The Unexpected Origins of your Favorite Music Festival


The festival has become an integral part of culture: music festivals are a rite of passage into adulthood. Each country has created its own and hordes of people travel through the continents each year to attend. However, what many people do not realise is that a large majority of their favourite festivals have their roots as a response to a significant political event. Of course, the exception to this rule is the well-known “hippie” festival “Woodstock”. Some of the most popular festivals that recur yearly have similar origins. So, what festival have you attended with cultural significance?


Woodstock, New York, USA

The Woodstock Festival of 1969 epitomizes the mantra of the 1960’ hippie movement: it was the embodiment of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll’. It came to represent everything that was the exact opposite to the modern values, morals and ideals of the era. The festival, although not entirely a response to politics of the day, did challenge society and its beliefs. It still stands as a pillar for any festival which aims to challenge cultural ideals. In spite of the mythology that surrounds Woodstock and the values it claims to represent, the festival was originally organised by four young men aiming to make money. In fact, one man was heir to a pharmaceutical company I the USA, and he wanted to increase his inheritance dramatically using a music festival but it actually created over 70 lawsuits which saw all four founders accumulate massive amounts of debt. Perhaps this is why the event was a one-off, rather than a recurring affair.

Exit, Novi Sad, Serbia

Exit was created in 2000, and has been held over a four day period every annually since 2003. Unlike Woodstock, its origins are much more pure: it began as a mass student protest against the Serbian government led by dictator Milosevic. The slogan of the festival was a thinly veiled reference to the oppressive regime “Exit out of ten years of madness”. Exit was founded by three university students from Novi Sad, and the event takes place at the nearby Petrovaradin Fortress on the banks of the River Danube. Exit aims to combine entertainment relevant to Serbian youth with current political and social issues. Its agenda is to make a youthful populace who may solely want to have fun, more aware of the social, economic and political factors that affect every aspect of their lives. It is now one of the largest music festivals in Europe, despite a shaky start due to lack of funding. As the festival gains popularity, more visitors are coming from overseas and top corporations have shown an interest in taking over management and promotion of the event.

Sziget Fesztivál, Budapest, Hungary

Sziget Fesztivál is another festival born from students. The week-long festival began in 1993 and has grown in popularity ever since. However, unlike the false impressions left by Woodstock, and the political motives that created Exit, Sziget Fesztivál was born for the exact opposite reason: a fear of what the fall of an oppressive regime would leave in its wake. Hungary was culturally vibrant under communist government due to the public funding received by the arts. Summer time was a period of many music, art and cultural festivals, and after the fall of communism, students feared that the disappearance of money from the arts would mean a disappearance of festivals. In response, students proposed the festival which features acts and bands who appeared for free. In spite of free entertainment, the festival ran at a deficit until it was taken over by Pepsi in 1997. However, the festival surpassed its original intentions of keeping the summer festival atmosphere in Budapest alive, and has gone on to become one of Europe’s best music festivals.