Rock of Ages:

Rocking it up at the world's best Rock Festivals

Introduction

More than three centuries ago William Congreve wrote “music has charms to soothe a savage beast”; clearly he wasn’t talking about rock music. On the contrary, this kind of music charges you up, energizes you and makes you want to let out the beast inside you. Rock has come to define entire generations of people and has as its legacy, evolved with the times.

From the Aloha-hoo days of the King, Elvis Presley, to the band that said were more famous than Jesus, The Beatles, to the mesmerizing sounds of Jimi Hendrix and the poignant, often harsh truths professed in Janis Joplin’s vocals, rock has always mirrored the times, and more often than not, stayed relevant to them.

Rock festivals have evolved from being statements of angst laden protest, to events to be seen at. There is no denying however, that the roots of these epic events were laid way back in the 60s, towards the height of the flower power movement. The defining concert/festival of its time was Woodstock. Aptly described as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Music, Peace and Love’ , this epic festival saw 32 of the world’s foremost acts playing to a crowd of 400,000 people, over a weekend, that according to Rolling Stone magazine was one of the ‘50 Moments that changed the history of Rock and Roll.”

Rock festivals have come a long way since the heady days of Woodstock. The genre itself has seen tremendous change in terms of evolution. What were once considered the defining characteristics of rock music, have undergone changes, with more varied sounds, artistic licenses and other evolutionary movements taking place. Rock festivals too have undergone similarly huge changes, who would’ve ever thought that there would have been a festival that would’ve been dedicated to just one living legend (Ozzfest) or celebrate one particular subgenre (Deathfest and several others) of rock. But the ‘unthinkable’ has happened, and rock music as a whole, is the richer for it.

Take a trip with us and check out the world’s foremost rock festivals, you won’t regret it, and who knows, this may inspire you to make a pilgrimage to any one, or more of these showcases of the Rock Gods!

Lollapalooza

Admittedly, the name is a tongue twister, but bear with us when we tell you, that it actually originates in the unlikeliest of places, P. G .Wodehouse actually! Lollapalooza, or heart of a goof, was originally supposed to be the popular band Jane’s Addiction’s farewell tour. We’re glad to report that the band and the festival have endured and how. After spending its initial years as a touring festival in the US, Lollapalooza has called Grant Park, Chicago its home since 2005.With acts as diverse as Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters, The Killers, Nickelback and several others sharing the spotlight, Lollapalooza attracts nearly 160,000 fans over a three day period.

This is a rock festival in the truest sense of the word. There is no division, rock music, and not its genres are celebrated in all its glory. Lollapalooza has expanded internationally since 2011 which means that it can now happen several times a year in different geographical locations. This year for instance, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo in South America along with Chicago played host to some of rock’s most legendary performers, stalwarts and meteoric newcomers under the Lollapalooza umbrella.

Over the years, rock festivals have begun to expand their fan base by allowing acts from other genres to collaborate and perform, creating a true amalgamation of sounds and creating a more holistic vibe, little wonder then that the heavyweights of hip hop like Eminem and Outkast, EDM gurus Skrillex, Calvin Harris and Sebastian Ingrosso, and regulars on the popular music scene were a huge part of Lollapalooza 2014 along with leading rock acts.

South by Southwest

There’s an old expression, everything’s big in Texas, and that is true even of South by Southwest (SXSW), the largest music festival of its kind in the world. Held every March in the friendly (and weird) city of Austin, home to several other music festivals, SXSW also cover films, tech and comedy in addition to music. However, music fans from across the world have been traveling to Austin for close to three decades now for the opportunity to see both legendary musicians as well as the next big thing.

For rock aficionados, SXSW 2014 had grunge rock pioneers Soundgarden performing the career-defining 1994 album Superunknown in full for the first time. For music lovers of other genres there was everything from a Kanye West and Jay Z jam to the local Willie Nelson to African Blues legend Tinariwen to pop queen Lady Gaga and EDM headliner Skrillex. What sets SXSW apart from other music festivals is that you don’t really need to pay to see a majority of the musical acts performing; after one “official” performance most of these musicians will play multiple times in bars and makeshift venues across the city. The festival also allows you a chance to see some of the biggest names in music in smaller and more intimate venues. There are also panels and talks from musicians of the stature of David Grohl and Stevie Nicks.

And then there is the food. Food trucks providing everything from Texan barbecue to Korean-Mexican fusion food ice creams. Combine all this with the partying on the famous 6th Street and you have an event that makes sure you will not go hungry for music, food or kicks!

