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From Woodstock to Coachella: A Music Festival Retrospective

Woodstock Reboot?

This year almost saw the 50th-anniversary revival of the original Woodstock Music Festival, (August 15, 1969), but, unfortunately, it was canceled. A 25th anniversary and 30th-anniversary reboot were also disastrous. All this being said, Woodstock still remains the gold standard for a truly DIY festival. It was a festival so emblematic, that it came to represent a place and a time, considered by many to be the apex of the counter-cultural revolution of the ’60s. Some would even say that it could never be repeated. So why all of these attempts to revive the past?

Impact on Culture

Music festivals have become a massive facet of music culture throughout the world. According to Billboard, more than 32 million people attend festivals each year. After a steep decline in music sales since the 2000s and the advent of internet streaming, it seems that music festivals are crucial for some bands’ financial survival. With these numbers, who could argue against it?  In 2017, Coachella, an über-successful mega-festival based out of Indio, California, made $114.6 million. With the help of VIP passes and the promise of cultural clout, surprise shows, historical performances, tickets for these festivals sell out in record time. Bonnaroo sold out in record time this year, with regular tickets ranging from $224 to $269, and a pair of VIP tickets — which include parking and camping perks, exclusive lounges and viewing areas — going for $1449.50. 

Woodstock was FREE!

This is a far cry from Woodstock, whose shoddy preparatory efforts involuntarily made it a free festival. According to the organizers, fencing, entrance gates and ticket booths needed to be set up and a performers’ pavilion, concession stands, bathroom facilities, and medical tents built. By the time people started arriving a couple of days ahead of the concert, the fencing, gates and ticket booths still weren’t ready. With no efficient way to charge concert-goers, Lang and his partners decided to make Woodstock a free event. This perfectly aligned with the “hippie pathos” of the time–to share what one had.


So how do they stack up? How much of a difference do fifty years make? Clearly, the model has shifted more towards that of a more profit-driven approach, but also, there is a much wider demographic in attendance. Those that have the desire (and the cash) can camp in exclusive, luxurious areas without having to rough it like hippies of old. The eclecticism of the music also opens up potential audiences beyond just one genre. What else has changed? Let’s look at the hard stats:

DatesAugust 15-17, 1969April 12-14, 19-21, 2019
Ticket Price$18$429
Revenue-$1.3 Million Lost$114 Million
No. of People Streaming Online082 million
Line Up HighlightsJimi Hendrix, Santana, Janis Joplin, The Band, The Who, The Grateful DeadChildish Gambino, Tame Impala, Ariana Grande, Weezer, Janelle Monae
People Attended500,000250,000

While this isn’t a competition, it’s always interesting to see how things evolve. Of course, when all is said and done, we should be aware of what values we want to promote alongside our music and culture. “Three Days of Peace and Music” is a simple premise but not so easy to pull off!

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