Naked Hippies And Raging Fires: 55 Crazy Photos From History’s Most Iconic Music Festivals

Published April 2, 2020
Updated January 11, 2021

From Woodstock '69 to Woodstock '99, these are the music festivals that defined their generations.

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Naked Hippies And Raging Fires: 55 Crazy Photos From History’s Most Iconic Music Festivals
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For every generation, there is the music that defines it. Likewise, every generation has its era-defining music festival.

But what happens when you bring thousands of young people together to camp, drink, and jam to their favorite bands for an entire weekend? Well, chaos ensues. Regardless of whether that chaos is good, bad, or ugly, one thing is for sure: It's always memorable.

As far as memorable music festivals go, these have to be the top three:

Woodstock 1969

Meditating At Woodstock

Elliott Landy/Magnum PhotosA group of Woodstock '69 festival-goers meditate at their campsite in Bethel, New York.

More than 50 years ago, perhaps the most famous festival of our time was known simply as, "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music." Now, the Woodstock Music Festival is remembered as a symbol of hippie counterculture, which was founded on the basic beliefs of peace, love, and – of course – rock n' roll.

In order to celebrate this movement, the 1969 Woodstock festival was organized by four young entrepreneurs who had no previous experience with large festivals. Once Creedence Clearwater Revival hopped on board, almost every other important artist from the time agreed to make an appearance, from Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin.

The location was generously supplied by dairy farmer Max Yasgur, and Woodstock was scheduled to begin on Aug. 15, 1969, in Bethel, New York.

Days before the festival began, hundreds of thousands of music fans started their journeys to the small town. The roads leading to the dairy farm became so backed up with traffic that festival-goers began to abandon their cars and walk the rest of the way.

More than 400,000 people flowed into the festival — many more than what was planned, leading organizers to abandon their ticket stands and make Woodstock a free festival.

Once the festival began, the counterculture attendees maintained their mantra: "Make love, not war." Despite rain and mud, festival-goers were happy, harmonious, and, in many cases, high. Many of them spent the four days nude, bathing in nearby streams or making love whenever and wherever.

So many people came that there wasn't enough food or supplies to go around, but volunteer nurses and farmers came in to offer help. By the end of the festival, there were no reported incidents of violence. (Two people died, one of a drug overdose and the other because he was sleeping under a tractor and the tractor driver accidentally ran him over.)

As one 15-year-old festival-goer said, "I was raised not to trust people and to be wary of strangers, and here were 500,000 of them who were being so nice and so happy and just listening to the music and sitting in the mud. It really gave me a different perspective of humanity."

Altamont Speedway Free Concert

California bands Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead loved playing at Woodstock so much, they decided to organize their own West Coast version.

They got the Rolling Stones — one of the most popular bands in the world — to headline. The Stones rarely played in the U.S., but now they'd be playing a massive show for free.

The Rolling Stones perform at the Altamont Speedway Free Concert. Dec. 6, 1969.

Unfortunately, the Altamont Speedway Free Concert shared none of the peace and love that was seen in Bethel, New York.

The venue changed multiple times. First it was Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, but at the last minute it was changed to the Altamont Speedway 45 miles east of the city, a desolate, treeless expanse right off of a freeway.

Construction at the venue didn't begin until December 4. The stage was too low for most attendees to see and only a thin rope separated it from the crowd.

Like Woodstock, the music event didn't enforce an entry price, which resulted in almost half a million music fans making their way to the raceway. Five bands performed; on top of Jefferson Airplane and the Stones were Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Grateful Dead backed out at the last minute — after they heard how violent it was getting.

The motorcycle gang Hell's Angels were hired as security guards. They were paid with $500 worth of beer, which they eagerly drank while on duty, on top of consuming a host of psychedelics.

As can only be expected, instead of protecting the acts and the audience, these drunk bikers quickly became a menace, stabbing festival-goers and musicians alike. Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by a biker, and Stephen Stills was stabbed with a bicycle spoke.

Meredith Hunter At The Altamont Free Concert

Rolling Stone/Dixie-WardMeredith Hunter was just 18 years old when he was killed by a group of Hell's Angels during the Rolling Stones' set at the Altamont Speedway Free Concert.

As rock writer Joel Selvin later said, "I think there was a mass toxic psychosis going on there. In sort of street parlance, you know, everybody was on a bad trip. It was not a groovy vibration. It was a bad trip."

Everything came to a fatal climax when the Rolling Stones took the stage. As they played their set, an 18-year-old black man named Meredith Hunter was attacked and chased by a group of Hell's Angels.

As a last resort, the young man pulled out a gun, and this is when an Angel named Alan Passaro stabbed him twice, killing him.

Hunter was one of four people killed during the Altamont Speedway Free Concert, bringing a brutal end to the Summer of Love.

Woodstock '99

The organizers of Woodstock '99 had intended to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the famous music festival of peace and love. However, this pricey, sweltering, and chaotic festival quickly became known as not only the anti-Woodstock, but also "the day the 90s died."

Woodstock Festival Of 1999

Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty ImagesTwo Woodstock '99 festival-goers wrestle on the ground amidst hundreds of discarded plastic water bottles.

From July 22 to July 25, 1999, as many as 400,000 rock fans from across the nation flocked to the Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York in search of a weekend of good times and good music. What they found instead was a burning hot tarmac and a lack of water.

Single-use plastic water bottles were being sold for an extortionate $4 each (on top of the $157 price of entry) and free fountains were quickly smashed out of frustration. This led to mud pits, which eventually became indistinguishable from the overflowing porta potties.

Temperatures inched closer to 100 degrees and, with nowhere to turn except the sun-soaked concrete, hundreds of festival-goers became ill due to heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Under these conditions, it wasn't long before mayhem ensued. Kid Rock kickstarted the first acts of aggression by asking the crowd to throw their plastic water bottles in the air, knocking people square in the head.

Mosh pits during the sets of Korn and Limp Bizkit resulted in physical injuries and multiple rapes.

As festival volunteer David Schneider later said, "At one point I saw this girl, a very petite girl, maybe 100 pounds, who was body-surfing above the crowd and either fell in or was pulled into a circle in the mosh pit. These gentlemen, probably in the 25-32 age range, looked as though they were holding her down. They were holding her arms; you could see she was struggling."

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' rendition of 'Fire' inspired concertgoers to light an actual fire, burning the venue down and forcing a mass evacuation. July 25, 1999.

Finally, it was Red Hot Chili Peppers' rendition of Jimi Hendrix's famous "Fire" performance from 30 years earlier that set off full-on riots.

Bonfires were set in the crowds, cars were flipped and lit on fire, and vendor booths were torn apart for fuel. Outnumbered law enforcement had to call for backup, and by the end of the festival, 44 people had been arrested.

There's no question that music festivals have hit stunning highs and devastating lows throughout the years. But whether these shows were good, bad, or just plain ugly, they all have an unforgettable place in music history.

Now that you know about some of the most memorable music festivals from history, take a deep dive into the Monterey Pop Festival, which paved the way for Woodstock. Then head into the next decade with these nostalgia-inducing pictures from the 1970s.

Hannah McKennett
Hannah McKennett is a Dublin-based freelance writer that is dedicated to traveling the world while writing about it.
Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.
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McKennett, Hannah. "Naked Hippies And Raging Fires: 55 Crazy Photos From History’s Most Iconic Music Festivals.", April 2, 2020, Accessed May 29, 2024.