newport folk festival

Where Did Music Festivals Come From?

    Music Festivals are happening all over the world and they have been for centuries. During their existence, festivals have been through substantial evolutions and shifts to shape what we know today as a “music festival”. We owe a lot to the middle ages when festivals were used to celebrate the harvest. When new crops were sprouting, and the seasons changing from Winter to Spring. Although, people didn’t want to just celebrate that the crops were growing and the days were getting longer [Overbury, p.2]. They wanted to celebrate emerging from their homes victorious after surviving the winter [Overbury, p.2]. Back then that was a feat in itself, so you can see how a large, and loud celebrations rejoicing the bare necessities would be only natural. 

Apollo Defeating Python

Apollo Defeating Python

But, lets go back even further to where music festival really all started, 582 BC, Ancient Greece. That was the year that marked the creation of The Pythian Games. The games were started to celebrate the Patron God of Delphi, Apollo [Hatzitsinidou]. The mythology of the games is that Apollo swore vengeance against Python after he attempted to kill Leto before she could give birth to Artemis. Python was sent on this hit mission by the Jealous Goddess Hera on the grounds of limiting her godly competition. Python caught wind that Apollo was after him and fled to Delphi. Apollo caught up with him and they had a ferocious battle in the city which ended up with Python being buried in the city center. This made Hera very angry. Zeus stepped in and told Apollo that he had to make up for his crime. Apollo decided to create the Pythian Games to make up for his crime [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. The Pythian Games were created to celebrate the destruction of Python and the emergence of the Oracle of Delphi, which was done by several music, game-like competitions in Apollo’s name [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. The games usually lasted six to eight days [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. The musical events included a Hymn addressed to Apollo, the god of Arts and Music, as well as several performances on Aulos (reed pipe) and Kithara (an ancient Greek string instrument) [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. The games also had dancing and acting performances usually praising the gods or reenacting famous battles. The games became so in depth that preparations for the games began 6 months prior. The games had their own team of producers or organizers, known as the Theoroi [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. These 9 citizens from Delphi would send announcements to the other Greek cities to let musicians, athletes, scholars, and philosophers know so they could begin their travels to Delphi [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. A sacred truce was put into effect to protect the performers during their travels to the great Greek city. The truce also allowed for Delphian structures to be restored and prepared for the performances [Hatzitsinidou, p.1]. 
    As time went along the games transformed and grew larger. The games would start to include a lot sporting events like boxing, wrestling, several track events, gymnastics, and chariot races [Gregory, p.602]. These sporting events being added to the games really helped slate what we know of today as the Olympic Games [Gregory, p.602]. That’s right, you can thank music festivals for the creation of the Olympic Games that we all gather around our TV’s every two years to watch. Despite the rise of Christianity during the fourth century BC, Delphi remained an active pagan site and the games continued to be celebrated at least until AD 424 [Gregory, p.602]. 
By now we have thrown around the phrase “modern music festival” a lot. So let’s go a little deeper and figure out what exactly that means. How did we get from the Pythian games to where we are now? When did the “modern music festival” begin and how?

From Ancient to Modern

    Now that we know what the ancient ancestor of music festivals is, we can start to narrow in on what brought us to where we are now. Humanity has come a long way from the ancient Greek’s festivals but, that doesn’t mean we don’t still have pop music festivals that are setup to give praises to gods. That would exclude all of the Christian and Muslim music and arts festivals, like the Creation series of festivals that happen all over the US and MuslimFest in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada that are pairing music and art with rejoicing to their almighty [Leichman, p.1] [MuslimFest, p.1]. Maybe the festivals that we are experiencing today aren’t actually too far from where we started. In some respects, that is. 
    Fairs and festivals predate recorded time. Historians will tell you you they have their roots in religious gatherings such as India’s Maha Kumbh Mela. A pilgrimage that hundreds of Hindus make every three years, which ends in a very large festival [Wynn, p.3]. Festivals serve as outlets for emotional expression, reflection and give people a way to break away from their monotonous lives, but, festivals have also been used as tools to give out mass entertainment, and distraction. Early European festivals, secular and religious, drew the entire community into the streets [Wynn, p.3]. Travelers from great distances away would join the locals in making their city a “theater without walls.” This tradition continued, and as it did, it evolved. 
    During the 17th-19th centuries in Europe the obvious focus was on classical music, highlighting composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Handel [Wynn. p.19]. The festivals became very exclusive. Many festivals began to move indoors and royal families were generally sitting in a high and mighty position of the audience [Wynn. p.19]. These “festivals” changed the game. When they started, festivals were for the people and created by the people to rejoice in celebration. During the 17th-19th centuries royalty generally had control over culture [Wynn. p.19]. The educated would be the ones benefitting from these events. This was because music was becoming inaccessible to common people. The wealth divide was a lot larger, new tools were rapidly speeding up the creation of new Instruments, and musicians were either high class, educated and working for royalty or poor, uneducated, roaming folk artists [Wynn. p.19].

