From Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock to Knocked Loose at Coachella, festival stages bring out the best in musicians. Many artists leave their mark on music history not only through their artistic contributions but also their absolutely iconic stage performances that live on for decades.
The grandiose scale of it all, performing not only to hundreds but thousands upon thousands of music lovers, gives more creative freedom for stage design, props, costume changes, and fun pyrotechnics that make for astounding, elevated shows.
Even then, some musicians only needed a microphone, an amp, and probably a whole lot of energy drinks to make a memorable performance. We’re running through some of the most legendary performances in rock and metal history, buckle up.
Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival (1965)
Some were dancing, others were booing, and many just stood in shock. Bob Dylan’s 1965 performance where he took folk electric at Newport Folk Festival is widely considered a watershed moment in rock music history. Signaling the end of folk’s revival and helping to pioneer the rock n’ roll swing of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Hendrix at Woodstock (1969)
The summer of ‘69 would not be complete without Hendrix’s iconic performance to over 40,000 patrons of Woodstock, closing out Sunday by shredding it to the National Anthem, ultimately delivering a playbook on how rock ‘n’ roll is done.
Led Zeppelin at Live Aid (1985)
Although the band doesn’t remember it so fondly, fans hold this performance in high regard as a crucial part of Led Zeppelin’s legacy.
Black Sabbath at Live Aid (1985)
Live Aid in 1985 was the place to be it seems. Black Sabbath hadn’t played since 1978, but returned once again to deliver a historic reunion performance. Tommi Iommi himself called it “surreal.”
Queen at Live Aid (1985)
This performance came at a time when everything had fallen into place for Queen. They were at the peak of their popularity and creative powers, exemplified by the iconic call-and-response from Mercury to the crowd.
Iron Maiden at Rock In Rio (1985)
Bruce Dickinson himself called this performance a life-changing one. “There was not a single cell in my body that wasn’t exhausted… We conquered an entire continent overnight with that one show. That was extraordinary.”
Jane’s Addiction at Lollapalooza (1991)
Thirty-two years ago Jane’s Addiction said goodbye, making a quick pit stop of their farewell tour at the first-ever Lollapalooza. The fest also happened to be founded by frontman Perry Farrell, who is still involved with the now legendary event to this day.
Pearl Jam at Lollapalooza (1992)
That following year Pearl Jam also delivered an equally memorable performance for the history books when Eddie Vedder took to climbing the scaffolding.
Nirvana at Reading (1992)
A set so good, they made it into a live album. But, Dave Grohl said he was “terrified” before the performance.
Oasis at Glastonbury (1994)
Here we see plucky youngsters Liam and Noel Gallagher, not aware of the fame that awaits.
Nine Inch Nails at Woodstock (1994)
You know how bands say they’ll do “whatever it takes” to play their music; rain, snow, or shine? Well, Nine Inch Nails proved that mud is only an obstacle for the weak.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers at Woodstock (1999)
No shirt? No shoes? No problem! Becoming a regular occurrence in performances to come, Red Hot Chilli Peppers took the stage at Coachella wearing just socks to cover their… lower region.
Not the only by any means, but certainly one of the most famous examples of rockers going onstage naked.
Limp Bizkit at Woodstock (1999)
Some have spent two decades putting the blame on Limp Bizkit for the Woodstock 99 riots, despite evidence that the festival’s failure to safeguard patrons and provide basic necessities led to the debacle. But Bizkit’s iconic performance is now cemented in rock history.
Metallica at Download (2003)
Download Festival’s first-ever utterance would not have been complete without the legendary surprise set from Metallica, who are due to return for its 20th anniversary in 2023.
Queens Of The Stone Age at Reading Festival (2005)
The crowd understood the assignment. Not a single person stood still.
Radiohead at Bonnaroo (2006)
Attendees of 2006’s Bonnaroo that managed to catch Radiohead’s set should count themselves lucky. The band shocked everyone by switching out a setlist of their most popular hits for a storm of unreleased material due for 2007s In Rainbows.
Bloc Party at Reading and Leeds Festival (2007)
It’s easy to see why even today artists like Paramore continue to find inspiration from Bloc Party. Their live presence is unmatched.
Rage Against the Machine at Coachella (2007)
Surrounded by the rich elite who are able to afford Coachella’s ticket prices, Rage Against The Machine reunited after 8 years to call for the 43rd President, George W. Bush, and his “war criminals” to be “tried, hung, and shot.”
My Morning Jacket at Bonnaroo (2008)
The onslaught of pouring rain only added to the transcendent psychedelic rock performance.
Prince at Coachella (2008)
If you didn’t believe Prince was a bonafide rockstar with an endless range of talent before this, his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” at 2008 Coachella might change your mind.
My Chemical Romance at Reading Festival (2011)
My Chem’s Reading debut in 2006 may have left them bottled and bruised, but by 2011 the MCR army was a force to be reckoned with. The cherry on top? They covered “We Will Rock You” with Queen’s Brian May.
Paramore at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend (2013)
If you didn’t have gifs, screengrabs, or photos from this performance saved to your Tumblr blog back in 2013, where were you? Under a rock?
Arctic Monkeys at Glastonbury (2013)
“This one’s for your girlfriend, laddiesss!” roars a young Alex Turner before absolutely smashing “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” barely able to get a word in over the crowd singing far far louder.
Bring Me The Horizon at Reading (2015)
In their early years, the Sheffield five-piece had spent much of their festival performances being bottled and booed. Though 2015 felt like their turning point, where public opinion had finally woken up to their astounding catalog and absolutely jaw-dropping stage energy.
Mike Shinoda at Reading (2018)
Following the death of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington the year prior, we’d not heard any Linkin Park songs performed by the remaining band members outside of Bennington’s tribute show. Shinoda gave fans a treat with his rendition of “In The End” during his solo set at Reading Festival. A beautiful tribute helped by crowd participation, but nonetheless, one that would feel incomplete without Bennington.
Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes at Reading Festival (2019)
Carter and the Rattlesnakes have made their girls-only moshpits a staple of their concerts. But to perform to the mainstage crowd of Reading Festival and see women across the board flock to the pit is amazing.
Skindred at Download Festival (2022)
Download Festival has been Skindred’s stomping ground for almost two decades, no crowd has shown them more love. There’s nothing like seeing, let alone experiencing thousands of people doing the Newport Helicopter – a signature Skindred move (named after their hometown of Newport, South Wales) where you essentially flail your shirts in the air with everyone around you like one big helicopter.
Knocked Loose at Coachella (2023)
Modern hardcore is alive and well, charging at the frontline of that movement from 2017 has always been Knocked Loose. It feels very fitting to watch them celebrate these mainstream accolades as pioneers of hardcore’s popularity in the early 2020s. Even Billie Eilish was seen side-stage catching their set.