Way Back…

The history of music festivals can be traced back to the middle ages or even further back, if we delve, into the true meaning of music festivals. People have celebrated music in the form of folk celebrations, like spring festivals, harvest festivals, religious festivals and adulthood rites for centuries, by getting together and singing their feelings out loud. But in the 19th century, there was an interest in having concerts, (where you have to pay tickets) to famous composers of earlier generations such as J.S. Bach, Schubert, Handel, Haydn and Mozart. These concerts, just like now, were celebrated in picturesque surroundings, for the working middle class in Europe. Only then did the emergence of commercial music festivals occurred:

Margazhi Festival of Dance and Music, 1927
In the midst of many American and European music festivals, we Asians too have our own version of music festivals. This month-long music festival is known as the “Margazhi Festival of Dance and Music”. It was first held in 1927, in order to celebrate the first anniversary of the academy. Soon, it was picked up by many other organisations, organising Carnatic music festivals in different parts of the city.The festival has become greatly popular, gathering about 2,000 participants in more than 300 concerts for its duration, honouring the spirit of the festivity.

Newport Jazz Festival, 1954
America’s first jazz festival was held in Newport, Rhode Island in 1954. The jazz festival still takes place annually. Almost 11,000 people gathered for the first music festival.

Newport Folk Festival, 1960
The Newport Folk Festival was founded by George Wein, the same man behind the Newport Jazz Festival. We definitely have to thank this music festival for bringing us major folk stars like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. This festival was also credited with the blues revival of the 1960s, then adding in reggae, rock, and indie artists, in the 80s and 90s. For those who are into 20th century music, Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf were featured in this festival.

Monterey International Pop Festival, 1967
Monterey International Pop Festival was held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, in Monterey, California. There are loads of festival. It was a three- day event, planned in just six weeks, which included a lineup of performers of all genres, new and old alike, like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. Another amazing thing about this music festival was that Jimi Hendrix literally ended his performance of “Wild Thing” with a bang. He doused his guitar in lighter fluid, set it on fire, smashed it to pieces
and then threw the remains into the audience. How many of captivating performances can you see nowadays?

Isle of Wight Festival, 1968
The first festival took place in 1968, and grew rapidly in the following years. After 1970, Parliament passed an act that the British required a licence for gatherings of more than 5,000 people. In 2002, the music festival returned to Newport’s Seaclose Park, along with David Bowie, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and Coldplay, in the past decade.

The Woodstock Festival, 1969
The most famous festival of all time was held on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The Woodstock Festival was called An Aqurian Exposition. It was a three-day event featuring 32 acts. This rock music festival was planned for around 50,000 people. But around 200,000 tickets were sold, and over 500,000 people showed up, forcing the organisers to make it a free concert. If you want to get an idea of the legacy of the music festival, do check out the 1970 documentary ‘Woodstock’ or Ang Lee’s American comedy drama film ‘Taking Woodstock’.

Second Summer of Love, 1988
In the late 1980’s the electro and techno music scene came back, after years of being absent. The 1988 till 1989 period in Britain was known as the Second Summer of Love, seeing the rise of acid house music. Rave parties originated from here. It was originated in Chicago and got influenced by new qualities when it came to Europe.

Sudirman’s Chow Kit Road music festival, 1986
14 April 1986 was definitely a legendary day in the music history of Malaysia. It was the first time ever a street concert drew a 100,000 crowd, and that too on a Monday night. All of Kuala Lumpur came to a standstill, just for Sudirman, jamming the stretch of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Raja Muda to Jalan Raja Alang. The talented singer sang the song Chow Kit Road on that day, and ended the festival by singing a patriotic song in his famous Malaysian Flag outfit.

These are a few of the legendary music festivals that still hold importance in the field of music. Music festivals can take any form or genre to captivate the minds and souls of people. But fundamentally, all music festivals can prove that all men and women are one, and they can be united under one roof, for a good cause, in peace.


By Shivasangari Kanawathi,21, Kuala Lumpur

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