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Photo courtesy of Billboard.
The Holdovers Review
February 20, 2024

Music Festivals, Then and Now


By Katie Quigley

Coachella is one of the most profound and well-known music festivals in the world. In 2015, the three day event brought in $84,264,264 from ticket sales, with a total of 198,000 tickets sold. However, Coachella, along with other American music festivals throughout the decades, did not start out like this.

The Newport Jazz Festival is the first American example of a music festival, originating in 1954. This event still happens each year in Newport, Rhode Island. It is held at a high level in American history because it marks the beginning of a long timeline of music festivals in our nation. Next was The Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, the first rock festival in our history, presenting world famous acts like The Who, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. Soon after was the most famous and, perhaps, the most iconic music festival: Woodstock. Woodstock has been helping capture the bohemian spirit of America during its time since 1969. The festival was turned into a documentary, and created five revivals. It was at this point that festivals became a pinpoint in the music industry. Then in the 1990s many of the popular festivals that we know today arose- Lollapalooza, Coachella, and Bonnaroo.

Until recently, music festivals were meant to let the free spirit of music in America live. The price of a ticket to attend The Newport Jazz Festival in 1969 cost $3.50, which is the equivalent of spending $22.71 in 2016. Ticket prices were low in order to make music affordable to all kinds of Americans, not only the wealthy. In fact, Woodstock turned into a free event in order to let everyone in. The first trace of Coachella was found at a Pearl Jam concert in 1993. It was at this time that Pearl Jam and other bands started protesting the fees that Ticketmaster was adding to each ticket that was sold. Pearl Jam, the vanguard of the group of angry musicians, started to look for a venue that could be used without Ticketmaster. This led them to the Empire Polo Club in southern California, which is still the venue of the event today.

Coachella was created purely off the fact that the American people wanted to be able to appreciate music without spending a ton of money. Today, a general admission Coachella ticket is $399, not to mention the $899 VIP ticket. The entire experience, depending on how high of quality you want your time in the deserts of California to be, costs between $1,000 and $6,000. This means that the event is mostly filled with celebrities and/or the wealthy. There isn’t a lot of room for average, middle class Americans who have a love for music- which is the original intention of a music festival, to attend.

I feel like it is unfortunate that music festivals today have gone so far from what the original intention was. The idea is to let all kinds of people come together to cherish music, and it is disappointing that so many people are unable to attend events like Coachella because of how expensive the experience is. This type of event has gone from the admiration of music to something so off track of the original point that it would not be recognized by the first attendees of the Newport Jazz Festival.

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