Music Festivals: a timeline through the years

From the hippies of Woodstock to the influencers of Coachella, here's how festivals as we know them have transformed over time.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 15th May 2019.
Originally published: 2nd May 2019

Heading to a music festival (or several) with your mates is a real highlight of the summer calendar. Boozing in the sunshine, boogying to your favourite bands and having a laugh with your nearest and dearests – what’s not to love? 

And when it comes to music festivals, the UK sure does it well, with some of the biggest, best and most famous festivals in the world gracing home soil. Music fans from around the country and the globe travel far and wide to flock to renowned festivals like Glastonbury, Creamfields, and Isle of Wight festival just to name a few. Even when the heavens open (which they usually do), the rain doesn’t stop the crowds swarming to rave in the mud.

Yes, festivals are a summer staple in the diary today, but have you ever wondered how our favourite festivals came about? Lucky for you, we have! And we’ve put together a handy timeline mapping out music festivals through the ages. Enjoy!

1967 - From the USA to the UK

Monterey Pop Festival, situated in Monterey, California took place in the summer of 1967 and it was the first time a new variety of live performance catered to the masses. The festival was attended by about 25,000 people with live performances from icons such as Janis Joplin, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel and Otis Reading.

Two years later, the most well-known festival of them all first took place in upstate New York – the famous Woodstock festival. An estimated 400,000 people joined together over three days to celebrate music, love and peace. 

And as the hippie trend spread across the United States and the rest of the Western World, so did the craze of mainstream music festivals.

1968 – the First Music Festival in the UK, the Isle of Wight Festival

After music festivals in the States paved the way for worldwide recognition, it was time for the UK to set up its very first commercial music festival.

In 1968, the Isle of Wight festival initially started off with a small audience. This marked the official shift of modern music festivals to the UK, setting the bar for festivals we know and love today.

By 1970, popularity boomed and over a whopping 600,000 music-lovers attended to celebrate their love of rock music. A stellar line-up included the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Supertramp and Leonard Cohen.

Built as a series of festivals between these years of 1968 and 1970, the Isle of Wight festival soon became acknowledged as the ‘Woodstock of Europe’. 

However, Parliament banned the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 in fear that the growing numbers and wild partying would negatively impact the island. 

Fun fact: One of Glastonbury’s famous founders, Andrew Kerr, attended in 1970, giving him the inspiration to approach dairy farmer Michael Eavis to help set up the world-famous Glastonbury festival.

1970 - the First Glastonbury Festival

It’s impossible to mention UK festivals without first thinking of the iconic Glastonbury Festival. Today, fans are frantic to grab hold of an elusive ticket and they sell out online at £248 a pop within a matter of mere minutes. Attendees are estimated at around 175,000.

However, Glastonbury first set up in 1970 with more humble beginnings. Like Andrew Kerr, Michael Eavis was similarly inspired from visiting the Blues Festival at the Bath & West Showground. The two decided to join forces to co-found their own festival on a smaller scale.

Originally called Pilton Festival, it was held the day after Jimi Hendrix died over a two-day period with a modest attendance of 1,500. Tickets sold at a bargain price of a single pound – imagine that! 

Since then, the legendary festival has boomed in popularity. It’s evolved into a world-famous muddy metropolis that’s the talk of the UK festival season far and wide. Iconic headliners over the years include the likes of The Smiths, Johnny Cash, Beyonce, Radiohead, Oasis and Jay-Z just to name a few of the famous faces. 

Fun fact: Glastonbury Festival tickets in 1970 included free milk as an added perk.

1998 – the First Creamfields Festival

The UK’s favourite dance festival first set up camp in 1998 in Winchester, Southern England, drawing in an audience of 25,000 people. Live performances and DJ sets from the likes of Run DMC, Primal Scream, Daft Punk, Paul van Dyk and Sasha were quick to delight fans and the following year, numbers doubled in size.

In 1998 Creamfields moved to its spiritual home of Liverpool in the North of England and the increased 50,000 fans raved to the likes of Basement Jaxx and Pet Shop Boys.

Renovation of the old Liverpool airfield site meant another move for the festival, but not too far this time. In 2006, Creamfields moved to Cheshire on the Daresbury Estate where it still resides, each year attracting around 70,000 music-lovers daily across four days and bringing in top-name DJs from across the globe such as Swedish House MafiaTiësto, The Chainsmokers and Fatboy Slim. Find Creamfields 2019 tickets.

Fun fact: Creamfields is one of the largest electronic music festivals in the world when it comes to attendance, number and size of stages, and size and depth of line up.

2019 - Music Festivals Today

In the 21st century today the modern music festival is a social phenomenon and their popularity in the UK shows no signs of stopping. 

Whilst big festivals still boom, there’s an emergence of the smaller-scale ‘boutique’ festival, such as Shambala Festival. Festivals like these have an increased focus on wellness, incorporating yoga, healthy-living and family-friendly activities into the festival. The trend is growing, with bigger festivals taking note.

Nowadays it’s not just about the bands and DJs you go to visit but also the delicious new street food to try, the unique side-shows to discover and the weird and wonderful art installations to stumble across.

There’s a saturated market of festivals all around the country and whatever your interests - musical or otherwise - there’ll be a festival to suit your tastes. 

Need help finding the right one? Let us assist with our festival finder

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