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The Origins of Music Festivals

As the world begins to open up again, and live music is starting again, I thought it would be a good time to research where all this began. Who decided to set up on a stage in front of people? Who decided it would be a good marketing idea to charge people to watch a live performance on stage when we could easily just purchase the vinyl / CD / cassette / and now stream the music. So let's delve back in time to where is all began.


From what I can gather, and the research I have discovered, the first known music festival was held in the late sixth century BC at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. The name of the festival was the Pythian Games, a precursor of the Olympics. A day of celebration of all things beautiful which included a day of musical competitions. The Greeks honored the Gods by holding competitions in drama, poetry, music and athletics. Well known Greek play rights such as Sophocles and Aristophanes appeared at these festivals.


Quite possibly the most well known music festival would have to be Woodstock, held in 1969. Half a million people gathered at a dairy farm in Bethel, New York to hear

leading and upcoming artists in the music industry.

Some artists included The Who, Janis Joplin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Grateful Dead. This festival was held over three days with thirty two acts, and apparently 600 portable toilets!!! Almost impossible to find your friends if you became lost from each other. Numerous arrests for drugs, a tractor crushed one fan and two deaths occurred.


In 1971 The Glastonbury Music Festival was held at Pilton. Started by Arabella Churchill and Andrew Kerr and was free to enter. Why? Because these two felt that music festivals were over commercialised. It was at this festival where the first pyramid tent with scaffolding was constructed. This style of stage was inspired by the Great Pyramid of Giza. Artists included a very young David Bowie, Fairport Convention and Joan Baez. The estimated attendance at this festival was 12, 000. As with Woodstock, large amounts of drugs were located amongst the fans.


1985 saw the Live Aid concert come to life, raising money for the people of Africa who fell subject to catastrophic famine that threatened hundreds of thousands of lives, after years of drought, civil war and failed attempts at government control. After viewing a news report, Bob Geldof wrote the lyrics for 'Do they know it's Christmas'. He then united with some of the biggest names in music and held a concert at Wembley Station in London, JFK Stadium in Philadelphia as well as our own Oz Aid benefit held in Sydney. Artists were given 20 minutes of stage time to ensure continuity and equipment needs were kept to an absolute minimum.


Coachella commenced in 1999, however the festival didn't make a profit with only 25,000 tickets sold and was actually cancelled in 2000. Held at the Empire Polo Field in Indio California. The headline artists in 99 were Beck, Rage against The Machine and Tool. Fortunately the festival was revived in 2001 and has been an annual music event ever since.


Then in 2020 covid hit and the music scene was brought to a solid holt. Our lives as we knew it changed forever. It has been a long drawn out process, where the simple treat of having a few drinks with your mates whilst listening to your favorite bands has been since a thing of the past.

However it all appears to slowly but surely making a comeback with overseas acts announcing tours, local music providers announcing local gigs and travelling music festivals around Australia. I know for a fact that I and many of my mates are really looking forward to 'hiding a few bevvies' in their eskys and heading to a local music concert / event / festival and letting our hair down and singing the wrong words to our favorite songs.


Bring on our Aussie Summer of live music festivals, beers with mates and eating local food from a food truck, that may or may not agree with you the next morning.



Music festivals have been with us for many many years and long may they continue for many more to come.









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