Rock concerts aren’t just about music, more often than not, it’s the entire life-changing experience. And you become an instant storyteller afterwards – it’s almost like being on another world in a different time. So we rounded up some of the biggest concerts in rock music history based on estimated attendance.
It’s probably the most popular rock ‘n roll music event and it’s epic on so many levels. And it’s not just because of over 400,000 people in attendance but also with the incredible lineup of the biggest names in rock. The 3-day festival was held on a hay field near a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel. It was a pivotal moment in pop culture and there were several performances that made legends out of the musicians such as Jimi Hendrix’s iconic rendition of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (although only a small chunk of the crowd remained and were lucky enough to have witnessed it), Joe Cocker’s soulful cover of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ and Richie Haven’s hit song ‘Freedom’ to name a few. It was topsy-turvy and wild. The traffic was bad and the organizers weren’t able to follow the scheduled acts to go on stage. Some had to go earlier than others, or later. Either way, when you think of one of the most epic concerts ever, you’d definitely think of Woodstock.
The folk rock duo performed at a free benefit concert to an audience of more than 500,000 people. They broke up at the peak of their career and after they released their album ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ Then, it was on September 19, 1981 when they decided to bury the hatchet and reunite to help their hometown (they formed in New York City during the sixties) raise enough funds for the renovation and maintenance of Central Park (it was estimated that they needed around $3,000,000 to restore it). There may have been some internal tensions between them but they set that aside, albeit temporarily, to play some of their classic hit songs. And the best part is they sounded almost like they never went their separate ways – the perfect harmony and the chemistry were both there and the crowd crammed in the Great Lawn loved it. When they sang “The Late Great Johnny Ace”, a fan ran to the stage and interrupted the performance but was taken by the security.
While it may not be as iconic as Woodstock ’69, the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen was way bigger in terms of attendance. With 600,000 music fans dancing and rockin’ to the beat, it was a one day event that caused audience members to abandon their cars on the state highways, and consequently caused massive traffic jam and roadblock, for fear of missing out the rock festival’s opening. Only three bands were slated to perform on July 28, 1973 at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway – The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead and The Band. 150,000 tickets were sold by the organizers but just like what happened in Woodstock and Isle of Wight, ticketless fans came to attend. The Band’s Rick Danko commented: “Woodstock, Isle of Wight and Watkins Glen – those were the big three for us.” However, they had to stop their set and simply resumed after the thunderstorm passed.
The Isle of Wight Festival had greater number of attendees than Woodstock. Estimated attendance go somewhere between 600,000-700,000. While the promoters sold tickets in advance, there were those who showed up without any and they went so far as to tearing down the fences. They estimated only about 150,000 people to be there but it turned out the actual crowd was more than 3x the size of that. The diverse lineup included Jimi Hendrix (the ultimate star and who brought the house down as always), Chicago, The Doors, The Who (whose 2am performance was nothing short of epic and was widely considered as their finest moment), Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell (whose set became pretty controversial), Miles Davis and many more. The place where it was held was not the least bit practical though because aside from the strong wind blowing the sound to the side, it was also very challenging to transport the crowd into the island.
The US Festival during the Labor Day weekend in 1982 had 450,000 attendees but a year later, during the Memorial Day weekend, the music had a total attendance of 670,000. It was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who thought about creating an event which fuses music with technology. He had money to burn so he paid for the bulldozing of an open-air field and the construction of a massive, state-of-the-art stage. While the 1982 event was huge and epic, it had no say when compared to the 1983 edition. The four-day festival was separated into various genres – new wave, rock, heavy metal and country. It featured acts like Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, Stevie Nicks, Joe Walsh, Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, The Pretenders, Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings and David Bowie to name a few. Wozniak may have lost millions but the festival paved the way for other music events like Coachella and it also proved heavy metal’s rising popularity.
This annual international rock festival is dedicated to Russia Day which is a national holiday introduced in 1994. Entrance to the one-day music event which ran for 12 hours is free and it’s been supported by the local government of Samara and some commercial sponsorship. Held on June 8, 2013 at the Petra Dubrava Field, the initial attendance was only at 370,000 but an hour later, it increased to 450,000. And by the time German heavy metal band Rammstein took the stage (they also happen to be the headliner), the number of crowd members rose to more than 600,000. Total estimate as to the number of attendees is 690,000. Music fans flocked to Samara from all over the country to see Russian musicians (like Aquarium, Alisa and Kipelove) and other international acts. ‘Rock On The Volga’ is widely considered as the largest music festival in Europe. The crowd used up a total of 1 million liters of water during the event.
On February 18, 2006; music fans had one heck of a time partying at the 2.5-mile beach while listening to the Rolling Stones perform a 20-song set which included some classic hits and new compositions. This one-night free concert was attended by more than 1.5 million people (from all over Brazil, Europe and even the United States) and funded by the municipal government and sponsors like a pair of telecommunication companies. In fact, it was such a huge crowd that a special bridge had to be constructed so the band members could get to the hotel from the stage safely. Yes, even though more than 10,000 police officials were deployed for the event. The Rolling Stones played for two hours and Mick Jagger was in his element. The concert was a part of their ‘A Bigger Bang’ worldwide tour which started on August 2005 and ended on August 2007. At the time, it bagged the record for the ‘highest grossing tour of all time.’
It’s perhaps widely known as the pinnacle moment for Metallica. The Monsters of Rock Festival was held on September 28, 1991 at the Tushino Airfield in Moscow, Russia. It was headlined by AC/DC and other bands in the lineup include Metallica, Pantera, The Black Crowes and Russian heavy metal band E.S.T. The one-day concert was considered as the first Western outdoor concert in Soviet Union which was free of charge. It was sponsored by Time Warner Inc. and more than 1,000 police officials manned the area around the stage. Attendance has been estimated anywhere between 500,000 and 2 million (most are saying it’s slightly above 1.6 million) and while the numbers alone can make the event one for the books, it’s the performance which really made it historical. Metallica’s performance was of epic on so many levels. But that’s not to say other acts like the headliner AC/DC didn’t bring the house down too!
This record-breaking concert was held on New Year’s Eve in 1994 at the stylish suburb of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The total attendance is estimated at 3.5 million (some event estimated up to 4.2 million) but while it attracted a huge number of crowd, it also came with a bunch of skeptics. Some say it’s not possible for the site to hold that many audience members while others believed that not everyone was there for the performance because there were those who merely wanted to witness the fireworks display later that night. But when you think about it, it’s not entirely impossible given that Rod Stewart is a highly successful artist who has sold more than 100 million records and has performed in numerous sold-out concerts. This open-air concert was sponsored by MTV and its main purpose was to boost the tourism. It was a life-changing experience that the gig-goers will never forget.