The 17 Best Festival Performances of All Time: Jimi Hendrix, Beyoncé & More
A Stroll Down Music Festival Memory Lane
The summer festival season is not only when live music heats up but also the time when legends are made. Let’s take a moment to look back on some of the best performances over the years that still resonate.
Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock (1969)
Starting with arguably the most iconic music festival of all time, Jimi Hendrix ignited spectators with his version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” From start to finish, Hendrix was revolutionary and majestical — the perfect end to an unforgettable festival.
Queen at Live Aid (1985)
Queen executed showmanship at its finest, with Freddie Mercury igniting attendees with vocal gymnastics that still cause ripples today — a prime example of a band living up to the hype and delivering on all fronts.
Dolly Parton at Glastonbury (2014)
Dolly Parton finally descended upon Glastonbury and proved herself to be every inch a rock star in the process, from her rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands On Me” with Richie Sambora to the juggernaut “I Will Always Love You.” By the last note, everyone present knew Parton’s arrival had been worth the wait and right on time.
Prince at Coachella (2008)
The mighty Minnesotan channeled all his powers as a consummate performer, starting with his own hits and incorporating other artists’ songs. Renditions of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” The B-52’s “Rock Lobster,” and Radiohead’s “Creep” proved Prince’s talents as a master interpreter and incomparable singer-songwriter.
Nirvana at Reading Festival (1992)
Buoyed by Kurt Cobain’s unparalleled vocals and Dave Grohl’s precision drumming, Nirvana proved their meteoric rise was no fluke. The early 1990s saw the rise of the grunge movement, and Nirvana’s cultural relevance was hard-earned and to be respected across the board in the music industry. This performance was particularly memorable because of the energy and intensity that the band brought to the stage, which included Cobain climbing on top of the drum kit and smashing his guitar at the end of the set.
Notorious B.I.G. at Summer Jam (1995)
The New Yorker flexed his considerable clout with a spectacle of a show that merged R&B classics with raw lyrical genius. Notorious B.I.G. served as a precursor to the global impact of the hip-hop genre and his status as one of the greatest rappers.
Beyonce at Coachella (2018)
Opening with the bombastic “Crazy In Love,” Beyoncé started with a bang and proclaimed her aspirations of rock stardom. She poured her vocals across rock — with King of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” — and jazz — with the Etta James classic “At Last.” By the end, she proved she is, in and of herself, a whole vibe.
Pink Floyd at Live 8 (2006)
Herculean efforts secured Pink Floyd for Live 8. The duo left their indelible mark with the songs “Breathe,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Comfortably Numb,” marking possibly the last time Pink Floyd’s magic will be seen on stage.
Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival (1965)
By the time the Newport Folk Festival concluded, Bob Dylan had single-handedly ushered in a new facet of musicality simply by going electric. After only three songs, the byproduct of Dylan’s efforts was the birth of pop music as we know it: imbued with a message and great production.
Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac at Coachella (2012)
When Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg combined their powers for the Coachella stage in 2012 along with a hologram of hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur, the world stood still. The performance returned viewers to mid-90s rap when the West Coast sound reigned supreme.
Radiohead at Glastonbury (1997)
Battling inclement weather and beset by faltering equipment, Radiohead soldiered on with songs from the then-recently released OK Computer. By the time the band had played through “Lucky,” “Exit Music (For a Film),” and “The Bends,” Radiohead proved they were not only for the moment but the future of rock music.
Janis Joplin at Monterey Pop Festival (1967)
The music world took under six minutes to fall in love with Janet Joplin‘s raspy musical interpretations, primal wails, and uninhibited emotion. With “Ball and Chain,” she was a marvel, sealing her fate as a blues singer and the voice of a generation.
Oasis at Glastonbury (1995)
Sibling frontmen Noel and Liam Gallagher delivered a show that pulled musical references from pop, soul, and hard rock, including the songs “Roll With It,” “The Swamp Song,” and the acoustic debut of the now-classic “Wonderwall.” Their performance served as a precursor to what lay in store for the future of Brit-pop.
Bob Marley and The Wailers at the One Love Peace Concert (1978)
When the One Love Peace Concert rolled around in the summer of 1978, Bob Marley was already recognized as a notable musician and activist. His true power became evident when political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga joined the stage, shook hands, and put on a show of unity that transcended the festival.
Daft Punk at Coachella (2006)
Daft Punk came to Coachella on a mission to change perceptions and reinvent the sonic landscape with their unique LED displays, robot gear, and intricate musicianship. The band did something with 808s that had never been done before and informally launched the EDM revolution.
Otis Redding at the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967)
The Monterey International Pop Festival was primarily known as a rock event until Otis Redding took to the stage and served up an ambitious mix of rock, pop, and rhythm and blues. The show was an epic send-off to his career, cementing his status as one of the greatest vocalists of his era.
Coldplay at Rock in Rio (2022)
Coldplay fired from all cylinders with one hit after the other for Rock in Rio, including “Viva La Vida,” “Higher Power,” “Clocks,” and more. Coldplay’s performance proved that they are more than just a band for the present state of rock; they also have their sights set on the future of entertainment.
Festival Season Is Upon Us
The upcoming season is jam-packed with impressive lineups, and it’s anyone’s guess which artists will reach legendary status with their live performances. However it plays out, the summer festivals guarantee great venues and even greater vibes!
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