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The History Of Music Festivals

Crowd at a music festival with their hands in the airWelcome to festival season! While we are currently already two months into a music aficianado’s favorite time of year, the fun has only just begun, with concerts spanning all the way through August. Those of us that keep up with the festivals, we all know the biggest names and where they are… But do we know the history behind those festivals? Infectious Magazine takes a look at 4 of the best-known summer music festivals and how they got their start. These festivals were created for surprisingly simple reasons, but grew to be so much more, as the annual appreciations of music that we all know and love.



COACHELLA [Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival]

Location: Indio, California

Dates: The second and third weekends in April, three days each

It was in 1993 that Pearl Jam played at the Empire Polo Club to boycott venues and auditoriums that were controlled by Ticketmaster. Six years later, in 1999, the first Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was held at the Empire Polo Club, which turned out to be a great location despite its remote location and hot, dry climate. With acts such as Beck, The Chemical Brothers, Tool, Morrissey, and Rage Against the Machine, Coachella became known as the “anti-Woodstock” because it booked acts based on artistry rather than radio popularity.

While musically I believe that the Coachellas since the first festival, especially in recent years, have started to stray from its original purpose (even if he was just a guest, having Justin Bieber anywhere near Coachella has nothing to do with artistry), many of the acts at 2014’s festival were indie or alternative artists that at least somewhat maintain the festival’s vision. Muse and Arcade Fire headlined the festival, and the lineup included The Replacements, Beck (again!), Bastille, Haim, and Foster the People amongst many popular rock artists; hip-hop artists (like Nas and Kid Cudi) were also part of the lineup.


Location: Chicago, as well as recent festivals in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina.

Dates: Three days in August

Lollapalooza is a word that means “an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or instance.” But for music lovers, Lollapalooza is a music festival in Chicago’s Grant Park that includes alternative rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and hip-hop artists, as well as dance/comedy acts, craft booths, and even provides a platform for non-profit and political groups.

In 1990-91, Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell had thought up and created Lollapalooza as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction that would tour North America, unlike others of the time that were one-time events in one venue. Despite the various artists such as Siouxsie and the Banshees to Ice-T to Nine Inch Nails, Lollapalooza also chose to include non-musical acts (like alternative freak shows), as well as non-profit and political information tables amidst the displays of art.

Although Lollapalooza declined in the late 90s, it’s revival in 2003 and beyond have proven that the festival is once again a musical event worth attending, comparable and equally as successful as many of the other festivals on this list. With a wide variety of musical acts, you can’t go wrong. This year’s artists include: Eminem, AFI, Arctic Monkeys, Lorde, Outkast, Skrillex, Kings of Leon, and so many more.


SXSW/South by Southwest


SXSW [South by Southwest]

Location: Austin, Texas

Dates: 10 days in mid-March

Dubbed the “largest music festival of its kind in the world,” South by Southwest – usually shortened to SXSW – is a music, film, and interactive set of festivals and conferences that take place every year. With all that it entails, this conference/trade show/festival hybrid has spawned others of its kind (North by Northwest in Portland, North by Northeast in Toronto,  and West by Southwest in Tuscon), and has become the highest revenue-producing event for the city of Austin.

The first SXSW Music Conference and Festival was held in 1987. With quite a melting pot of musical stylings present in Austin, the original goal for SXSW creator Roland Swenson (with fellow The Austin Chronicle people: editor and co-founder Louis Black and publisher Nick Barbaro) was to create a tool for creative people and companies to develop careers, as well as bringing people together to share ideas. Its title inspired by Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest, the first music event was only expected to bring in 150 attendees; 700 came, and the event was said to have gone “national almost immediately.” These days, there are over 16,000 registrants for the music event alone. The film and interactive events attract around 32,000 people.

This year’s notable “acts” included a screening of the Veronica Mars film, keynote speaker and NSA leaker Edward Snowden via video stream, as well as keynote presenter and headline act Lady Gaga.


Vans Warped Tour



Location: Across the United States, also soon in Europe

Dates: Various dates, April through August

Of the vast music festivals, Warped Tour is probably the best known of them all. This music and extreme sports festival tours the United States and includes some of the biggest names in punk rock music (and some other genres, thanks to recent diversification). Thanks to the sponsorship from popular skater shoemaker Vans and other sponsors, Warped Tour has toured every year since 1995.

In 1994, Kevin Lyman (a 3-year Lollapalooza veteran at the time) got the idea for Warped Tour while working on skateboarding shows in which music was included with the contests. It is said that Lyman put a handful of his favorite South Carolina punk and ska bands on a bus (like Sublime and No Doubt), and embarked on a tour. Lyman had considered cancelling the tour for the summer of 1995, but was then approached by the Vans Shoe Company to put together a skating festival. And the rest is history. Vans Warped Tour is said to be the longest-running annual tour in North America. Warped Tour also releases a compilation CD each year that coincides with the start of the tour.

Other Notable and Well-Known Festivals for Music Lovers: Ultra Music Festival, Firefly Music Festival, Electric Daisy, Electric Forest, Summerfest, Pitchfork Music Festival, Austin City Limits, The Governors Ball, Bonnaroo

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Rachel Policano

Writer - Reviews & Features
Journalist/writer, Photographer, Designer. I'm obsessed with all things music, films, books, fashion, and travel. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr for more!

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