Roskilde

Moving over to Europe now, and particularly the Arctic Circle, the town of Roskilde in Denmark, plays host to one of Europe’s oldest rock oriented music festivals. 1971 saw the institution of an epic movement, which has today evolved into a pilgrimage spot for any music lover.

When you talk about exotic locales, it doesn’t get any more exotic than Roskilde. We’re talking fjords and mermaids, home to Hans Christian Andersen and Vikings, Denmark is indeed an undiscovered gem and Roskilde with its treasure trove of artistic talent and some of the world’s most respected acts is just one of its many treasures. The 2014 lineup at the festival for instance only serves to reinforce the already storied reputation of the festival, with the legends of rock, The Rolling Stones sharing the stage with the Arctic Monkeys, Trentemoller, Outkast, festival regulars Major Lazer and even the legendary Stevie Wonder.

With so much variety in terms of more than just the music, can you really afford to give Roskilde a miss?

Coachella

Let’s head over from an icy-cold Nordic winterland, to the poster spot for the summer, California and another American institution, Coachella. Named after the town that hosts it (like most festivals), Coachella today is one of America’s most profitable music festivals, with ticket sales in 2014 topping 78 million dollars, with a record breaking 579,000 people in attendance.

Little wonder then, that bands of the reputation of The White Stripes, Rage Against the Machine, The Cure, Beck, The Strokes, Nine Inch Nails, Muse, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Arcade Fire and the Foo Fighters, have been regulars at this event. Like many other festivals, Coachella has also moved away from the image of being a ‘rock’ only festival, to the more inclusive approach of celebrating music. It makes perfect sense then, that pop stars like the late Amy Winehouse and Madonna, hip hop legends, Snoop Lion (formerly Dog), Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as EDM heavyweights of the ilk of Daft Punk and David Guetta have put in appearances here the past few years.

Keeping up its reputation of attracting the world’s top talent, Coachella 2014, featured Motorhead, Arcade Fire, Lorde and Muse among a host of other chart toppers of all genres. One of the attendees is said to have summed up the event in a single word, “MMMM-TASTIC”, now how can we argue with that?

Bonnaroo

From the sunny shores of California, our pursuit of the world’s greatest rock festivals takes us to Tennessee. Since Nashville, TN is supposed to be the ‘Blues Capital’ of the world, and Tennessee is home to some of rock, country and folk music’s leading lights, it is apt that Bonnaroo’s name is derived from an R&B album by Dr. John called, ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’. That juicy tidbit aside, the music at Bonnaroo can be described as a soulful mélange of all things beautiful, pure and energetic.

Ever since its establishment in 2002, Bonnaroo has stayed true to its founding principle of focusing on jam bands, a typically Southern phenomenon. Either way an evening (or any time of day at Bonnaroo), is a beautiful, soul stirring experience. After all you’re in commune with hundreds of thousands of people, on a massive fairground (Great Stage Park, Manchester, TN), listening to some of the world’s best artists croon their hearts out; need we paint you a prettier picture?

Bonnaroo’s artist list can be summed up as the who’s-who of the genre, with the Foo Fighters, Metallica, Black Crowes, Billy Idol, Nine Inch Nails, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Muse, Starfire, Dogstar, The Allman Brothers Band, Tom Petty and the Wailers, Kid Rock, Megadeth and other stalwarts having played here at one point of time or the other. 2014 saw the convergence of bands like Mastodon, the White Stripes with legends like Lionel Richie and Robbie Krieger (of the Doors).

So the next time you’re in Tennessee around June and you’re feeling kinda funky, hop on down to Bonnaroo, for an experience you will never quite be able to put into words.

Glastonbury

Sometimes, once in a blooming lifetime, something pure and beautiful, a creature of simple, almost childlike innocence and desire comes along, and spawns something magnificent. Glastonbury is an example of just such kind of magnanimity and purity. Stemming from a few people’s desire to watch the a great set of bands play in an open field in Pilton, Somerset in England saw 14 people investing their lives savings into building the first, epic stage and in the process, creating a counterculture revolution known as Glastonbury. Inspired by the transcontinental success of Woodstock, Glastonbury was a reflection of the reach of the ideals of the hippy generation and as such was a beautiful stage where some of the world’s most iconic performers gave their most cherished performances ever.

Performers like T-Rex, Joan Baez, Elvis Costello, Curtis Mayfield, UB40, Van Morrison, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, Paul McCartney, Oasis, Pulp, Radiohead, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and a host of others have made their mark on an average of nearly 175,000 concert goers yearly, in what today is the world’s largest open air, green field concert series.

Glastonbury today serves as a reminder of the times when love was in the air, a time of simple innocence and a sense of possibilities. If you’re ever in the mood to relive the heady days of the flower power movement, load up your old VW bus, and head down to Pilton, Somerset towards the end of June. Chances are, you’ll come back home, a little less materialistic, but a whole lot more groovy, man!

