What The ‘60s Wrought: The Decade That Birthed An Industry

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While it wasn’t the first festival to draw massive crowds for multiple days of music, the legacy of Woodstock’s “three days of peace and music” in 1969 set a standard to which all that followed partially aspire.

The concert landscape of the 1960s didn’t begin or end with Woodstock, though the “3 Days Of Peace & Music” certainly looms large in the cultural zeitgeist. Enough so that descendants  like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, however removed from the ethos of those days, can fairly be said to still contain its DNA. 

Live music and its presentation has always evolved but, in the 1960s, concert touring as we know it today was in its nascent stage when it was supercharged by The Beatles’ first world tour in 1964, followed by a U.S. jaunt in August of that year. But in a scant two more years, The Beatles would cease touring and retreat instead to the studio. 
The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, actually beat the Fab Four to American shores, arriving for their first tour of the States in June 1964. Much like The Beatles, their shows tended to be brief affairs, often packaged with other artists, and marked by screaming girls. But by 1967, drug charges and their legal complications kept the Stones from performing in the States until 1969, when a tour considered a breakthrough, both in size and sophistication, ended grotesquely at Altamont Raceway in California.
In fact, through most of the 1960s, national tours as we now know them – fronted by superstars and promoted by global corporations rather than by a band manager or the local radio station – were not common. Concert promoters operated in a few buildings in a single city, or regionally at best. Agents worked geographic regions as well, rather than availing themselves of fully mapped-out routings. 
What did The Beatles miss by “retiring” from touring and The Rolling Stones find when they returned to the U.S.? A lot. Audiences changed, presentation changed, everything changed.
The roots could be seen in the vast swaths of people attending festivals like Woodstock and its California predecessors, Monterey International Pop Festival and Fantasy Fair & Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, across the bay from San Francisco and arguably the first such open-air gathering of the tribes, taking place June 10-11, 1967. 
Perhaps owing to chemical enhancement rather than hormones, fans were listening to the music instead of screaming over it. No longer the domain of teenagers, concerts and their audiences had matured. Sound quality mattered. Light shows became part of the festivities. No longer would a barren stage with a rug, a couple of stage lights and a spot suffice. 
Change was afoot – not just in the way shows were booked and routed, or even the vastly increased sophistication of sound and lighting systems, or the fact that bands could even travel with their own gear instead of using house equipment of varying quality at each venue – but the real sea change was in the stands.
By 1969, the Grateful Dead had already changed the way concerts sounded – thanks to audio engineer and chemistry hobbyist Stanley Owsley – making audio quality and stereo sound a crucial component of their live shows by the end of the decade and profoundly changing the concert experience.
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Coachella Music & Arts Festival draws hundreds of thousands of music lovers to Indio, Calif., in a far more organized but no less euphoric annual gathering of the tribes, one of many descendents of Woodstock.

The late Barry Fey, then a brash young upstart, was promoting shows including the massive Denver Pop Festival that summer of 1969, when he booked The Rolling Stones at Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colo. – a show that would launch their return to U.S. stages after three years during which everything changed. For one, the Stones had to be convinced to stretch their usual gig to a full hour from the 30 minutes they’d become accustomed to.
Road manager Sam Cutler, who’d also logged tours with the Grateful Dead, introduced the band when The Rolling Stones launched their first U.S. tour in three years, in Fort Collins, Colo. According to author Joel Selvin in his book, “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, And The inside Story Of Rock’s Darkest Day,”  Bill Wyman noticed that “ … It wasn’t all girls and they didn’t scream. The Stones could tell the difference immediately. For the first time, the audience was listening.” 
It arguably started on Mount Tamalpais in California’s Marin County, across the bay from San Francisco. At least 20,000 – and possibly as many as 40,000 – fans were either shuttled or hiked to the festival site at the Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheater to see acts including The Byrds, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Country Joe & The Fish, Captain Beefheart and Tim Buckley, and even middle-of-the-road stalwarts as Dionne Warwick and The 5th Dimension. It preceded by two weeks the Monterey International Pop Festival, which, like Woodstock two years later, was filmed for a documentary that would enable it to live on in the imaginations of generations of fans unable to experience “the happening” in person.
Los Angeles-based producer Lou Adler, John Phillips, Brian Wilson and others brought the Southern California sound of Laura Nyro, The Association, and the Mamas & The Papas, while San Francisco promoter Bill Graham brought the goods in the form of Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and more. Woodstock would follow two years later.
There’s no denying Woodstock was an inspiration, for good or ill, for many attempting to replicate – or make a buck off of – the largely peaceful, hopefully ticket-buying Woodstock Nation that took over the town of Bethel, N.Y., that soggy August weekend in 1969.
Bad examples, like Altamont, put the brakes on festival events at least in the U.S. for a time, but European cousins including Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, Reading and Leeds among others kept the flames lit.
As for The Beatles, their 1969-70 breakup ends any discussion about what might have been as a live act as the concert landscape changed. John Lennon was murdered as he was releasing Double Fantasy in 1980.  George Harrison became the first artist to stage a major benefit, the Concert For Bangladesh, in 1971. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr released acclaimed albums in the ensuing years and remain major concert draws to this day. 
The Rolling Stones recently completed yet another stadium tour, despite a pause thanks to a global pandemic, topping Pollstar’s 2021 Year-End charts with a total gross of $115.5 million. 
Coachella Music & Arts Festival has, before COVID put a pause on the festivities, boasted a capacity of some 125,000 per day and last week announced its 2022 lineup, as did Bonnaroo, both owing tremendous debts to the hippies and upstarts who started it all in the mud and on the mountaintops of yore.