Music festivals become cultural common ground
Sunburn. Sweat. Mosquitoes. Beyond-capacity crowds. Trash. Primitive sanitation. Rain. Erratic sound. Mud.
File those under “Things nobody remembers and/or cares about” at summer music festivals.
Instead, we remember Jimi Hendrix' eloquent, feedback-ravaged deconstruction of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969, Bob Dylan's blasphemous plugging-in of electric guitars at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 (inspiring boos and shouts of “Judas!” from the crowd), and Jesse Jackson leading the crowd in a demand for respect and dignity — “I am ... somebody!” — at Wattstax in 1973.
The names themselves seem to wield a certain memory-summoning, Zeitgeist-shaping power — Woodstock, Wattstax, Newport, Monterey Pop, Altamont, Live Aid, Glastonbury, Isle of Wight — becoming a kind of shorthand for a musical-cultural moment in time never to be forgotten.
At the moment, the summer music-festival circuit seems to only be getting bigger, more diverse and easier to access, spreading to virtually every corner of North America, Europe and beyond. Clearly, the proliferation of massive musical gatherings seems to have some significance, not just musically, but as broader indicators of culture, consumption, fashion and protest.
“In the festival experience, it's as much about the fans as the music — whether you were at Newport in '58 or Coachella last week,” says Lauren Onkey, vice president of education and public programs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
The Rock Hall has a new exhibit called “Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience” that chronicles the history of the music festival. It attempts to tell the story of this cultural phenomenon through a collection of film clips, artifacts, posters, memorabilia and even live feeds from current festivals throughout the summer.
“The modern (music) festival started in 1938 with the ‘Spirituals to Swing' festival,” Onkey says. “There's, like, 1,200 festivals a year now.
“At Woodstock, hippies got to find out that they weren't the only freaks. Festivals pretty much died out in the U.S. in the '80s, but took off in Europe. EDM (electronic dance music) has really found a mass audience through festivals.”
Though the music is only tangentially related to rock and roll, the many hues of electronic dance music have ridden a wave of festival-generated momentum, taking the rave experience out of abandoned warehouses and into the mainstream.
Still, it's a little amazing to see artifacts from Pittsburgh's own electronic mash-up champion Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet, his battered laptop and customized black-and-gold Nike high-tops are there, in a display from Lollapalooza 2008.
“The vast majority of the festivals were happy to collaborate with the exhibit,” says Todd Mesek, the Rock Hall's vice president of communications.
As a result, there are some really unique and unusual items on display.
There's Jimi Hendrix' guitar strap from Woodstock, Keith Emerson's battered 200-pound Hammond organ from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1971, Muddy Waters' acoustic guitar from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1968, Grace Slick's kaftan from the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
The centerpiece of “Common Ground” is the top floor, which features a giant scaffolding that rises to the ceiling, reminiscent of the scaffoldings that festivalgoers climbed to watch the stage at Woodstock. The room is surrounded by four giant screens, showing a 20-minute film cut together from many music festivals, depicting the festival experience “from dawn to dawn.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- WXXP listeners, artists to recall ’80s indie-rock days at reunion show
- Journey, Josh Groban shows set for First Niagara Pavilion
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offers own tradition with ‘Waltz’
- Violinist, pianist join for evening of sonatas at Carnegie Music Hall
- Electronic composer Troxum’s sound follows natural course
- Soldiers & Sailors concert set; free tickets available