A History of Music Festivals, Part 4: Jazz and Rock in the USA – Utopik

A History of Music Festivals, Part 4: Jazz and Rock in the USA

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Early American music festivals, from the late 1800s, where centered on classical music from Europe.

Painting of Worcester, Massachusetts (circa 1905)

Worcester, Massachusetts, home of United States' oldest classical music festival

Newport Jazz Festival

The creation of jazz festivals in the United States is traced to Elaine and Louis Lorillard, who established the Newport Festival on Rhode Island in 1954.

The musicians, including Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, performed on the lawn of Newport Casino. As much as 13,000 people attended over two days.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday performed at the first Newport Jazz Festival

Newport’s upper-class community had little appreciation of jazz music and opposed future events. They disliked the hordes of young fans – many were students who slept outdoors, with or without a tent.

Nonetheless, the event managed to continue every year and it became increasingly popular.

The Newport Festival was the forerunner for the Philadelphia Folk Festival (1962), the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967), the Miami Pop Festival (1968), and the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair (1969).

Philadelphia Folk Festival 2012

Philadelphia Folk Festival 2012

Monterey Pop Festival

While jazz and folk music were considered art forms, rock and popular music were not at that time. Following the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, this outlook was to change.

Monterey, California, would become less well-known than Woodstock, New York, for its huge music festival. But it began the "Summer of Love" and up to 90,000 groovy people attended.

Summer of Love 50th, Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

"Summer of Love" light show at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Monterey Festival started the "Summer of Love"

Monterey Festival is especially notable for its numerous historic performances. It marked the first American appearance by Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Ravi Shankar, and the first mass-audience performance by Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. 

The song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" was written to promote the event.

Cass Elliot at Monterey Festival

Cass Elliot of the Mamas and Papas at Monterey Festival

Woodstock Festival

In August 1969, the legendary Woodstock Music and Arts Fair took place.

Despite the name, a suitable site could not be found near Woodstock, so it was held 40 miles away at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel.

Crowd at Woodstock

The crowd at Woodstock

Just like the upper class of Newport, local people from the rural town strongly opposed the festival.

Despite the resistance, up to 1/2 million party goers watched 32 of the biggest artists of the day at the event.

Woodstock became a pivotal moment in rock and roll history.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

Jimi Hendrix was the star attraction at Woodstock


Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport by Jonathan R. Wynn (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2015)




Check out Part 5: the UK festivals of Reading, Isle of Wight and Glastonbury

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