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Hippies to Hipsters: The Evolution of Music Festivals

Naveen Sultan about 10 months ago

Tags: wmnf, Amy Beeman, Woodstock, Music Festivals


Hippies to Hipsters: The Evolution of Music Festivals

By Amy Beeman

Music, dancing, and partying will never go out of style. It’s been 45-years since the historical Grand-daddy of music festivals, Woodstock, and today hundreds of thousands of people continue to make pilgrimages to music festivals around the country. There are a lot of similarities and differences between the 1969 super-fest and today’s wanna-bes that serve to illuminate the similarities and differences of the times.

They say as much as things change, they stay the same. There is still often camping, minimal showering, peeing wherever you can get away with it, dancing-with-eyes-closed and ample skin exposure (though today most gals wear bikini tops or paint vs. going full-out-boobs-out like at Woodstock, not to be outdone by the current festival fave- butt- cheeks). Beards are still abundant, and the crowd’s are still mostly white folks. Alcohol and drugs are still a big part of the scene, with psychedelics and opiates hanging in there amongst newer synthetic drugs and much better weed.

As for the state of society, a lot of what the counter-culture of the late 1960s was against is still going on. War- check. Police Brutality- check. Racism- check. Corporate Rule- check. In fact, the hippies of Woodstock would be appalled at the blatant corporate branding and profiteering that happens at the bigger festivals these days. But the times, they are nothing if not a-changing. To that end, at today’s festivals you’ll see far more tattoos and piercings than at Woodstock, and the free love thing is a little different with H.I.V. as a possible take home from casual sex. Also, I wasn’t there, but I doubt there were many openly gay couples at Max Yasgur’s farm. These days same-sex couples can go ahead and get married at some music festivals.

You may also see frat-boys wearing their fraternity flags as capes, folks dressed up like sparkly woodland creatures, a lot of variations on things that glow, impressive hula- hooping, and people in designer clothes who aren’t sure what they’re doing there (Oh wait. Cocaine. They’re doing cocaine there). And let’s not forget our ubiquitous technological gadgets, with which we document and share as much as we can, in real time, with anyone who will pay attention. During Woodstock, people saw what was happening on the news and in newspapers, but they had to wait until it was over for the inside information.

The fashion of the Woodstock era was already in full swing when the festival was held. Alternately, these days the mall is full of clothes marketed as festival wear because clothes that people wear to festivals are often leading the newer fashion trends. Though it must be noted that many-a-current festivarian look like they just stepped out of the Woodstock era. If it ain’t broke... At Woodstock, tickets were $18 in advance and $24 at the gate. Unfathomable, yes, but according to an inflation calculator, $18 in 1969 is equivalent to $120 in 2014, which is also unfathomable. Even still, $120 is cheap compared to today’s three-day festival prices.

Currently, when we go to music festivals, we suffer some of the worst first-world problems I can think of. Band overlap. Oh the tough decisions that must be made when figuring out how to see two or three bands we like that are playing at the same time. But at Woodstock, while there were technically two stages, all the main acts played one at a time with the second stage being for alternative acts that often were not even musical.

It may be a bit of apples to oranges to compare one festival 45-years ago to so many of the newer ones, for which there has been more trial and error, more people involved in the production, corporate sponsorship and myriad musical acts from different genres. Recurring festivals mean festival-goers get to plan excitedly for a year. Promoters get to tweak. Lots of new bands that used to be popular, plus many new and upcoming bands get a chance to play for huge audiences. Still, the fact that Woodstock turned into a cultural phenomenon without most of those benefits is a testament to the headspace and attitudes of the people at the time.

Sure, the guys who put Woodstock together did it for profit, as do those who produce today’s festivals. But lately some festivals are as much about the experience as the music, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Luke O’Neil at says, “Coachella, and festivals like it, are the enemy of the authentic music experience. The bands don’t like playing there, the fans aren’t getting a proper introduction to the music in its natural setting, and the whole thing is just another episode of the branded sponsor-wave product-interaction experience that has somehow taken over for real life.” I suppose that is true for some festivals. Like anything else, sometimes douchebaggery and inauthenticity ruin the best of intentions. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of damn fine festivals out there for real music lovers.

In fact, according to an article at, there are 847 different festivals right now, just in North America. And that’s why the writer of the article, Grayson Haver Currin, posits that the bubble must burst, sooner or later. Currin quotes Andrew Morgan, a booking agent for Billions, a top alternative music booking agency, saying, “...There are only so many $300 festivals that people can go to, if any at all. That might be the thing that eventually breaks the camel’s back — not too many festivals, but too many festivals that are too expensive for a demographic. As soon as it starts happening, it sours ticket buyers, and it sours artists. That’s it.”

At Woodstock so many people showed up that eventually they just knocked down the fence and it became a free concert. It’s hard to imagine that happening today with out the National Guard or some such entity coming in. Speaking of the ‘fuzz’, according to a Woodstock trivia site, 109 people were arrested at Woodstock- out of 500,000. Rolling Stone reported this month that 34 out of 100,000 were arrested at Lollapalooza, 60 out of 80,000 at Bonnaroo, 166 out of 96,500 at Coachella and 111 out of 100,000 at the Electric Daisy Carnival- Vegas. Of course you gotta think there was less of a police presence at Woodstock than there is a today’s festivals.

Three people died at Woodstock. Three people also died this year at or near the Electric Daisy Carnival. Buzz Kill. On the flip side, two babies were born at Woodstock. According to reports, the lead singer of Lovin’ Spoonful, John Sebastian, announced from the stage, “Some cat's old lady just had a baby, a kid destined to be far out!” Though we could all do with out the deaths and babies being born at music festivals, it’s too bad we let go of that groovy vernacular.

While there were other legendary music festivals before Woodstock- at Monterey and Newport for example, Woodstock has always been an unmatched phenomenon in U.S. history. It can not be duplicated for so many reasons, least of all a bunch of the performers are dead. But it’s still hella fun to do our own version, both for the music and for the experience.

In closing, it feels like there is nothing better to leave you with then a link to re-visit to the most insane and beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled-Banner any guitar god has ever played. Still a jaw-dropper. Just wow. It’s sick moments like this that keep us spending our money, packing up a bunch of gear, driving for hours, and forsaking our usual personal hygiene habits. It’s these soul-uplifting musical moments combined with dancing with abandon, silly revelry, and escape from day-to-day life that will always keep us coming back to do it again, and looking forward to it all year long.

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