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October 21, 2014

The 9 Largest Concerts…Ever


As summer draws to a close, so does the season of music festivals, weekend-long affairs that consisting naturally smelly people (showering less than usual), beer, heat exhaustion, and more shirtless men than a ‘True Blood’ episode. Needless to say, we’re extremely sorry to see it go. Festivals, while springing up everywhere these days, are not a new occurrence. In fact, outdoor concerts have been cramming folks into farms, stadiums, and parking lots for over 50 years. So let’s look back at the largest concerts in history and see who can really pack ‘em in.

9. Woodstock – 1969

Maybe you’ve heard of it. This seminal outdoor festival that took place in Saugerties, New York, offered up acts like Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, James Taylor, The Who, and Janis Joplin, and served as a touchpoint for all things counter-cultural well before these people could just share all their ideas on websites. Rain marred the event, and in the later days, fans found their way into the show whether or not they had tickets. Due to that fact, attendance figures are dicey, but the agreed-upon number is in the ballpark of 400,000.

8. The Toronto SARS Festival – 2003

Sounds ridiculously dated already, doesn’t it? The festival benefiting the ephemeral affliction was able to get 450,000 fans packed into Downsview Park in Toronto. And wouldn’t you know it, with the help of The Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake, Rush(!), and AC/DC, the people were able to conquer SARS. Little did we know that the sweeping epidemic of monkeypox lay just around the corner. The concert was hosted by Dan Akroyd, but people decided to turn out in droves anyway.

7. Simon and Garfunkel – 1981

This free concert, televised by a then-nacscent HBO, was able to get 500,000 revelers out Central Park to toast Mrs. Robinson. It was known simply as “The Concert in Central Park” as both a TV special and a live album. They knocked out all the duo’s hits, as well as rehashing Paul Simon’s older stuff, including “Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard.” In order to preserve the integrity of the album, the 8-track recording features no song breaks. So pop it in the dash of your Firebird and relieve your glory days.

6. Isle of Wight Festival – 1970

The third iteration of this festival, which started in 1968, drew around 600,000 concertgoers. At the time it was considered one of the largest gatherings in world history, concert or otherwise. The English festival boasted a murderers’ row of popular artists, including The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, The Doors, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Free, Chicago, and many others. The concert was documented by Academy Award-winning director Murray Lerner, who didn’t release the footage until 1996. Check it out to see what all the fuss is about. Or if you just like classic rock.

5. Summer Jam at Watkins Glen – 1973

Three years later, the other side of the pond held the Summer Jam in upstate New York and stole the title from Isle of Wight. The Band, The Allman Brothers, and Grateful Dead played to more than 600,000 fans at Warkins Glen. Like Woodstock, the festival created an ungodly traffic jam that caused many to just get out and walk, sometimes distances of 5-8 miles. And it was on a hot August day, so you can imagine the funk emanating from the festival grounds. Gross. However, smelliness metamorphosed into filth as a thunderstorm turned the site into a giant mud pit, as is often the case with these sorts of thing.

4. US Festival – 1983

Long before Apple had a stranglehold on consumer electronics and the music industry, they were doing things a little more organically. In 1983, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak put together a rockin’ concert in San Bernadino, CA over Memorial Day weekend. The concert featured U2, Motley Crue, The Clash, David Bowie, and many other monsters of punk, metal, and new wave. The opening day brought about an auspicious start as a feud between David Lee Roth and Clash frontman Joe Strummer almost came to blows. Probably because Van Halen is lame and The Clash rule. The cumulative number of tickets sold was around 700,000, but they were sold individually over three days, so the crowd maxed out at about 375,000.

3.Garth Brooks in Central Park

In August 1997, Garth Brooks, in the spirit of Simon and Garfunkel almost two decades before him, put on a free show in Central Park that brought out almost 750,000 people. He was promoting his upcoming album ‘Sevens’ that would end up being released in November. It’s amazing how many people will identify as country fans when the show is free.

2. New York Philharmonic in Central Park

Central Park seems to be the preferred venue for large American shows, be they rock, country, or the decidedly more highbrow orchestral variety. In 1986, to celebrate the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, the New York Philharmonic threw down in the park in front of a whopping 800,000 people. And what’s not to celebrate? Any excuse for a free concert in the park, I guess.

1.Rod Stewart at Copacabana Beach

Not even close. Number two comes in at 800,000, but Mr. Maggie Mae was able to bring in 3.5 million to turn out for his New Year’s celebration in 1994. Yikes. That’s like the population of Chicago getting together and going to see a movie. Can’t imagine that was easy. I wonder if there was a line for the bathrooms. Further, I wonder if there were bathrooms. If the adage goes that the French love Jerry Lewis, can we start operating under the equally odd supposition that Brazilians love Rod Stewart? Yeah. We can.

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