7 Popular 60s Festivals & What They Look Like Now

June 5, 2019
Biggest UK Festivals In The 60s & Today

For some, spending a few days, not showering, rubbing against other unhygienic half-naked people, sounds like a right hoot. With the aid of alcohol and drugs, sometimes the rubbing ends up back in a tent and someone ends up with a UTI.

This sort of thing isn’t new. In fact, this might be how you were conceived. The biggest UK festivals were happening during the ’60s, especially with hippies and those who rejected commercialism. Which is why it’s ironic now, that some of those same festivals are now sponsored by banks.

I found seven festivals from the 1960s that are still happening in one way or another. Some have doubled in size, and some have doubled their security instead, great if you stick the word “family” before fun, but not if you like just fun. Some of these festivals still cost nothing and others will cost you your mortgage. But, at least they’re still going, right? 

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh, August

In 1947 Fringe unofficially began. Eight theatre companies got together and gatecrashed the Edinburgh International Festival in the hopes of luring attendees to smaller venues, where they would dazzle them with their amateur performances.

By 1960, Fringe had a name and its own official programme, listing all the revues. It was held late at night and served as a platform for any theatre company to showcase their work, completely uncensored.

Fast forward to today, and thankfully performances are still not vetted by some bald man in a suit who thinks sock garters are still in fashion. But what has changed, is those saucy revues have been overthrown by comedy, despite only being introduced to Fringe in the ’80s.

biggest UK festivals from the 60s

Reading Festival

Reading, August

On Sunday 11th August 1963, many big eye-lashed girls flocked to the third National Jazz festival in Richmond. That year, the organisers threw in some Rhythm and Blues bands including the biggest lips in London, Mick Jagger & The Rolling Stones. The festival was a huge success and by 1965, jazz was swept under the paisley patterned rug of The Who and The Yardbirds.

Each year, the festival was expanding like the belly of a pregnant woman. So the organisers had to move to several places before settling in Reading. And by 1969, when jazz had completely disappeared from the bill, it was time to think about a new name too. Reading Festival.

Today, Reading still contains no jazz acts, but hardly any rock acts either. Now there’s a stage completely devoted to people pressing buttons (aka dance) and the headliners aren’t that different. Who knows whether this is just reflecting the current climate of music or a question of taste.

Notting Hill Carnival

London, August

It all began in response to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958. Journalist and activist Claudia Jones organised an inside event featuring Calypso and Carribean Carnival-style cabaret in the name of cultural unity. By 1966, her event had evolved and merged with a new street party, that was to be dubbed the Notting Hill Carnival.

The community organised this celebration of the West Indian culture from the comfort of Mangrove Restaurant. A place loved by many including Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone and Bob Marley. By 1969, the party had attracted a lot of attention for the vibrant costumes, steel drum and dancing throughout the streets of Notting Hill, despite attempts to be shut down by the police.

Unfortunately, Mangrove restaurant shut down in the ’90s and is now owned by the Rum Kitchen chain. Although the base is gone, the party continues every August bank holiday with the support of the authorities. Not like they needed permission to party anyway.

Hyde Park Smoke Ins

London, April

By 1967, everyone smoked weed. Probably even your nan. In London, many flocked to the comforting green of Hyde Park to smoke up in protest of the criminalisation of cannabis. Often, there’d also be free concerts in the park too. You could listen to the sounds of the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd whilst thinking deeply about things like how bread is made or what are eyebrows for.
Today, stoners still wonder these thoughts in the greenery of Hyde Park and are continuing the protest through the annual 420 events. Although it began as an American event, Hyde Park hosts the biggest 420 gathering every year. And, you can still watch concerts during the summer, but, the bands want to get paid now.

Isle Of Wight Festival

Isle Of Wight, June

Inspired by American festivals like Monterey Pop, Isle Of Wight Festival was born for the hippies and psychedelic music lovers of 1968. Jefferson Airplane was the first headliner on the little island who attracted around 10,000 to cross the water. By 1970, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors headlined with 600,000 hippies or more turning up.

In 2003, Isle of Wight festival was revived with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant as the headline act. The festival has that feel of nostalgia with artists like Amy Winehouse, The Who and The Rolling Stones framed by a psychedelic stage design.


Somerset, June

After watching Led Zeppelin at the Bath Festival Of Blues, Michael Eavis did what any music fan would do. He started his own festival.
He hosted his festival on a small Somerset farm in the middle of nowhere in 1970. He didn’t expect that 1,500 people would turn up, even though they had to pay £1 a ticket. He compensated the hippies with a festival essential, free milk from the farm. The very next year, the festival erected the famous pyramid stage but got rid of the entry fee and the free milk. 

Now, Glastonbury has become its own world with over 175,000 people attending. And tickets sell out even before the line up is announced. The festival still carries that hippie ethos by continuing to work with charities and encouraging green living. But they didn’t carry it through to their ticket prices which are around £250 per person.

Summer Solstice

Wiltshire, June

For thousands of years, people have flocked to the feet of Stonehenge to witness the sunrise during Summer Solstice. Some people do it because they think it’s magic, others think it’s something to do with aliens. But either way, during the 20th Century, many 1960s subcultures were still gathering at Stonehenge every June 21st, especially Druids.

By 1974, this ancient ceremony had turned into a free festival for teenagers. Who knows if this displeased the Druids, the aliens or the magic, but it upset the authorities. While The Damned sang their little hearts out for zero payment, Margret Thatcher began discussing how to shut the festival down.

And she succeeded with a small army of police. Stonehenge festival was banned. But in 1999, they allowed people to begin gathering at the stones during Summer Solstice once again. Although closely monitored, people still head to the stones for a party and Druids seem to crawl out from wherever they’re hiding all year to still stand amongst the ancient stones. I mean, you never see a druid in your local cafe, do you?

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