10 Most Epic Rock Concerts of All Time
The best concerts are about more than just the music. They bring an extra level of senses-blasting awesomeness to whatever is happening onstage. The best concerts take the music and elevate it to a whole other experience — an experience that resonates for years to come. Our chronological list of the 10 Most Epic Rock Concerts of All Time features festivals, club shows and arena gigs. All of them have become historic moments in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Bob Dylan was a natural for the annual Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. He performed well-received acoustic sets there in 1963 and ’64. But when he returned in July 1965, he decided to mix things up a bit. After a traditional acoustic set on July 24, Dylan returned the following day and took the stage with five backing musicians, who proceeded to plug in their instruments and perform blistering electric versions of Dylan originals. The audience was not pleased, booing both Dylan and his band off the stage. He wouldn’t play the festival for another 37 years.
It’s not that the Beatles were a particularly great live act, or that they even enjoyed performing all that much (they complained they could never hear themselves over the screams of the audience). But their concert at New York’s Shea Stadium on Aug. 15, 1965, marked their biggest show at the time and a turning point for the band, which would retire from live performances a year later. They would retreat to the studio not long after the concert — which was filmed and broadcast across the world — and create the game-changing masterpieces that would define the second part of their career and everything that followed.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience were generating some crazy buzz when they took the stage at the three-day Monterey Pop Festival in California during its final hours. Their debut album, ‘Are You Experienced,’ had just been released, and the concert helped usher in a new wave of rock music during the Summer of Love. Hendrix ended his set with a cover of the Troggs’ ‘Wild Thing’ — complete with the guitar acrobatics that got him noticed. But it was his final act — which involved dry humping his instrument, setting it on fire and smashing it onstage — that made him a star.
Jim Morrison was no stranger to drunken ramblings onstage. He had a reputation for ingesting any kind of drug that was handed to him by fans. Plus, he was as unreliable as he was erratic. On March 1, 1969, during a Doors concert in Miami, the singer began screaming at the audience. Fueled on way too much booze, he also started confronting the police who were lined up in front of the stage. By all accounts, it was a messy, incomprehensible performance capped by what was allegedly Morrison’s most notorious onstage action, whipping out his penis. Four days later, he was arrested. He died while the case was still being appealed.
Like a few other entries on our list of the 10 Most Epic Rock Concerts of All Time, Woodstock featured way too many great performances to single out just one. In fact, it’s the entire four-day festival that makes it one of the most historic concerts ever staged. Santana were there. So were the Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash. And they all played some of their all-time best sets at the venerable hippie fest.
Like a couple other shows on our list of the 10 Most Epic Rock Concerts of All Time, the Rolling Stones’ infamous outing at the Altamont Speedway in California on Dec. 6, 1969, is best remembered for something other than the music. Not that there wasn’t plenty of great tunes there — the free show included performances by Santana, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Jefferson Airplane in addition to the Stones’ headlining set. But the music was dampened by the stabbing death of an audience member by a Hells Angel, the motorcycle gang that was hired as security for the concert. The hippie dream essentially ended here.
Bruce Springsteen was on his way to becoming a star when he played Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre on July 7, 1978, as part of his ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ tour. His concerts were growing to legendary status by this time, as Springsteen and the E Street Band would check in with three-hour epic shows every single night. The Roxy gig is probably his best and most famous. He started with a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Rave On’ and ended three-plus hours later with ‘Twist and Shout.’ In between were stories, songs and proof that rock ‘n’ roll could be a religious experience in the right hands.
Apple’s Steve Wozniak commissioned a new open-air venue in San Bernardino, Calif., for a three-day “music and culture” festival to be held over Labor Day Weekend 1982. The event was to bridge state-of-the-art technology (computers were still a long way from being in everyone’s homes) and new music. Classic rockers like Santana, the Kinks, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Fleetwood Mac joined new-school groups like the Police, Gang of Four and Talking Heads in the lineup. Eight months later Wozniak staged another three-day US Festival. Hundreds of thousands of fans attended both shows, but Wozniak spent so much money preparing for them, he ended up losing $20 million.
During their massive worldwide tour in support of 1990’s ‘Black Album,’ Metallica played the Tushino Airfield in Moscow on Sept. 28, 1991, as part of Monsters of Rock ’91. The date wrapped up that leg of the tour with a free concert — supposedly the first free show to feature global rock stars in the country. More than a million people showed up (some estimates double that number), making it the highest-attended Metallica concert in the band’s history.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died of AIDS on Nov. 24, 1991. Five months later, a massive tribute concert was held at London’s Wembley Stadium that doubled as a benefit for AIDS research. The members of Queen were joined onstage by generations of fans and friends, including Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Def Leppard and U2. Some artists chose to cover Queen songs with the group’s surviving members; some played sets of their own material. All rocked pretty hard for a good cause.