Music festivals have exploded over the past twenty years. All over the world people gather together, sometimes for days on end, to celebrate the music and the culture they call their own.
If we go back thousands of years, we can trace the genesis of festivals, which have been around since the beginning of human history. The word festival is derived from festivus — Latin for feast — and the origins of the concept can be traced the Pythian Games in ancient Greece. People would gorge themselves at great feasts held to celebrate the harvest, and physical competitions were held in an atmosphere filled with music.
Music festivals as we know them began in the 1950s, with the start of the Newport Jazz Festival, which still runs today. But the festival of all festivals (in our minds, anyway) is still Woodstock, which was held August 15th–17th, 1969 in Bethel, New York. The festival took on a life of its own when more than 400,000 people showed up to a party that was expected to draw only 10,000. In the forty-seven years since then, Woodstock’s “three days of peace and music” became ingrained in our national fabric as a social ritual that has expanded to hundreds of festivals yearly. There is no question in anyone’s mind that the western world’s relationship to counter-culture is defined by Woodstock.
The 90s brought Lollapalooza, Coachella, and other festivals that still run today. And through it all, the Newport Jazz Festival has continued as the longest-running music festival in the United States. The point of convergence is the music, but the experience has grown over the decades to include light shows and other entertainments. Some festivals are held specifically to raise money for causes, a trend that began in the 1980s with Live Aid and Farm Aid.
As music festivals have grown larger and larger, the commercialization of them has grown as well, with brands competing for visibility in order to position themselves as the backdrop for the experience for their target market. There is money in festivals to be sure, but festival culture is also about a generation defining itself by its music and by the interaction among those who attend. We are proud to have a history of providing seating and staging throughout the festival explosion. Whether it’s Lollapalooza or a super local festival, we are proud of the culture behind this time-honored tradition.
By Danny Ellis.