Music festivals are some of the most popular events in the world, with millions of people visiting at least one each year. They celebrate all genres of music, can range in length from a few hours to a month and can be used to celebrate anniversaries or traditions.
Some of the earliest festivals in the US were held in the 18th century and many were linked with singing schools or with religious music. It was later in the same century that folk music became popular and fiddlers’ contests started, some of which spread over several days.
In the 19th century there were a number of major musical events in the US. The first was hosted by the Boston Handel and Haydn Society in 1856 and it was used to present three major choral works. In 1869 there was a National Peace Jubilee in Boston, organised by Patrick S Gilmore. 20,000 instrumentalists took part in this event. For the 100 year anniversary of independence (1876) a music festival was held in Philadelphia.
The 19th century also saw the start of two music festivals that have continued to this day. The first started in 1858 in Worcester, Massachusetts and the second started in 1873 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Several of the singing schools events have continued for many years too.
During the 20th century large numbers of music festivals started to appear. Many of them are located in rural areas and take place in the summer to make the most of the good weather. Several of these are from the symphony orchestras. The musicians are employed all-year round and so the summer season becomes a type of festival.
Some cities have a summer opera festival and these are proving to be increasingly popular. Folk, rock, jazz and bluegrass all have festivals each year around the country. The first National Folk Festival took place in 1934 and was held in St Louis but then made its home in 1971 at the Wolf Trap Farm Park, close to Washington D.C.
No mention of US festivals would be complete without talking about Woodstock. This is one of the largest rock festivals ever held. This was a one-off event but it is the event that others are compared to. Held in 1969, the event was only followed in 1994 by a commemorative second concert.
So which festivals are considered to be the best in the world? This will depend upon your personal taste but there are some which are famous the world over. Consider California’s Coachella festival. This is held out in the desert and the first event took place in 1999. This is a two-day event and among the top names that have appeared at the festival include Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jay-Z.
Not all of the world’s top music festivals take place in the US though. The Reading and Leeds festivals are held at the same time in the UK. Reading is one of the oldest festivals and mainly features punk, metal and alternative bands. Nirvana’s last performance was at this festival. Glastonbury is a five-day event that is held near the town of the same name. This event took its inspiration from the hippie movement and the Woodstock festival. The first event took place in 1970 and some of the leading names in music have graced the Pyramid stage, including Coldplay, David Bowie and The Smiths.
If you should happen to be in India at the same time that the Sunburn Festival is being held in Goa, you could see some of the leading names in EDM. It is the largest music festival in Asia and it is a visually-stunning event.