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Ten Incredible Festival Moments

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The summer music festival season is definitely in full swing, with huge multi-band events seemingly happening every weekend at this time of year.

As Fender.com prepares to hit the road to the 2013 versions of Lollapalooza and Outside Lands in the coming weeks, we took a look at some of the top moments in festival history.

While it would be nearly impossible to rank each event, here are 10 that definitely stand out, both old and new:

Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965

Bob Dylan had gained a reputation as a flag-bearer for politically-charged acoustic folk music, but by the time he was scheduled to hit the stage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he was experimenting with something that became even more controversial.

Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home featured one disc backed by electric guitars and a full band, and that should have primed the audience for what they were going to hear. Sure enough, Dylan came out on stage with a 1964 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster and a backing band, even though he didn’t tell anyone of his plans to go electric.

The audience responded by roundly booing the troubadour, and Dylan left the stage after just a handful of songs, coming back later for a quick acoustic set. Dylan returned to the festival in 2002, and by that time, he had risen to rock and roll royalty status – electric or acoustic. Even though it wasn’t necessarily popular at the moment, the move to plug in was essential to Dylan’s career.

U2 at Live Aid, 1985

Even though it only lasted 20 minutes, U2’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid – the festival benefitting Ethiopian famine relief – was seminal, especially knowing how philanthropic the band still is to this day.

Many have considered that set U2’s coming out party to the world, but frontman Bono let it be known that he was 100 percent committed to the oppressed with a single gesture. During the show, he spotted the teenage Kal Khalique getting crushed against the security barrier. Jumping down to grab the fan, Bono brought her on stage to slow dance with the band playing in the background.

A poignant moment, indeed.

Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, 1967

The Who’s Pete Townsend was known as the forefather of smashing guitars, but Jimi Hendrix was known for his antics with the axe, as well. So when Townsend destroyed his instrument while appearing before Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, the one-upmanship was on.

Hendrix turned in a searing set that he capped by pouring lighter fluid over his guitar and setting it afire. Hendrix then took the flaming axe and bashed it to pieces. The image of him kneeling over the open flames is one of the most compelling in rock history.

Nirvana at Big Day Out, 1992

The inaugural Big Day Out festival in Australia featured the Violent Femmes as its headliner, and when a little-known grunge act from Seattle was announced in the lineup, many reacted with a shoulder shrug.

Of course, that was before Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind dropped. By the time the actual festival rolled around, that record had catapulted Nirvana towards international celebrity, and in turn, the crowd was suitably primed for what had become one of the biggest bands in the world.  It was the first-ever Big Day Out, and Nirvana’s presence really put the festival on the map.

My Morning Jacket at Lollapalooza, 2007

A bombastic quintet from Louisville, Ky., My Morning Jacket grew in numbers by inviting the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra to perform alongside them for their entire 12-song Lollapalooza set.

It was the first-ever classical music ensemble to perform at Lollapalooza, and it was so momentous that festival founder Perry Farrell (of Jane’s Addiction) jumped on stage to introduce the orchestra and ask the crowd to film the proceedings on their phones and cameras.

Johnny Cash at Glastonbury, 1994

Later writing that his appearance at Glastonbury was one of the highlights of his career, Johnny Cash must have been a little surprised at the reaction of 50,000 young people exploding at his typical greeting, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Cash ran through several of his hits, like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire,” and he was even joined on stage by his wife June.

Immortalized in a DVD titled Johnny Cash Went to Glastonbury, the show had a hand in reinvigorating Cash’s career as a critical and commercial success.

Arcade Fire at Coachella, 2011

Fresh off their Grammy Award win for Album of the Year, Arcade Fire nearly set the main stage ablaze with their unbridled energy during their headlining set at Coachella.

With the stars twinkling in the clear desert night, the Canadian collective closed out their performance with an epic version of “Wake Up.” A teeming crowd yelled the chorus along with the band, and everyone shrieked in delight as a tidal wave of large glowing balloons tumbled over the top of the stage, creating a sea of bouncing orbs in varying fluorescent colors. Those who managed to actually hold on to one as they left the venue can now boast a lucky keepsake.

Led Zeppelin at the Bath Festival, 1970

Led Zeppelin was on the path to becoming rock deities by the time this U.K. festival took place, but their performance at Bath is widely considered to be one of their biggest and best.

Not only was it the first time they played the iconic “Immigrant Song” live, it was in front of an incredible crowd of 200,000 in a home country that had been previously difficult to gain traction in. Three hours and five encores later, Led Zep had arrived as a worldwide powerhouse.

Bob Marley at Smile Jamaica, 1976

At a time when the sociopolitical culture of Jamaica was reaching a violent boil, Prime Minister Michael Manley organized Smile Jamaica to ease the tension. Unfortunately, while Bob Marley and the Wailers were rehearsing at Marley’s home before the show, he, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor sustained serious gunshot wounds.

But, that didn’t stop the reggae legend. Two days later, Marley took the stage as scheduled, despite getting hit in the chest and arm. A true inspiration, Marley could not be held down.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969

Hendrix was covered before, but his version of the “Star Spangled Banner” is one for the ages. Walking out at Woodstock, Hendrix took the song to unheard of and undeniable places, wailing on his Fender Stratocaster to reach new highs (or heights) of feedback and patriotism.

Nobody had done it before. And while many have tried to emulate Hendrix’s moment, nobody will ever get it quite right.


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