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History of Rock Concert Festivals
by Alex Cosper (12/16/12)


Big rock concert festivals were ushered in by the folk movement of the sixties. The Newport Folk Festival started in 1959, following the success of the Newport Jazz Festival. Both of these events were founded by George Wein, who worked with folk singer Pete Seeger and music inudstry manager Albert Grossman with other board members to organize these shows. Grossman was the manager for Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and later Janis Joplin.

The Newport Folk Festival was held almost every summer in Newport, Rhode Island in the early to mid-sixties then was discontinued but revived in 1985 as an annual event. It originally helped elevate the careers of many artists including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Johnny Cash. In 1965 Bob Dylan was booed by the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival, some say because that's when he first started playing electric guitar on stage. He was backed by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 was the first attempt at attracting people from all over the country to see a long line-up of popular artists mixed with new talent. The three day west coast event was held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds starting on Friday, June 16. The festival attracted over 50,000 rock fans who came from around the nation to see Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Eric Burden and The Animals, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas and The Papas, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Laura Nyro, Canned Heat and Steve Miller. The Beach Boys had been slated as the headliners but didn't show due to personal issues within the band. Other acts scheduled to play but couldn't for one reason or another were Cream, The Kinks, Donovan, Captain Beefheart and Dionne Warwick.

The festival was organized by The Mamas and The Papas record producer Lou Adler and group member John Phillips and an associate named Alan Pariser. The idea was to bring together pop, rock, soul, folk, blues and psychedelia to one stage. It proved to be a very peaceful and inspiring gathering. Something else that was learned from the event was that it was an excellent way to showcase new innovative products, such as the Moog synthesizer. Moog set up to booth at the festival to demonstrate the capabilities of the instrument. It attracted the attention of many musicians who attended the event. From the Monterey Pop Festival much of the ideas were born about organizing big rock festivals and what it took to make big shows successful.

Woodstock proved to be another big success and became a landmark event in concert history. It was billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music" held at a 600 acre farm owned by Max Yasgur in Bethel, New York. It actually lasted four days beginning August 15, 1969. The event was named after the town of Woodstock, about 43 miles away and despite the rainy weather, it attracted a half million outdoor rockers, who came from all over the country to see thirty-two acts. It marked the biggest concert event of all time at that point.

The line-up of the Woodstock Festival on opening night was headlined by folk star Joan Baez. Other performers included Arlo Guthrie, Melanie, Ravi Shankar, Tim Hardin, Bert Sommer, Sweetwater and Richie Havens. The second night was headlined by Jefferson Airplane along with The Who, Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Mountain, Canned Heat, The Incredible String Band, Keef Hartley Band, John Sebastian, Santana, Country Joe McDonald and Quill. The third day was extended through Monday morning in which the headliner was Jimi Hendrix with his Band of Gypsys. Others who performed included Sha Na Na, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Johnny Winter, The Band, Ten Years After, Country Joe and The Fish and Joe Cocker.

Due to its size and legendary line-up, Woodstock overshadows Monterey Pop Festival in history. Woodstock was also made into a documentary film and soundtrack. However, it also brought up community issues, especially in the town of Bethel, in which the town supervisor was defeated the following November for allowing the crowded event in a small town. Laws were passed to prevent more festivals in the area. Eventually, however, the town of Bethel viewed the Woodstock Festival as a legendary event nad allowed a 40th anniversary in 2009. A 25 year anniversary had been held at a farm in Saugerties, New York, about ten miles from the town of Woodstock.

Woodstock inspired many benefit concerts in the 1970s, most notably the Concert For Bengladesh, organized by ex-Beatle George Harrison and Ravi Shankar in 1971. The festival was intended to raise funds and awareness about refugees from East Pakistan. This concert, held at Madison Square Garden in New York, was also made into a documentary and album. It was considered the first major benefit concert, which raised millions of dollars for UNICEF. Performers included Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and Badfinger. It attracted about 40,000 people.

By the 1980s benefit concerts were seen by the music promoters as a great way to get media attention by donating money to important social causes. Both Live Aid and Farm Aid raised millions of dollars in 1985. Live Aid was an internationally televised satellite concert seen by an estimated 1.9 billion people. It was organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, who had been successful raising money for starving kids of Ethiopia with their 1984 Christmas hit "Do They Know It's Christmas" performed by an all-star line-up called Band Aid. Farm Aid was organized by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young to help American farmers who were deep in debt.

Perry Farrell of the band Jane's Addiction organized a concert series called Lollapalooza in the nineties as alternative rock radio became huge. The festival toured the country and featured top alternative acts. The panel of alternative and rock stations had grown large by that point and many of these stations wanted to capitalize on their huge audiences by doing their own big shows that they could promote.





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