Editor’s note: Bruce is on vacation this week. In lieu of a new entry, Hack’s Back Pages is re-running a piece from October 2015 about music festivals, in commemoration of the second weekend of Coachella happening this weekend in Southern California, considered the kickoff of the festival season.
Rock music festivals — where multiple acts perform on one site for thousands over two or three days — are everywhere now, and very big business these days. But it wasn’t all that long ago when the very idea was summarily dismissed as too costly, too unwieldy, maybe even too dangerous.
It’s generally agreed that the concept of assembling many musical artists on one outdoor stage for a day or two was born in the mid-’50s, when the first Newport Jazz Festival was held in 1954 to bring jazz to the Rhode Island resort town. Impresario George Wein assembled many top jazz artists of the day, and the event attracted 13,000 over two days. That festival has changed venues and even cities over the years, especially in the 1970s, but returned to Newport in 1981 and still operates there today, where the 62nd Festival was held three months ago.
Wein also initiated the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, staging a two-day event that featured folk, blues, country and bluegrass artists of the period. It stopped operating in the late ’60s but resumed in 1985 and still attracts crowds of 10-12,000 today.