Top 10 Music Festival Documentaries

Top 10 Music Festival Documentaries

Weird times indeed; whilst social distancing and self-isolating aren't exactly conducive to a typical festival experience, there remains plentiful opportunity to re-live the festival ethos, however. The euphoria, the drama, the excitement. From the comfort of your own home no less, oh yes.

Intrigued to witness the birth of contemporary music festivals? To further realise their universal appeal? To understand why music festivals are pillars of both celebration and cultural change? Or just a general festival fanatic? Well, you're in luck.

In no particular order, we've collated a list of our favourite music festival documentaries to transport you straight to the front row. 

1. Glastonbury (2006)


Now, given the festival's recent cancellation notice, we understand that watching this might sting a tad. Silver lining for the successful ticket holders, however, is that they'll be honoured for next year's edition.

Many a moon ago, Michael Eavis believed the beloved festival behemoth was nearing its end so implored film-maker Julien Temple to document the final hurrah. History tells us that this was not the case so Temple returned to film subsequent years, deciding to detail Glastonbury's illustrious heritage and impact.

For those yet to have been cast under Glastonbury's spell, this documentary will open you up to the unique world that forms on Worthy Farm and why it remains to be the ultimate music festival experience.

2. Spark: A Burning Man Story (2014)


Another similarly revered festival that you wouldn't understand the significance of unless "you were there, maaaaann". This documentary truly makes you wish you were there, however.

An insight into the highs, the lows, the agony, the ecstasy, and why thousands-upon-thousands of people trek to Black Rock City within the heart of the destitute Nevada desert each year.

Much more than a music festival, this immersive (and dusty) adventure will soon be added to your bucket list.

3. This Was Tomorrow (2015)


Whilst we're on the theme of gargantuan festivals, Tomorrowland is the focus of the next documentary.

After holding the 10th edition in 2014 and expanding the Tomorrowland brand globally, This Was Tomorrow explores the impact of electronic music festivals and how the festival's values (dignity, respect, unity) have ignited a new wave of celebrations that are enjoyed universally.

This Was Tomorrow shows that Tomorrowland has made its mark not only on the festival scene, but also within the history books.

4. Soul Power (2008)


In light of 'Rumble In The Jungle' taking place in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire), between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, music festival Zaire 74 was organised to accompany the world's biggest sporting event as a celebration of Black Power.

Amongst the incredible performances from the likes of soul and blues icons James Brown, Bill Withers, and B.B King, are absorbing excerpts of the artists who performed, the festival organisers, and Muhammad Ali, all expressing their views on the significance of the political movement.

5. Message To Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (1997)


Released 27 years after the event took place, Message To Love details the myriad of relentless issues that occurred during one of the world's most enduring music festivals. 

At the time recognised for being Woodstock's UK equivalent, the Isle Of Wight Festival quickly descended into anarchy with artists being booed off-stage, multiple crowd invasions on-stage, and thousands of gate-crashers attempting to break into the festival site, which prompted promoter Rikki Farr's well-documented rant (see below).

The festival's legacy lives on partly due to the 600,000 approximated attendees making it the largest music event of its time, and it being Jimi Hendrix's final performance before his untimely death.

6. Woodstock (1970)


Arguably the most culturally significant documentary on the list, seeing Woodstock is a rite-of-passage for any music festival zealot.

The culmination of the counter-cultural movement was brought to the masses and is the benchmark for music documentaries today.

Mud, rain, wide-eyed optimism, youth revolt, plenty of contraband, and some incredible music make this documentary a must-see.

7. My Generation (2000)


Closely tied with Woodstock, this documentary analyses the commonalities between the original 1969 festival crowd and the attendees of the 25th and 30th-anniversary festivals, the latter of which was marred by violence, destruction, and multiple fires that broke out on the festival site.

With the Woodstock name now in tatters (especially so, after it's ill-fated financial disaster last year to mark the original's 50th anniversary) it was described as 'the day the music died' by the media and long gone was the optimistic ethos of the original festival.

This fascinating documentary details what makes music festivals so appealing to the youth, regardless of their disposition.

8. Made In America (2014)


Hip-hop powerhouse Jay-Z recruited Academy Award winner Ron Howard to document his festival of the same name, an event that intends to congregate music enthusiasts from all sub-cultures whilst paying homage to popular genres of music that originated in America.

Interviews with artists from a multitude of genres such as Pearl Jam, Skrillex, Drake, The Hives, and Run-DMC exhibits the diverse range of music on offer and the inclusive nature of Jay-Z's vision.

"Music succeeds in what politics and religion fail." Fair point.

9. Under The Electric Sky (2014)


Centred around the success of American EDM festival Electric Daisy Carnival, this documentary highlights the human experience of music festivals.

With life-long friends to be made and life-changing experiences to be had, Electric Daisy Carnival attracts 345,000 people each year, and this documentary shows why.

Heartwarming stuff.


10. All Tomorrow's Parties (2009)


For the British readers among you, Butlin's seaside resorts traditionally conjure hazy nostalgic images of the family frolics with inflatable rubber-rings in the midst of the summer holidays. Not the traditional festival venue, let's say.

All Tomorrow's Parties, however, (which was named after the Velvet Underground track) emphasises the traditional notions of music festivals and the counter-cultural community of the weird and wonderful, showcasing performances from the likes of Iggy and The Stooges, Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Patti Smith, and Sonic Youth.

A collage of festival-goer's and musicians' footage completes the alternative, DIY, anti-consumerist aesthetic of the festival, highlighting that the now defunct festival was one of the most anarchic on the calendar.

Makes you realise how sorely missed ATP really is.

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