Music festivals are not a recent innovation; they have existed for generations and serve as significant cultural gatherings that unite individuals from diverse backgrounds. Regardless of whether it’s an electronic, rock, pop, or classical music festival, their common objective remains the same: uniting people to commemorate the profound influence of music.
While music festivals have been around for over half a century, they have evolved over time. Today, they’re bigger and grander than ever. Some of the largest music festivals host over 500,000 people concurrently. While most modern music festivals focus on electronic dance music, some music festivals still focus on other genres.
The Birthplace of the Modern Music Festival
Before Woodstock, most musical events were small concerts or shows in intimate settings. Then, Joel Rosenman, John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang came up with a new idea. They wanted to revolutionize how people listened to music and contacted Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer who owned a 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. They wanted to host a musical event unlike anything the world had seen before. Thus, Woodstock was born. It was held from August 15 to August 18, 1969, and did better than anyone expected, attracting over 400,000 attendees. Thirty-two musical acts performed at the festival, being cheered on by the masses of attendees who braved overcast weather and sporadic rainfall to enjoy their favorite artists’ belt out their hits before them.
A musical festival with over 400,000 attendees would still be considered a monumental success today. However, back then, such a phenomenon was unprecedented. As a result, Woodstock became one of the largest music festivals in history, much like the Colorado Music Festival, which is an annual classical music festival with the best musicians in the world.
Soon, other events followed. For instance, California Jam in 1975 tried to outdo Woodstock’s cultural impact. While it failed to leave the same cultural footprint in history as Woodstock, it succeeded in making even more money. Eventually, other music festivals followed suit. Even people like Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, jumped on board, hosting the US festival in 1982 and 1983. Such music festivals continued to pop up and be more successful. However, none of them were able to make the same impact on the annals of history as Woodstock.
Woodstock for a New Generation
Eventually, Michael Lang, a co-producer for Woodstock in 1969, decided to organize Woodstock ’94. The goal was to host a throwback festival that celebrated the original. Lang hoped it would bring Woodstock to a new generation of music fans and enthusiasts. He even went as far as hosting it near the town of Woodstock. The festival was a success. While the initial Woodstock was spiritually aligned with the anti-war and counterculture movement of the 1960s, this Woodstock iteration partnered with Greenpeace and promoted a staunch stand against corporate greed. Before the event took place, Greenpeace called out Time Magazine for using paper mills that weren’t environmentally friendly. It also took shots at the festival’s sponsor, Pepsi. Such activism at festivals wasn’t common. It was a sight to behold and something other festivals would incorporate in the future.
Reports show over 350,000 people attended the event. However, gate sales could have been much higher since the event essentially turned into a free one as people realized they could climb over fences and watch their favorite artists without paying. Regardless, the event still went well.
Woodstock returned one more time in 1999. Unfortunately, this time, the event was a disaster. The festival was plagued with many problems, including overcrowding, broken bathrooms, and extreme heat. Eventually, riots occurred. The festival culminated with one death from heatstroke and at least two reported sexual assault cases. Riots were limited to a few hundred people from 400,000 attendance. However, the damage was done. The only positive feature about Woodstock ’99 is it helped elevate the punk-rock band Green Day to a new level.
Modern Music Festivals
Following the turn of the century, many new music festivals popped up as they tried to cater to changing music tastes. Most modern music festivals today revolve around electronic house music. However, other music festivals have also emerged, such as the Colorado Music Festival, which caters to classical music fans.
Most modern music festivals have continued to take inspiration from Woodstock ‘69. They have become multi-day experiences with stacked line-ups typically headlined by the biggest musicians or groups in their respective genres.
The 2023 Colorado Music Festival, for instance, was a ten-day event from June 26th to August 6th, 2023, and was held at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colorado. While many modern music festivals aren’t suitable for young children and teenagers, the Colorado Music Festival accommodates everyone. It includes a 45-minute family concert with no intermission that is specifically for children under five.
Another thing to consider is that modern music festivals have also changed festival-goers’ experiences. Since modern music festivals are multi-day events, many festival-goers travel from out of state to visit such events. As a result, they often have to consider accommodation near the festival venue to make things easier. Some festivals offer camping facilities. However, most recommend attendees to book private rentals, such as AirBnB’s, near the venue.
Furthermore, music festivals continue to become more popular globally. As a result, most people need to purchase tickets months in advance to attend their favorite music festival. Hence, pre-bookings have become very common. Colorado Music Festival is set to announce its 2024 season dates shortly. If you’re interested in classical music, keep a close eye on its website and social media platforms for imminent announcements.
Music festivals continue to become more popular. While Woodstock ’69 set the foundations for most modern music festivals, the newer ones have taken things to a new level, focusing on providing a complete audio-visual experience. Their evolution over the past fifty years is exciting and shows they’ll continue to evolve as technological advancements continue.