In LA, summer music festival season is almost as long as baseball season (and that’s crazy long). From mid-April through mid-October, or Coachella through Desert Daze, music fans descend upon LA to catch a few of their favorite performers in one place over the course of one, or just a couple of, days.
Multi-day music shows are part of our LA DNA.
Now that festival season is in full swing, let’s take a second to appreciate the music festivals of yesteryear, the ones that helped shape the landscape of music festivals today.
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1964
What was perhaps the first widely publicized rock & roll event in U.S. history, the T.A.M.I Show (aka “Teenage Awards Music International”) was a two-night jamboree filmed by director Steve Binder for an accompanying concert film.
In the hopes of capitalizing on the emerging youth culture of the ’60s, the T.A.M.I. Show branded itself as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” boasting an unheard-of lineup of acts nearing the peak of their cultural significance.
Members of the T.A.M.I. Show audience were treated to a jaw-dropping lineup of historic performances by wildly popular pop acts like Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and a closing set by the Rolling Stones. Heartthrobs of the era, Jan and Dean, emceed the showcase.
The Newport Pop Festival
Orange County Fairgrounds, 1968
Devonshire Downs, 1969
Orange Country’s Newport Pop Festival broke admission records as the first-ever concert with over 100,000 paid attendees. The first event was booked with a miniscule $50,000 talent budget and hosted the likes of Sonny & Cher, Tiny Tim, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Steppenwolf.
The festival doubled its attendance the following year, relocated to Devonshire Downs in Northridge, and was renamed Newport ’69. The second event was the better known of the two, most notably for an iconic set by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and clashes with police due to its riotous attendees.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1972
Los Angeles’ black community came together on August 20th, 1972 to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts Rebellion. A Memphis label, Stax Records, organized and put on the benefit concert, a day-long celebration of black culture at the Coliseum intended to unify the once-devastated neighborhood in South L.A.
Reverend Jessie Jackson notably announced the event as “a day of black awareness” in his memorable commanding opening speech, “I Am Somebody.” With tickets priced at only $1, more than 20 Stax recording artists performed at the charitable event.
Ontario Motor Speedway, 1974
Not to be confused with CalJam – the annual Foo Fighters-curated music festival – the original California Jam was co-headlined by hard rock stars Lake and Palmer and Deep Purple and Emerson, along with appearances by Black Sabbath, the Eagles, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Rare Earth.
Glen Helen Pavilion, 1982-1983
San Bernardino’s Glen Helen Pavilion is a familiar place for SoCal festivals and large-scale concerts – but the outdoor amphitheater wouldn’t even exist today if it weren’t for Steve Wozniak and the US Festival.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was on leave and suffering from amnesia after surviving a plane crash and created US Festival in hopes of having the “Super Bowl of rock parties.” Wozniak himself paid for the construction of the venue!
Mojave Desert and San Pedro Harbor, 1983-1985
As the story goes, when punk rock hit the big-time in the early 1980s, DIY promoter Stuart Swezey hoped to take the homegrown movement out of LA’s nightclubs and away from the police force who aimed to dismantle it.
The result of his search was Desolation Center, a series of guerrilla, nomadic happenings that occurred at locations in the Mojave Desert that were off the grid. Hundreds of people traveled by rented school buses to covert “generator parties” for a night of revelry and anarchy.
All Tomorrow’s Parties (curated by Sonic Youth)
Queen Mary, 2003-2004
All Tomorrow’s Parties, named after a Velvet Underground song, was a UK-based music festival that aimed to celebrate diverse, underground genres in an intimate setting. Each manifestation of the event was put on by a “cultural authority” of the groups choosing, and for its debut in the U.S., programming was conducted by the experimental rock band Sonic Youth.
The third ATP festival, which originally had to be rescheduled due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was held at multiple venues throughout the UCLA campus. The massive lineup brought together a unique mix of musicians, including avant-pop pioneers Stereolab, ambient techno mainstay Aphex Twin, legacy acts Television and Big Star, noise artists Merzbow and Boredoms, and many others. All Tomorrow’s Parties returned to LA for two additional years.
These awesome festivals laid the groundwork for the music festivals of today. Did we miss any groundbreaking music festivals of old? Let us know in the comment section below!