Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Cargo by Men At Work

Cargo by Men At WorkIt is funny how fame works. When Men at Work recorded their second album Cargo in the summer of 1982, they were just a regional act who had moderate success in their native Australia with their debut album Business As Usual. Then a few songs from that debut began to get heavy airplay in Western Canada and finally the United States. By late 1982, with this follow-up already recorded and set for release, Business As Usual skyrocketed to the top of the charts and the group were suddenly superstars, a fame which carried into 1983 when the delayed release of Cargo finally occurred and collection of similar yet more mature tracks continued the band’s momentum in the pop world.

On Cargo, the personnel and production team from the debut album remained, led by producer Peter McIan and the band’s chief songwriter and vocalist Colin Hay. The band returned to their signature mixture of reggae with new wave-fused rock and pop, accented by Hay’s distinct vocal delivery and pronunciation. However, on this album they did attempt more ambitious and deep compositions, which gives it a slight edge.

The album has a very polished rhythm with bassist Jonathan Rees and drummer Jerry Speiser holding down the bottom end with precision and tightness, giving Hay the space to let melodies and riffs develop on top. Also, with this “typical” production any of the sonic flourishes (albeit few and far between) and brought out with maximum contrast and effect.


Cargo by Men At Work
Released: June 28, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: 1982
Side One Side Two
Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive
Overkill
Settle Down My Boy
Upstairs In My House
No Sign of Yesterday
It’s a Mistake
High Wire
Blue For You
I Like To
No Restrictions
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars | Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals | Jonathan Rees – Bass | Jerry Speiser – Drums

 
The opener “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” is almost frivolous in nature as the song employs a sped-up reggae beat during the verse and dissolves to a slow, waltz/rock during the chorus. The good lead guitar of Ron Strykert sets the pace for his fine work on this album. Strykert also composed and sang lead on “Settle Down My Boy”, a song where the underlying reggae is brought to a pop extreme, alternating keys in the first few verses, with another great guitar lead with some sharp room effects. “Upstairs in My House” is a frantic and desperate, yet still upbeat pop song may have been a representation of type of material the band was going for on this album.

The strong first side ends with “No Sign of Yesterday”, a song of nostalgia and longing lyrically, where Rees and Speiser add some rare rhythm accents, adding effect to the darkness of the song. Strykert also gets into the act with a souring and soulful guitar lead. Perhaps the best pure pop song of the entire decade of the 1980s, “Overkill” contains a hyper new-wave rhythm beneath the deep and melodic vocals of Colin Hay. This is all topped off with a signature saxophone and haunting synths by Greg Ham and yet another tremendous lead guitar by Strykert. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Pop chart and contains spastic yet profound lyrics, highlighted by the fantastic line;

Ghosts appear and fade away…”

Side two begins with “It’s a Mistake”, another Top Ten hit for the band, where Hay’s sharply picked, choppy guitar chords are synched with a fine reggae accompaniment in a light but macabre presentation in the spirit of the film Doctor Strangelove. The song breaks out of this choppy rhythm about three quarters through for a memorable coda, led by a chorus of melodic guitars and Hay’s desperate, shouting vocals, for a climatic ending.
 

 
“High Wire” contains a heavier rock arrangement similar to some of the contemporary material by Huey Lewis (although it does contain a lame “carnival” section during the bridge). This was the fourth and final single from Cargo, released at the end 1983, just about the time the group’s fame trajectory began to plateau. The most effect-driven song on the album is the closer “No Restrictions”, which contains an interesting flute lead by Ham, but is otherwise a rather weak attempt at anthem rock.

Cargo is not without its weak spots, as side two does contain some blatant filler, starting with “Blue For You”, a song that is pure Caribbean in texture right down to the percussive and keyboard effects. “I Like To” is the most universally panned song on the album due to the harsh, exaggerated, late-70s techno-punk vocals by Greg Ham.

In 1984, Men At Work took a long break from the years of constant touring they’d done in support of both albums. This proved to be a momentum killer and, when the band reconvened, in-fighting proliferated and Speiser and Rees left the band. Although the remaining trio recorded a third album, Two Hearts, it made little waves and by early 1986, Men At Work was no more.

