts like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis hit the stage, and although the festival moved to New York for a five-year span in the '70s, it returned in 1981 to Rhode Island, where it still takes place each year.

The Newport Folk Festival

Founded by George Wein, the same man behind the jazz version, the Newport Folk Festival [3] is known for bringing major folk stars like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan into the national spotlight.

Commonly linked to the blues revival of the 1960s, the festival featured Johnny Cash and Howlin' Wolf during that decade, then added reggae, rock, and indie artists in the '80s and '90s.

The Monterey International Pop Festival

The 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival [4] is known as the first-ever major rock festival. Held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, CA, the three-day event was planned in just six weeks. Hoping to create a lineup with a variety of genres from eras past, present, and future, the Board of Governors — which included music icons like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney — agreed that all acts would be treated the same, with first-class travel and accommodations.

The festival featured some of the biggest names in the industry: Otis Redding, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, who famously set his guitar on fire while playing "Wild Thing."


Held on a dairy farm in Bethel, NY, 1969's Woodstock Festival was called An Aquarian Exposition. The three-day event featured 32 acts including Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. Although organizers planned for around 50,000 people, around 200,000 tickets were sold, and when over 500,000 people showed up, they were forced to remove the fence and turn it into a free concert.

As the most famous festival of all time, it's left a legacy that captures the free-love spirit of the decade. A 1970 documentary called Woodstock captured the epic concert weekend, and revival festivals took place in '79, '89, '94, '99, and 2009. That same year, 40 years after the original festival, Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock brought a comic spin to the event.

Isle of Wight Festival

Located on the Isle of Wight in England, the original festival took place in 1968. The event grew rapidly in the following years, featuring big-name performers like Bob Dylan, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, The Doors, and Joni Mitchell. After the popular 1970 festival, though, Parliament passed an act that required a license for gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

In 2002, the festival returned — this time at Newport's Seaclose Park — and in the past decade, it's brought artists like David Bowie, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, and Coldplay to the stage.

Glastonbury Festival

Originally called the Pilton Festival, the first version of the event took place near Pilton, England, in 1970. In its second year, it became known as the Glastonbury Festival, and David Bowie took to the Pyramid Stage, a smaller version of the Great Pyramid of Giza that's become linked to the festival.

More so than other popular festivals, Glastonbury is known for incorporating several types of art: dance, poetry, theater, and more. Although it started small, the festival now sells out in hours, and the 2011 festival — with Beyoncé and Coldplay among the headliners — broke TV viewing records for the BBC.


Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell first planned out the Lollapalooza [5] festival as a farewell touring festival for his band. The first tour in 1991 featured mostly alternative rock along with a variety of other genres, with performers like Ice T, Nine Inch Nails, and nonmusical vendors for art, politics, and the environment. The tour ran through 1997 and returned in 2003, but it wasn't very successful, so in 2005, Farrell decided to turn it into a destination festival at Chicago's Grant Park.


Held in the desert setting of California's Coachella Valley, the first Coachella [6] music festival took place in 1999. With a lineup that included Beck, Jurassic 5, and Rage Against the Machine, the original event attracted about 10,000 people across two days.

In 2012, the festival sold out in hours, featuring big-name headliners like Radiohead, The Black Keys, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg — plus a hologram projection of Tupac and surprise appearances by Eminem [7], Rihanna [8], Usher [9], and more. This year's big headliners include OutKast, Arcade Fire, and Pharrell.


The four-day Bonnaroo [10] music and arts festival in Manchester, TN, first took place in 2002 with a focus on folk rock — and even without any traditional advertising, it sold out in two weeks. Popular performers included Ben Harper, John Butler Trio, and Norah Jones.

Since its inception, it's been considered an eco-friendly festival, promoting sustainable, eco-conscious practices. As for performers, Bonnaroo has evolved into a major event with a range of artists, plus an "entertainment village" with an arcade, movies, a theater, a comedy club, a beer festival, and a silent disco.

Austin City Limits

Named after the popular PBS concert series, Austin City Limits [11] is a three-day music festival that first hit the scene in 2002. The music-driven TV show originally featured country and folk artists from Texas, but it's evolved to include a variety of genres, and the festival has followed suit.

The 2002 lineup included artists like Ryan Adams, Shawn Colvin, Los Lobos, and Patty Griffin. As the festival has grown larger and more popular, big names like The White Stripes and Dave Matthews have made appearances. In 2013, the headliners were Depeche Mode, The Cure, Muse, Kings of Leon, and Vampire Weekend.

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