''O say can you shred?''
On the final day of the definitive rock weekend of the ’60s countercultural revolution, Jimi Hendrix woke up the crowd at Woodstock with a blistering version of ”The Star-Spangled Banner” that was somehow simultaneously reverent and rebellious.
Cobain's Curtain Call
In what ended up being their final U.K. concert, Nirvana took the stage at the 1992 Reading Festival amid rampant rumors that Cobain’s physical and mental health had been deteriorating in the wake of the birth of his newborn daughter. Kurt played into the hype and was wheeled on stage by journalist pal Everett True, and the result was one of Nirvana’s finest performances.
Prince Parties Like It's 2013
The Purple One declared Austin’s premiere music festival over on its final night via a three-hour set that featured a total of six encores. The 1,200 lucky South by Southwest revelers who filled La Zona Rosa were treated to Prince’s 22-piece band tearing through classics like ”1999,” ”U Got The Look,” ”Jungle Love,” and ”Purple Rain.”
Bono and the Boys Break Out Big-Time
Sir Bob Geldof’s worldwide festival Live Aid not only raised millions for Ethiopian famine relief, it also provided a global stage upon which U2 elevated themselves to superstar status. The band had already scored minor hits in the U.S., but U2’s blazing performance of ”Sunday Bloody Sunday” was a massive attention grabber and one of Bono’s strongest, most fiery presentations to date.
In 1970, The Royal Bath and West Showground in Somerset, England, played host to the best live show Led Zeppelin ever unleashed. Best of all? Bath marked the live debut of the titanic ”Immigrant Song,” a major staple in the Zep catalog.
Jay Comes to Play
England’s Glastonbury Festival had never had a rapper as a headliner before Jigga took the stage on Saturday night in 2008, and there was quite a bit of blowback because of his booking (mostly from Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, who said, ”I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.”). Jay put the critics in their place with a scorching set that included a bit of Oasis’s ”Wonderwall” that led right into ”99 Problems.”
Torrential rainfall turned Winston Farm in Saugerties, N.Y., into a gigantic mud pit by the time Green Day — who took time off from 1994’s Lollapalooza tour to jam at Woodstock — stepped on stage. The ascendant punks’ set devolved into a memorable mud fight between frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and the rambunctious crowd.
Dylan Plugs In
Certainly the biggest moment in Bob Dylan’s career and one of the defining performances of the ’60s, his famously contentious set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival found the folkie trading in his political whisper for a full-on rock-‘n’-roll roar. Though Dylan did appease the boo-birds with a solo acoustic encore, he swore off Newport and didn’t return to the world’s biggest folk fest for 37 years.
Queen's Crowning Glory
While U2 was rising at Live Aid, Queen took a victory lap. While many of the other big-name bands (including Led Zeppelin) were swallowed by the size of Wembley Stadium, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury had no trouble filling it with a bombastic show that included a punchy ”Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and an adrenaline-pumping one-two punch of ”We Will Rock You” and ”We Are the Champions.”
Pearl Has a ''Ball''
Monterey Pop was a career-defining festival for a handful of artists, including Janis Joplin. Big Brother and the Holding Company only had a few performances under their belts when they played the 1967 concert, but thanks to Joplin’s spirited take on ”Ball ‘n’ Chain,” she not only made a name for the band but also got them signed to a record contract.
Nine Inch Fails
Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor always expected a lot from the machines with whom he shared the stage, which made his run on the first Lollapalooza quite difficult. Forced to play in the afternoon sun most days, his electronics often failed him, and when several pieces melted in the Arizona heat, he decided to destroy the offending technology. It wasn’t musically perfect, but it was an incredible display of savagery.
Lolla Is Born
In 1991, when Perry Farrell decided it was time for his band Jane’s Addiction to pack it in, he threw his cohorts a traveling circus/wake that featured other alt-rock headliners (including Living Colour and Fishbone). Jane’s was (temporarily) no more, but the seeds were planted not only for two decades’ worth of Lollapaloozas but also the rise of festival culture in the United States.
Daft Punk Disco-fies Indio
Coachella 2006 marked the debut of Daft Punk’s massive pyramid set, which provided an incredible backdrop for their futuristic disco jams and became a signature for the duo on their game-changing tour in 2007.
Springsteen's SXSW Supergroup
After giving South by Southwest’s 2012 keynote address, New Jersey’s favorite son took over Austin’s Moody Theater for a killer batch of tunes that featured drop-ins from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello (before he joined E Street on a semi-permanent basis), reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, the Animals’ Eric Burdon, and some members of Arcade Fire.
Can Ya Dig It?
On Isaac Hayes’ 30th birthday in 1970, Memphis’s Stax Records held Wattstax, a daylong concert in Los Angeles as a memoriam to those lost during the 1965 Watts Riots. Hayes’ fest-closing set was a true show-stopper, full of sweaty soul and thick funk that acted as a series of empowerment anthems at what was described as ”the black Woodstock.”
Arcade Fire is one of the greatest live bands working, but their 2011 headlining set at Coachella was taken up an extra notch when the Canadian combo dropped a massive cloud of light-up balloons on the crowd. It made for an incredible visual and a stunning accompaniment to their signature anthem ”Wake Up.”
Yeezy Rises and Shines
Though Kanye West enraged festivalgoers at 2008’s Bonnaroo by delaying his already late-scheduled headlining set by nearly two hours (he blamed the technical complexity of his stage show), the remarkable image of West performing his song ”Good Morning” right as the sun was rising was worth the sleeplessness.
No Sleep till Bonnaroo
Nobody knew it at the time, but their headlining set at Bonnaroo 2009 was the Beastie Boys’ last-ever live show (the late Adam ”MCA” Yauch announced his cancer diagnosis a month later). It was a fitting accidental send-off, featuring plenty of old-school rap-offs, a visit by Nas for ”Too Many Rappers,” and an encore-closing juggernaut rendition of ”Sabotage.”
Redding Is Fundamental
Simply put, Otis Redding’s set at Monterey Pop is one of the finest hours of music in the history of American festivals, and it represented a phenomenal breakout for one of R&B’s brightest young stars. Tragically, this represented Redding’s peak, as he died in a plane crash less than six months later.
Naked and En-Raged
During the summer of 1993, Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Council called out Rage Against the Machine’s trailblazing self-titled debut for its explicit lyrics, and cited it as one of the many albums that needed her organization’s ”Parental Advisory” label. Rage responded at the Philadelphia stop of that summer’s Lollapalooza tour by walking on stage completely nude with black tape over their mouths and the letters ”PMRC” painted on their chests — as powerful a protest as Lollapalooza has ever seen.