Warmer weather brings all the things I enjoy most: iced coffee by the gallon, patio-lounging while drinking craft beer (Millennial much?), and live music. The live music season has already kicked off with the recent South by Southwest Festival (SXSW), which wrapped up its showcase of music, film, and interaction the last week of March. As one of the largest and most diverse festivals around today, SXSW and the popularity of music festivals have the generations to thank. Created by Boomers, enthusiastically carried on by Xers, and reinvented by Millennials, festivals have brought together young and old and unearthed amazing new artists along the way. The five festivals here represent the generations and the evolution of music as a unifier.
THE NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL
Duke Ellington? Ella Fitzgerald? Miles Davis? The inner Traditionalist in me is swooning. Although these three legends didn’t perform in the festival’s establishing year, 1954, they make up some of Newport’s notable performers. Founded by socialite Elaine Lolliard in Newport, RI, the festival held panels and live performances over two days for an audience of 13,000. The Newport Festival did more than just entertain—it helped establish jazz as a legitimate art form, a topic of serious cultural debate at the time.
Without a doubt one of the most iconic cultural events in American history, Woodstock’s “Three Days of Peace and Music” in 1969 epitomized the Baby Boomer generation. Over 400,000 youngsters flooded Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, NY to see over 40 live acts including Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, CCR, and The Who. Woodstock represented the emergence of rock n’ roll, the unifying power of music, and the steadfast optimism of a youthful generation.
SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST
Named as a play on the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, this festival is known for its indie music scene, but it also innovated the festival structure by including separate film and interaction festivals. First held in 1987 in Austin, TX, SXSW has launched the careers of many popular bands, including one of my favorites, Foster the People. SXSW is now a Millennial hotspot, but Gen Xers can be found there as well and were there to witness its inception.
Created in 1991 by Perry Farrell as a farewell tour for his band Jane’s Addiction, Lolla ran annually until 1997, when it was canceled due to poor ticket sales, and then revived in 2003. It was here that Farrell coined the term “Alternative Nation,” propelling the alternative rock genre that includes bands such as Violent Femmes and Nine Inch Nails. 2014’s lineup included alt-rock giants such as Muse, Arcade Fire, and Imagine Dragons. For Xers and alt-rock-loving Millennials, Lolla represents the inclusion of grunge and garage music into the mainstream.
Officially titled Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, it is the baby of the music festival family history. The inaugural event took place in 1999 with a performance by Pearl Jam at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA. Coachella features many music genres, installation art, and sculptures, and it is known for its revival of hippie festival fashion, a-la-Woodstock. This year’s festival also features SoCal culinary creations and a craft beer barn, reflecting the foodie, brew-o-phile preferences of the Millennials.