Back in 1969, a small town in New York State known as Woodstock played host to a music festival unlike any other. Major global names headlined, from Jimi Hendrix to Santana to Janis Joplin. The very next year, Michael Eavis launched Glastonbury on Worthy Farm in England to similar success.
However, in reality, the very first ‘music festival was held back in Ancient Greece to celebrate the god Apollo. Known as the Pythian Games, the music festival was held at the Delphi to stoke a sense of communal joy and, of course, to offer worship to the god of poetry and music. Thousands of years later, the modern music festival retains at least some of that same spirit—especially related to community, identity, and great tunes.
But the modern list of music festivals on offer today is incredibly varied. What began with Woodstock has diversified greatly, including festivals geared toward indie fans, metalheads, psytrance enthusiasts, pop idols, and many more. For those looking to buy tickets to their first festival, the sheer number of options can be dizzying.
Keep reading for a breakdown of some of the world’s biggest and most popular music festivals, as well as what you can expect from each.
Glastonbury Music Festival
Five days / Somerset, England / Contemporary Music
Few festivals are as beginner-friendly as Glastonbury. While newcomers will need to navigate crowds that can number up to 200,000, the range of artists means there’s something for everyone who enjoys rock, alternative, pop, rap, and other popular genres. This year, Billie Eilish headlined alongside Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar.
Fans gear up for the major festival in a variety of ways. Some might prefer to check out games that feature artists who once headlined at Glastonbury, like video slots that cover ZZ Top and Motörhead. Others might instead prefer to look for a list of recommended toiletries and supplies.
Three-day weekends / Flanders, Belgium / EDM
With a reputation for being one of the wildest party zones in the world, the annual Tomorrowland festival is ideal for fans of electronic music. Lineups regularly feature hip-hop and rap artists, as well as new experimental dance music.
The festival is known for its top-tier light shows, as well as dozens of unique stages that will welcome up to 600,000 people over the weekend. Think you can handle an all-night dance session… or three? Then Tomorrowland is right for you.
One week / Nevada, USA / Community Art & Self-Expression
Not everyone interested in festival culture will want to check out a certain artist. Instead, they may be interested in learning about alternative living, movements, and art. Burning Man combines the entertainment value and electronic music of Tomorrowland with a new-age sentiment that emphasizes leaving no trace—for all 80,000 attendees.
In other words, festival-goers will need to provide for themselves… even down to water supplies. Located in the deserts of Nevada, attendees will see large-scale art installations and unforgettable performances—even if the musical lineup tends to be a bit lacking.
Multiple weekends / California, USA / Contemporary Music
Similar to Glastonbury Music Festival, Coachella delivers on a wide range of contemporary artists. Each year, the world’s biggest pop stars head to California to perform in front of crowds of hundreds of thousands. Last year, close to 750,000 headed to Indio to join in the festivities.
In fact, much of Coachella’s reputation comes down to seeing and being seen. In other words, it’s not just about the music, but also about fashion, culture, and the chance of rubbing elbows with some of the world’s biggest attending artists and the celebrities who come to see them.
Four days / Tennessee, USA / Live Music
Bonnaroo is known for bringing the best in all types of live music together, including hip hop, jazz, gospel, reggae, bluegrass, and more. The emphasis is on highlighting big names (from Eminem to Elton John to Metallica) and indie groups alike, which has made the festival a hit for jam band enthusiasts.
Active since 2002, Bonnaroo doesn’t just cater to music fans looking to catch their favorite bands. Rather, the festival has also served as the launching point for various groups. Back in 2003, Rolling Stone counted the festival’s second iteration as one of the biggest moments that changed Rock’n’Roll. Want to keep your finger on the pulse of up-and-coming groups? Head to Manchester, Tennessee with Bonnaroo’s 40,000 other attendees.