7 Historic American Music Festivals


Since the 1960s, music festivals in American have been a place for music lovers to gather for daily live concerts performed by their favorite artists. Billboard estimates that at least 32 million Americans attend music festivals every year. With the improvement of technology, modern day festivals can complete their shows with impressive light and audio displays to make for unbeatable experiences. While there are thousands of music festivals in the United States today, we’ve selected seven to highlight here that are among the most historic music festivals in the country. 


Lollapalooza has been making headlines since 1991. Not just for the major names of the music industry that perform on these stages every year, but for the massive amounts of people who flock here. Complete with 8 stages and over 170 bands, it’s no surprise that Lolla draws attendees back year after year. In recent years, the event has started offering VIP accommodations, including up-close tickets and personal cabanas. Even a simple general admission ticket allows music fans the chance to see their favorite artists up close. 


A backstage view at Woodstock. Reprinted from Bethel by Rita J. Sheehan, courtesy of the Alexy family (pg. 123, Arcadia Publishing, 2009).

No list of famous music festivals would be complete without Woodstock. This one-time event from August 15-18, 1969 attracted 400,000 people to “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music.” In all, there were 32 acts that were performed outside, rain or shine. According to Rolling StoneWoodstock is among the top 50 moments in history that changed the course of Rock and Roll. Musician Joni Mitchell was quoted calling Woodstock “a spark of beauty.” The original site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 


Set in the heart of California, Coachella is one of the most popular modern music festivals. Unlike most yearly festivals, Coachella highlights and artists from an array of genres. The festival’s first event was in 1999. It skipped a year in 2000 before returning in 2001, and remaining consistent since. Coachella has seen names like Pearl Jam, Iggy Pop, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, and Kings of Leon, just to name a few. In 2015, Coachella won Pollstar’s Major Music Festival of the Year award for the 10th time in 11 years.


The original mainstage at Summerfest. Reprinted from Milwaukee Jazz by Joey Grihalva, courtesy of the Milwaukee County Historical Society (pg. 92, Arcadia Publishing, 2019).

Noting itself as the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been highlighting artists since 1968. Every year, for about 11 days over the 4th of July, 12 stages are erected for over 800 acts. It’s estimated that 800,000 – 900,000 people attend the event. In recent years, Summerfest has also earned a reputation for sponsoring local cuisine. Not only do festival attendees get to see their favorite artists perform, they get a taste of native Milwaukee delicacies as well. 

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Bonnaroo’s style is largely influenced by rock concerts of the 1960s and 1970s, and gives subtle nods to Woodstock. Focusing the musical talent in the punk rock and folk genres, this festival has been opening its stage for performers and music lovers since 2002. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Bonnaroo within the top 50 events to have influenced the history of Rock and Roll. 

Newport Folk Festival

George Wein, the founder of the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival. Reprinted from Legendary Locals of Newport by Annie Sherman, courtesy of Dave Hansen and The Newport Daily News (pg. 108, Arcadia Publishing, 2013).

As the counterpart of the older and more established Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival draws massive crowds every year. Like the name suggests, this festival focuses on artists in the folk genre. It began in Newport, Rhode Island in 1959, and has served as the epicenter for the rise of popular folk music in America. George Wein established the festival in response to the 1958 Folk Revival movement, wanting upcoming artists to have a central stage to display their talents. His efforts prevailed, making the Newport Folk Festival into one of the most popular festivals today. 

Austin City Limits Music Festivals

For two consecutive three-day weekends, fans of artists in genres ranging from folk and pop to indie and rock gather in Austin, Texas for concerts from 10 AM to 10 PM. A music festival in Austin would not be complete without a food scene. Austin Eats is the festival’s central food court, highlighting some of Austin’s most famous cuisine. Beginning in 2002 with major names of the music industry, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has begun to incorporate more Texas-born musicians to bring the attention back to the festival’s home city. In recent years, The Strokes, Mumford and Sons, Jay Z, and Chance the Rapper are a few of the names who have crossed these stages. 

Since the mid-1900s, music festivals have offered music lovers a chance to see some of their favorite musicians all in one weekend. While today most festivals have become extravagant events, they still harken back to their roots as an opportunity to celebrate and admire amazing performers and their art. From classic music events like Woodstock, to modern day gatherings like Coachella, music festivals show no signs of slowing down.