Last year was the 50th Anniversary since the first ever Isle of Wight Festival took place in 1968. Not only was it the Isle of Wight’s first pop festival – but it was Britain’s first event of its kind too. Revived in 2002, the Isle of Wight Festival has not only kicked off the UK festival season for the past 17 years but has become a staple of it. We look back at the history of the event from the pioneering 60s to remembering a few of the great acts who have played at the event over the years…
The 60s brought around the birth of counterculture – in a post-war world, social revolution was in the air with thousands of young people rebuffing societal norms and embracing alternatives – free love, feminism, environmentalism, self-expression, equal rights and freedom for everyone. This brought about a new era of live performance with the world’s first pop festival, with California’s Monterey Pop Festival taking place in the ‘Summer of Love’ in ‘67. Bringing together rock, folk and pop music to mark a countercultural wave that was sweeping the Western world.
The Isle of Wight, being the historic creative hub it is, what with former famous residents Tennyson, Keats, Elgar, Marx and Dickens choosing to live and work here over the years, made it the perfect place to hold the UK’s first ever music festival. The following summer of ‘68, Isle of Wighters the Foulk Brothers, set about organising the first Isle of Wight Festival.
The first event in 1968 took place near Godshill at Ford’s Farm. It was said to have a modest attendance of 10,000 -15,000 people and showcased acts such as Jefferson Airplane, Arthur Brown, The Pretty Things, T Rex and Fairport Convention. After the initial success of the first event, the second in 1969 was set to bigger and even better than before – this time at a new site in Wootton.
Famously, the Foulk Brothers managed a major coup snagging headliner Bob Dylan from Woodstock, despite him not having played for 8 years after his famous motorcycle accident and even though the American event took place in the town where lived! The second year was shaping up to be more exciting than ever with The Who headlining alongside the elusive Dylan. It created an unbeatable draw with famous faces such as John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Jane Fonda and Elton John joining the crowd.
1970, perhaps the most famous year of all for the sheer amount of people it attracted, beating the record set by Woodstock’s 400,000 people. It is reported that the 1970 event attracted at least 600,000 making it the largest gathering of its kind. Acts for the 1970 festival included The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, Procol Harum, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen & The Army and many, many more.
The 1970 event was notable for a few reasons, one being the fact it was Jimi Hendrix’s last UK performance – he died the day before the first ever Glastonbury festival took place the following year. Secondly, for the large attendance which in turn resulted in the local council introducing of sections to the ‘Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971’ designed to control any further large overnight gatherings of this type in future years meaning this was the last of the original iteration of the Isle of Wight Festival until its revival 2002. Lastly, the great 1970 event is responsible for the influence it had, in particular on Glastonbury co-founder Andrew Kerr, who set up Glastonbury, the UK’s longest running pop festival, the following year.
In 2002 a version of the event was revived under the name ‘Rock Island’ – it had a modest but impressive line up which included rock legend Zeppelin’s Robert Plant along with The Charlatans, Ash, StarSailor and local band The Bees. The revived event was opened by a local band that had won a competition to play the mainstage – a tradition that has continued over the past 17 years. In 2003 the name ’Rock Island’ was ditched in place of just the ‘Isle of Wight Festival’ which obviously nodded to the iconic reputation of the legendary 60s events.
In the past 17 years, the revived event has played host to many amazing acts from the likes of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac to The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, The Killers and even Jay Z.
2019 looks set to be another iconic event. See you there!