~

1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Business As Usual by Men At Work

Buy Business As Usual

1982 Album Of the Year

Business As Usual by Men At Work One would not be out of line to suggest that this is a rather “unusual” (pun intended) selection for our 1982 album of the year. In fact, Business As Usual was originally released in November 1981 in Australia, the home country of the five piece rock band Men At Work. The lead single from the album, “Who Can It Be Now?” was released even earlier and had become a #1 hit Down Under by late summer 1981. Still, Columbia Records twice rejected distribution in the western world until its overwhelming success finally got the album released in the U.S. in April 1982. Here the album would go on to top the album charts and, as the year ended, Men At Work would occupy the #1 position on both the single and album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. Still, why would a “rock” site like ours choose this “pop” album as the best of 1982? Well, of the seventeen albums we reviewed from 1982 (most of which were pretty “good” but very few of which were truly “great”), Business As Usual seemed to be the most consistently solid and original back to front.

Produced by Peter McIan, the album has a solid new wave sound which compliments the good pop song-craft of guitarist and lead vocalist Colin Hay. With a knack for asymmetrical vocal movement from calm and raspy to strong and desperate, Hay provided a concise vocal guide above the band’s reggae and ska influenced rhythmic pulse. The resultant effect was a message that was simultaneously entertaining, a bit humorous, and deeply philosophical. The band also added other sonic elements, such as the phased guitar sounds and just the right infusion of saxophone by Greg Ham to give them an elemental edge over other pop-oriented new wave groups of the day.

Men At Work made their initial international break through to audiences in the western provinces of Canada, while opening for Fleetwood Mac on a North American tour. But it would be in the United States where the floodgates to success would open for the group. Business As Usual would become the most successful album by an Australian group to date, spending an unprecedented 15 weeks at #1 on the American album charts. It sold over 6 million copies in the states and 15 million worldwide.
 


Business As Usual by Men At Work
Released: April 22, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Spring-Autumn 1981
Side One Side Two
Who Can It Be Now?
I Can See It In Your Eyes
Down Under
Underground
Helpless Automation
People Just Love to Play With Words
Be Good Johnny
Touching the Untouchables
Catch a Star
Down By the Sea
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals
Jonathan Rees – Bass
Jerry Speiser – Drums

 

The album begins with the first real hit by the band, “Who Can It Be Now?”, an almost-satirical piece but with good quality music and arrangement and an excellent outtro. The call and response between the vocal and the saxophone during the chorus is done masterfully. The song was recorded prior to the rest of the album and released as a single in Australia in June 1981, and contains a lyrical narrative of a seclusion and paranoia. “I Can See It In Your Eyes” follows in perfect new wave form. The high, piercing synth notes compliment the driving yet melodic back-beat which is accented with good rudiments during the guitar lead.

Guitarist Ron Strykert co-wrote “Down Under”, another huge international hit for the band with a more pronounced reggae beat and interesting lyrics flush with Australian slang. The song remains a perennial favorite on Australian radio and television. It was played during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has been ranked the #4 all-time greatest Australian song by that nation’s Performing Rights Association. In 2010 however, the flute riff from the song was found to have plagiarised the classic Australian song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”, written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair.
 

 
The third single from the album was “Be Good Johnny”, a song written by Hay and Ham with lyrics from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy who is constantly being told what to do but feels that he is misunderstood by adults in his life. The song’s title is offers homage to the Chuck Berry classic Johnny B. Goode (a cleaver play on words itself) and features some spoken dialog by Greg Ham. Ham also takes lead vocals on the Devo-esque piece “Helpless Automation”.

Beyond the radio hits, the rest of the album contains some very strong songs. “Underground” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album, complex both lyrically and in musical arrangement, with a fine guitar riff by Strykert and great drumming by Jerry Speiser. Strykert also wrote “People Just Love to Play with Words”, perhaps the most pop-oriented song on the album, which again builds towards good outtro vocals by Hay.

Men At Work

The second side of the album includes some gems such as “Touching the Untouchables”, a complex piece with dynamic vocals and interesting guitar and sax riffs throughout. “Catch a Star” builds from simple rudiments by bassist Jonathan Rees until it blossoms into a very moderate ska beat. “Down By the Sea” closes the album as a laid back extended piece with composing contributions by each member of the band.

Men At Work won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1983, a first for any Australian recording act. They would go on to record another fine album of equal artistic quality as a follow-up to Business As Usual later that year, but with much less commercial success. The 1982 success would not again be matched.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.