When many people think of music festivals, they think about Woodstock, the iconic mud-fest that brought together 500,000 hippies to a dairy farm in Bethel, New York. Surprisingly, the history of the modern music festival didn’t start there. In 1954, more than 11,000 people got together in Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1967—two years before Woodstock—music lovers gathered at the Monterey International Pop Festival, the first U.S. rock fest
Throughout the 1970s, the popularity of music festivals spread to the rest of the world. Suddenly, large gatherings of sound started popping up everywhere, from North America, South America, Africa, and beyond. For the next two decades, music festivals offered music lovers many different subgenres of rock, from punk and new age to classic rock and heavy metal.
By the time the 1990s were underway, electronic dance music had gained in popularity across the globe, and the rave culture was born.
Meanwhile, back in the mainstream, many of the festivals we know and love today—at least prior to a worldwide pandemic—like Lollapalooza and Coachella were launched. Coachella’s first run happened in 1999 when 10,000 people came out to see Beck, Jurassic 5, and Rage Against the Machine. More recently, the music fest saw 75,000 attendees enjoying memorable performances like Tupac’s resurrection by way of a hologram.
Regardless of which decade of the modern music festival you look at, there is one thing that music festivals have always done—and will do again: Bring people together for the love of music. Beyond that, however, there are other reasons people love a good music festival.
Sure, most people attend festivals for the music, but there’s actual science behind why it actually makes attendees escape. Music releases dopamine in the brain, which is a feel-good chemical. Music festivals are the ultimate escape from the day-to-day grind. They are entertaining and relaxing, and attendees are surrounded by new people who are also enjoying the revelry. For hours or even days, people at music festivals are lulled by the feeling that they haven’t a care in the world.
Music festivals appeal to people—even if they are not huge fans of the headlining bands. Marketing experts know that in order to draw in large festival crowds, they need to advertise a fun and festive atmosphere where attendees can socialize and have new experiences.
FOMO, which stands for “fear of missing out,” has proven to be particularly important for the millennial generation. For this group, attending a music festival is almost a rite of passage. They want to be able to answer yes when the question “Have you been to Coachella?” is posed. It is not only an event they are talking about; it’s become part of the culture.
Clearly, music festivals are about more than the music.
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