Long before Bonnaroo, Burning Man and all the other newfangled Summer Festivals, there were others of distinction, many were one-off type events and some were (and are) glorious traditions. If you're looking for Altamont, the Miami Pop Festival, the Monterey Pop Festival or Cal Jam, I'm sorry to say those festivals were not held in the Summertime and, therefore, did not qualify.
Here are eleven big ones. They're not the only festivals to remember fondly. The one where you hooked up with that other person was light years better than the ones you only read about. Nothing beats personal experience.
They don't let me leave the Yahoo! basement long enough to attend concerts, but if they did, I would still let Lyndsey Parker and Dave DiMartino handle it. There's nothing like seeing Dave whine about having to wear pants!
11) Newport Folk Festival: The Newport Folk Festival continues to this day, having taken a few years off in the 1970s and 1980s. Established in 1959, the Festival brought many performers to the attention of its well-mannered and well-dressed audiences, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and many others in the folk, blues and country fields. The 2012 Festival is being headlined by that beloved folk group My Morning Jacket and 1970s star Jackson Browne. True folkies ain't got no home in this world anymore!
10) Live 8: Sometimes called "Live Aid 2," since Sir Bob Geldof had his hand in it and many Live Aid performers offered their services, Live 8 featured ten concerts, most held simultaneously on July 2, 2005. Pink Floyd reunited with Roger Waters. Brian Wilson appeared in Berlin. Deep Purple played in Canada. Philadelphia had Will Smith and Stevie Wonder. While poverty wasn't completely eradicated, many of the poorest nations had their debt canceled. No truth to the rumor that helicopters dropped U2 Visa cards into the deserts of these struggling nations. Most vendors only accepted Amex.
9) Farm Aid: Farm Aid doesn't always happen in the summer. But when it does, it's noticeably better than the Fall concerts, since the back to school crowd make for a less than joyous audience. Farm Aid 2011 was held on August 13 at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas with the usual suspects from the Board of Directors, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews throwing in their annual support. Who doesn't love food? And, therefore, the people who grow it! Take a Keebler Elf home today!
8) Woodstock '94: OK, so 1999 proved to be a disaster, but Woodstock '94 wasn't bad. Once again, the festival wasn't held in Woodstock, but this time neighboring Saugerties, NY, which, for the record, is a much cooler town than Woodstock anyway. While detractors claimed it was too commercial -- welcome to the modern world, folks! -- the musical line-ups were pretty good considering what the options were. Bob Dylan was decent. Peter Gabriel was cool with his abbreviated set. Who didn't want to see Zucchero? They even let crappy local bands play!
7) Summer Jam At Watkins Glen: An estimated 600,000 fans attended this July 1973 festival in upstate New York to see The Grateful Dead, the Band and the Allman Brother Band play their rock 'n' roll songs with plenty of jamming thrown in for the kids. The first 150,000 paid $10 for their tickets and the rest attended for free, though many were unable to see the stage. The Band even enjoyed a thunderstorm during their set, since what's a summer festival without rain?
6) US Festival: Taking place on Labor Day Weekend, 1982 and Memorial Day Weekend, 1983, The US Festival was a great money loser that featured a more progressive line-up than most commercial radio stations of the day. Gang of Four, The Ramones, The English Beat, Wall of Voodoo, The Clash, Oingo Boingo joined in on New Wave Days with Judas Priest, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne showing up for Heavy Metal Day and Rock Days bringing the people U2, Quarterflash, The Pretenders, David Bowie, The Cars, The Kinks and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers among the many. The 1982 crowd even got Breakfast with the Dead.
5) Lilith Fair: Since it was common knowledge that no one would ever want to see or hear two female acts in a row, never mind an entire day or days, Sarah McLachlan decided to change that deeply-embedded "truth" by putting together what in 1997 was the top-grossing festival of the year. Turned out people liked the idea of seeing McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega, Fiona Apple and Emmylou Harris take the same stage, one after another with no male relief in sight! It turned out there were actually many women fully qualified to take the stage, year after year. Who woulda thunk it?
4) Live Aid: The original Live Aid took place on July 13, 1985 at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, with Phil Collins performing at both concerts and Mick Jagger and David Bowie giving everyone a real "treat" by debuting a video for their cover of "Dancing In The Street," arguably the pinnacle of all great rock! Led Zeppelin reunited. Queen's performance is considered legendary and U2 established their reputation for liking big arenas. Bob Dylan gave the crowd what they so desperately wanted with his performances of "Ballad of Hollis Brown" and "When The Ship Comes In" with Keith Richards and Ron Wood.
3) Woodstock: Yeah, yeah, who doesn't remember this one? Especially thanks to PBS and VH-1 Classic playing the movie so many times over the years. It was a strong line-up, with Sly and the Family Stone, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Santana and Creedence Clearwater Revival all playing sets worth the legend. And don't forget Quill!
2) The Cincinnati Pop Festival: Thanks to the film Midsummer Rock, the Cincinnati Pop Festival held at Crosley Field in Cincinnati on June 13, 1970 (from Memorial Day onward counts as "Summer") has lingered in the memories of rock 'n' roll fans the world over beyond the usual expiration dates. The footage of the Stooges is considered the Holy Grail by the punk generation, while Alice Cooper also receives props for getting a pie in the face. The movie features them and Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain and Traffic, however, Bob Seger, Mott The Hoople, Bloodrock, Ten Years After and something called Damnation of Adam Blessing also performed.
1) Little Steven's Underground Garage Festival: Randall's Island, NYC, August 14, 2004: Little Steven uses his formidable clout to bring the people a real rock 'n' roll festival. Iggy and the Stooges deliver beyond anyone's wildest dreams. The Dictators, The New York Dolls, Bo Diddley, The Chocolate Watch Band, The Chesterfield Kings, Mooney Suzuki, The Strokes, The Fuzztones, The Electric Prunes all demolish the stage and the legendary Kim Fowley MCs the entire event. It's about time that history be rewritten by the so-called "losers" who were more than five years ahead of their time when they debuted and have since gone on to become better-feted than, say, the Loggins and the Messina.