Music Festivals

Summer Music Festivals
Summer Music Festivals  Image: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0

Music festivals celebrate every imaginable form of the art, from rock and punk to classical and country western. Some of the top music festivals celebrate the music of a single musician, like the Salzburg Festival in Austria that showcases the works of Mozart and the Bayreuth Festival in Germany that features Richard Wagner's four-opera Der Ring des Nibelungen and his monumental work Parsifal. The Salzburg Festival is held over five weeks beginning near the end of July and the Bayreuth Festival is held for the same length of time beginning in late June. Both of these are also among the top summer festivals in the world. Leipzig in Germany has its Bach Festival and Torre de Lago in Italy's Tuscany region boasts a Puccini Festival. Even Tupelo, Mississippi has a very popular Elvis Festival held over three days in the King's hometown.

Edinburgh International Festival
Edinburgh International Festival  Image: Edinburgh International Festival / Liu Yang

One of the oldest music festivals in the world is the Edinburgh International Festival, which runs over three weeks in August and was initiated in 1947. It features symphony music, opera, and classical theatre and dance. There are as many as ten other festivals in the city during the same period, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which ranks at the top of the list of world's largest art festivals. Among these art and music fairs are the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo, jazz and blues festivals, and even a film festival. Together they make up the world's largest cultural event.

One of the best music festivals in England for classical music is the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts sponsored by the BBC, or more simply The Proms. This is an eight-week season or classical concerts held primarily in beautiful Albert Hall in London.

The top music festivals in North America for classical performance are Ravinia (Illinois) and Tanglewood (Massachusetts). These are also the oldest such festivals, dating to 1936 and 1937 respectively. Both of these venues contain wonderful indoor and outdoor venues where the Chicago Symphony and Boston Symphony Orchestras play out their summers to large audiences.

But there are also top music festivals with shorter pedigrees. One of the largest of these in the United States in the SXSW (South By Southwest), which is held in Zilker Park in Austin, Texas during March. More than 2,000 musicians perform at more than 90 venues. If you have wide-ranging interests, you'll find that SXSW also includes one of the country's important film festivals. 

Some venues where the best music festivals are held will host a number of events featuring different musical genres. One of the most famous jazz festivals is the Newport Jazz Festival, begun in 1954 in this tiny coastal Rhode Island town. Performances are held in historic Fort Adams State Park, as are the performances of the equally famous Newport Folk Festival. It was at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 that Bob Dylan was famously booed when he took the stage with an electric guitar.

This marked Dylan's transition from folk music to rock music, and also marked a change in the role that top music festivals would play in modern culture. The emphasis was placed on the new music popular with young people and on attracting the largest crowds. The granddaddy of this kind of concert cum festival was the 1969 Woodstock held on the fields of Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York. England's answer was the Glastonbury Music Festival, held for the first time in 1970 in the fields of dairy farmer Michael Eavis. It is still held today and draws upwards of 150,000 attendees. Performers are among the world's top headliners like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, and Jay-Z. More than 700 acts entertain the throngs, and tickets are usually sold out in hours. This is one of the best music festivals in the world for the top contemporary musicians and bands. It is held in June.

There are now dozens of similar music festivals around the world. Head to Chicago in August for heavy metal and alternative rock at Lollapalooza. Try Roskilde in Denmark in June and July for another of the venerable summer music festivals that has been going strong since 1971 with headliners from Kanye West and Bob Dylan to Coldplay and the Pet Shop Boys.

The Coachella Music Festival occurs over three days in April near Palm Springs, California, and hosts more than 50,000 on each day. Surprisingly, the best festival for hip hop is the Waga Festival in Ouagadougo, capital of the tiny west Africa country of Burkina Faso. The Sauti za Busara Music Festival is a six-day extravaganza held in Stone Town (home of legendary Freddy Mercury) on the exotic island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. It showcases the incredible talent of African musicians from South Africa to Nigeria.

If you are a bluegrass or jazz fan, do some foot tapping at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or combine great regional cuisine and handcrafts with music at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Image: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0


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