American Rock Festivals

April 8, 2024
Accessible Festivals

From the cover of Look magazine's special 1967 issue.The dawning age of America's great rock festivals was legendary both for its music and its massive crowds. But a different kind of legacy could be its greatest.

Crowd huddled against the cold at the Palm Beach Pop Festival, November 1969.
Photo © Bob Davidoff /

When the Rolling Stones took to the stage one windy November night in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1969, it's doubtful their audience had any thoughts of politics or cultural change.Crowd on June 3, 1967, at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival - America's, and the world's, first rock festival. Photo © Bryan Costales. We were just a crowd at a rock festival who had endured a downpour the previous day and now braved the bone-chilling cold front that had rolled through. It was hours after midnight and we had waited a long time for this moment. We were simply die-hard music fans, huddled together, buzzed and ready to rock. As dawn later broke and we began to drag ourselves back down the highways to our ordinary lives, we gave no thought to whether we were taking anything with us besides all that magnificent music ringing in our ears. Nor did we wonder if we were leaving anything in our wake besides our footprints in the mud. Now, upon reflection...

For the last several decades it has been argued that, in the 1960s - or, more accurately, the period roughly between 1963 and 1975 - a cultural revolution of historic importance took place in America. Although the scale of its significance can be debated, it is indisputable that, during those years, some of the most deeply-rooted pillars of America's staid social structure of the time were shaken, and either rearranged, removed or rebuilt. In any case, the status quo was irrevocably altered and a 'counter culture' began to emerge.

As this disruption and renovation occurred, it involved events that were sometimes thrilling, sometimes frightening, and very often unsettling to one group or another. It proceeded on many fronts at the same time and embraced a wide spectrum of social issues. These included the struggles for civil rights and women's liberation; the sexual revolution; environmentalism; protests against the Vietnam war, the draft and nuclear weapons; countless skirmishes for greater freedom of speech and self-expression, including fashion and personal appearance; the emergence of new and experimental art forms and cinema, and an avalanche of new music; the search for alternative routes to spiritual enlightenment; experimentation with mind-altering drugs and entirely new lifestyles; and the beginnings of the gay rights movement.

Posters like this, with their impressive lists of scheduled performers, were a magnet for would-be festival-goers. The basic, now iconic, design on this one (by Lance Bragg) was used on posters for three different rock festivals in 1969 and 1970. From left: Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, performing at the Miami Pop Festival in December 1968. Photo © Bill Mankin. From left: August Burns, Fred Herrera, Nancy Nevins and Albert Moore of Sweetwater, performing at the Miami Pop Festival, December 1968. Photo © Bill Mankin. Perennial festival favorite Richie Havens (right) joins Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell for an impromptu medley at the Miami Pop Festival, December 1968. Photo © Bill Mankin.
Tuff "American Hair Band" M3 Rock Festival, Columbia, MD 5
Tuff "American Hair Band" M3 Rock Festival, Columbia, MD 5 ...
American Tours Festival - rock dimanche 5/7/2015
American Tours Festival - rock dimanche 5/7/2015
American Rock Festival Update 12-29-13
American Rock Festival Update 12-29-13
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