How the original Woodstock spawned today’s massive festival industry

Fifty years ago today, the music began at the original Woodstock festivals on Max Yasgur’s farm. While it began a cultural milestone, it was also a financial failure. Many of the 400,000 people who attended got in without a ticket. The only thing that saved Woodstock were the revenues from the subsequent film and movie soundtracks.

Come to think of it, all Woodstock events have been disasters in their own way. The 25th anniversary event in Saugerties, New York, was dubbed “Mudstock” and was an organization shambles and roundly crticized. (I know because I was there.) The 30th anniversary event in Rome, New York, was even worse, with oppressive heat and culminating in vandalism and sexual assault. And the less said about the stillborn 50th anniversary show, the better.

But one thing is true: Woodstock set the stage for the festival music business worldwide. Time takes a look at things:

“Sleeping in a tent for days to catch a glimpse of Beyoncé making history at Coachella. Crowding into a park for a surprise performance that turns out to be Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Festival. As music festivals have taken off in popularity, these kids of experiences have become a key feature of cultural life in America.

“Within the last decade, music festivals have grown into a major moneymaker in a competitive industry that sees hundreds of such events each year in the U.S. There are the big ones—Coachella, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Governors Ball—with big-ticket prices, multiple stages, camping options and nearly endless lists of performers. And alongside their rise in popularity, hundreds of smaller, niche or genre-specific festivals have flourished. Look up ‘music festival near me,’ and you’re likely to find one within at least a few hours’ drive.

“The origins of music festivals date back to ancient Greece, where such events often involved competitions in music, arts and sports. Modern music festivals in the U.S. grew out of the establishment and ethos of Woodstock. Though it was not the first event of its kind (the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, Milwaukee’s Summerfest and the Monterey Pop Festival predate Woodstock), the 1969 event holds a mythical place within American pop-cultural history. Festivals have since evolved from the DIY, communal spirit of Woodstock, growing into mainstream businesses that reap profits and embrace corporate sponsorships, as more than 32 million people attend them each year, according to Billboard. Coachella, one of the most popular festivals in the country, grossed $114.6 million in 2017, setting a major record for the first recurring festival franchise to earn more than $100 million.”

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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