Rock Werchter

Our next festival takes place in the land of fine, dark chocolate, and the birthplace of beer. We speak of course of Belgium. Rock Werchter, founded in 1974, is one of Europe’s five largest music festivals and boy, is it popular! So popular in fact, that it has won the coveted title of ‘best festival in the world’, at the International Live Music Conference, an impressive five times!

One wonders whether it is the lure of an ice cold Belgian brew, or simply the electric atmosphere that draws bands to Werchter, each year. Maybe it is a combination of both and 2014 saw Werchter play host to Pearl Jam, Metallica, Biffy Clyro, Skrillex, Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Damon Albarn, Interpol and many more legends.

Now all of a sudden if you feel a surge of wanderlust towards late June or early July, you’ll understand what’s responsible for it, won’t you?

Rock in Rio

The land of Samba and soccer is also synonymous with one of the world’s most badass music festivals which to date has retained its rock heritage. Established in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Rock in Rio, has since been hosted in two other cities (as RiR), viz. Lisbon, Madrid and 2015 sees Las Vegas as the fourth city to join the fold.

Founded in 1985, and housed in an amphitheatre, built specifically for the gig, RiR, has seen the world’s most mesmeric bands tear up the stage and deliver performances that can only be described as astounding. Queen, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Whitesnake, AC/DC, INXS, Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth, Queensryche, Judas Priest, Pantera, Sepultura, Anthrax and Metallica, are amongst those that have graced the stage with their presence.

The RiR 2014 was held in Lisbon and once again saw a bevy of international acts really light up the Portuguese capital, with their energy and presence. Linkin Park, Queens of the Stone Age, Arcade Fire and the venerable Rolling Stones, were the headliners of the event that also saw the likes of Skrillex, Justin Timberlake, Lorde and Robbie Williams take the stage.

So what if you missed out this year, the Gods of Rock will definitely be doing a repeat next year; the question is … Will you be there?

Ozzfest

Rock music has its pantheon of immortals. Of all these great names, just one, Ozzy Osbourne, has a festival named after him, and man, what a spectacular event it is!

Ozzfest incidentally started in 1996 when the then touring Lollapalooza festival refused to let Ozzy join in. The event was conceptualized by Sharon Osbourne, (Ozzy’s better half) as a festival promoting heavy metal and hard rock in all its forms. The annual Ozzfest was more of a national tour of the States than just a music festival, but wherever the fest materialized, it retained the same verve and intensity, it had become notorious for! Artists of the calibre of Slipknot, Fear Factor, System of a Down, Slash, Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses, Korn, Staind, Creed, Audioslave, Black Label Society, Five Finger Death Punch, Metallica, Megadeth, Goatwhore, Floatsam & Jetsam, and of course the God (or the devil depending on which side you are!) himself, Ozzy Osbourne, have graced the stage, with power-packed performances.

In 2013, the festival made a successful debut in Japan. And while Ozzfest in its original avatar has been put on the backburner, Ozzy is back with Ozzfiesta in Mexico in 2015. So if you have a hankering for the spine tingling sounds of metal, you know where to head!

Austin City Limits

Our world cruise following the best rock festivals ends in the city of Austin, Texas. Home to SXSW, this fun, musical town also plays host to Austin City Limits (ACL). Initially a weekend long celebration of all things musical, from 2013, the Austin City Council voted to make it a 2 weekend long festival. Talk about twice the fun!

As with SXSW, ACL also attracts the world’s most renowned acts and is more a festival of music, than a genre in particular. Nonetheless the rock contingent was represented by music legends Pearl Jam in 2014. Of course in all its years of existence, ACL has seen the likes of Willie Nelson, John Mayer, R.E.M, Coldplay, Oasis, the Eagles, Franz Ferdinand, Beck, Phish and the Black Keys, among others give some electrifying performances.

So come October, mosey on down to Austin, and if the great food, country vibe and art don’t keep you there, the music sure will!

Conclusion

Naysayers say that rock isn’t the same. Doomsday theorists even go to the extent of saying, that rock is dead. Obviously neither one of these categories of people has ever attended a rock festival. If they had, they’d have known that rock isn’t just alive and well, it has evolved and transformed into a vibrant, totally dynamic form of music that encompasses all that is good in every other form of music and has risen to a level that is both awe inspiring as well as testament to its adaptability and beauty. Rock today is just as powerful as it was, in what is described as its Golden Age. It is still relevant and a source of nourishment to millions of souls the world over. As a case in point, attend a rock festival and see for yourself!

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