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    Louis and Elaine Lorillard with George Wein [3]

Louis and Elaine Lorillard with George Wein [3]

 This trend of festival continued into the early 20th century. Right around World War I things began to change [Wynn. p.20]. European countries had to focus on the creation of weapons and worry about the safety of their country and people. Music and festivals were no longer getting the attention from the upper class that they once had [Wynn. p.20]. Lower class people who didn’t want to fight, or had their opinions on the global mess were the ones who were finally able to pick up instruments and they did it in a big way. Wartime folk music and jazz were created from this era [Wynn. p.20]. Small groups of like-minded musicians banded together, mostly performing in small night clubs for similarly minded people, away from the upper class. This trend continued and by the time the war was over Jazz music was becoming established in popular culture [Wynn. p.20]. In the United States popular music festivals can be tracked back to two people: Louis and Elaine Lorillard [Wynn. p.21]. The couple met while in Italy during World War II. They fell in love and bonded over their love of jazz music [Wynn. p.21]. When they came back to the United States they were determined to use jazz to add to the cultural fabric of Newport, Rhode Island [Wynn. p.21].  They offered $20,000 to fund a jazz event, rather than a festival in the European classical tradition [Wynn. p.21]. They built a team and cofounded the Newport Folk Festival with George Wein, the owner of Boston Jazz Club of Storyville [Wynn. p.21]. Newport Folk Festival fused jazz, blues, country and pop music together to create what music critic Leonard Feather called “the festival era of large-scale, annual, outdoor events in the United States.” [Wynn. p.22] Wein went on to manage the festival for decades and came to be considered the patriarch of the American music festival [Wynn. p.22]. From here festivals started springing up all over the country in the style of Newport Folk Festival. The Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1962, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967, the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, and Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in 1969 are all perfect examples of the festival boom [Wynn. p.22]. These festivals all served as gatherings for, and the generators of, the American counterculture, and legitimized the scene [Wynn. p.22]. In the 1980’s and 90’s a lot of those listed festivals either dropped off or saw a downward spiral of attendance. American popular music festivals hit a dry spell, but, that didn’t stop them [Wynn. p.22]. It only meant that music festivals were changing again.
    In Austin, Texas in 1987, South by South West was created, as well as Chicago’s Lollapalooza [Wynn. p.22]. Once the 2000’s rolled around festivals were starting to rematerialize, including two of United States largest festivals: Bonnaroo and Coachella [Wynn. p.23]. Bands were also starting their own festivals so they could play, such as Camp Bisco started by jam-band The Disco Biscuits in 1998. While America was seeing the growth of festivals again, they were also seeing the growth of attendees. In 2012, 80,000-85,000 people attended each day of Coachella and 160,000 people attended Miami’s Ultra Music Festival [Wynn. p.23]. Presently, festivals have different reasons for being created. It may not seem like the 1990’s were too long ago, but since then music festivals have changed. Sure, they are setup to broadcast creativity, art, and fun, but, they are also used to bolster tourism in cities, entice business relocations, and enhance territorial trademarking [Wynn, p.4]. The music industry needs music festivals to help stave off the rapid decline of of profits in this digital age that we live in [Wynn. p.4]. This combination of commerce and music has created what we know of today as a music festival in the United States. The first evolution Jonathan Wynn, author of Music/City, says has occurred because of music festivals is the evolution of cities from being the centers of production to centers of consumption. The second being the parallel change in economics of the music industry from the sale of durable products to the marketing of live music [Wynn. p.23]. Although, to add on to Wynn’s affirmation, he doesn’t seem to mention that technology played a huge role in the transformation of the music industry, music itself, festivals, and the creation of the contemporary American city. This large influx of festivals, and popularity surrounding them created what is called Festivalization.