If you thought the last concert you went to was crowded, you might have missed some of these. Everyone knows that big names bring big audiences this is the name of the game. It is the organizers of these mega-concerts that must make every effort to ensure that the concert is well-planned and everything goes smoothly. In August 1969, the three-day Woodstock Music & Art Fair showed the world that half a million young people could gather peacefully in a cow pasture in a less than perfect environment (without food and water and enduring almost constant rain.) Very poor planning on the part of the organizers, yet a lot of luck with people behaving well and helping each other.
Then only four months later the chaos of the Altamont Speedway Festival showed how the lack of organizational skills on the part of the event planners, with a little bit of bad luck thrown in created a recipe for disaster. In the opinion of many concert goers, it was not a good idea to hire local Hell’s Angels members to do any kind of crowd control.
Here is a list of the most populated concerts in history.
10. Toronto SARS Benefit, 2003: 450,000 attendees
In 2003, a new disease called SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) swept through the city of Toronto, Canada. The disease took its toll on tourism and the city’s economy. Thus city officials decided to hold a benefit concert on July 30th, 2003. Not only were Canadian acts like Rush, Tea Party and Blue Rodeo featured during the show, but international mega-stars such as the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Justin Timberlake also performed. It was the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history, and one of the largest in North American history. Final headcount: 450,000 attendees
9. Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park ,1981: 500,000 attendees
The idea for a benefit concert in Central Park had been proposed by then Park Commissioner Gordon Davis and promoter Ron Delsener. It was at this first free concert in Central Park in New York City that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited for the second time after breaking up their act. “The Concert In Central Park” became a live album and marked the start of a short-lived reunion for the pair. Proceeds from album sales went toward the redevelopment and maintenance of Central Park. The event was televised by HBO. Final headcount: 500,000 attendees
8. The Woodstock Festival, 1969: 500,000 attendees
The three-day Woodstock Music Festival was organized in upstate New York. It was held on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York, from August 15 to August 18, 1969. During the mostly rainy weekend, thirty-two acts performed, among them were Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, and Santana. Jimi Hendrix offered one of the festival’s best memories, with his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. The event was captured in the 1970 documentary movie, “Woodstock”. Final headcount: 500,000 attendees
7. Summer Jam at Watkins Glen,1973: 600,000 attendees
A huge concert called Summer Jam was organized and held on July 28th, 1973 at the Grand Prix auto circuit in Watkins Glen, New York. For some reason, 137,000 tickets were sold although, as concertgoers would eventually find out, the show was free. It featured the Grateful Dead, who opened the show by playing for five hours, the Allman Brothers, and the Band. This concert is often forgotten because the Grateful Dead would not allow the show to be made into a movie. So many people attended that a large part of the audience was not able to see the stage. However, twelve huge sound amplifiers, installed courtesy of legendary promoter Bill Graham, allowed the audience to hear it all. Final headcount: 600,000 attendees
6. Isle of Wight Festival, 1970: 600,000 attendees
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel. This 1970 event was by far the largest and most famous of these early festivals and considered one of the largest human gatherings in the world. The event was notable for the appearance of Bob Dylan, as it was his first paid performance since a motorcycle accident three years earlier. Unfortunately it was also the final performance of Jimi Hendrix. The unexpected high attendance levels led to Parliament passing the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971 which prevents gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Final headcount: 600,000 attendees
5. Steve Wozniak’s 1983 US Festival,1983: 670,000 attendees
The US Festivals (US like the pronoun, not as initials) were two early 1980s music and culture festivals sponsored by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computers. He wanted to give something back to the community for having made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. So he organized the US Festival, which was a musical and technological event. The first was held Labor Day weekend in September 1982 and this second one was in May 1983. Wozniak paid for the bulldozing and construction of a new open-air field venue as well as the construction of an enormous state-of-the-art temporary stage at Glen Helen Regional Park near Devore in San Bernardino, California. The site was later to become home to San Manuel Amphitheater. Final headcount: 670,000 attendees
4. Garth Brooks in Central Park, 1997: 750,000 attendees
The phenomenal country/western singer music star Garth Brooks managed to turn the Big Apple’s famed Central Park into one of the largest concert arenas in music history. There were thousands who were unable to find a spot in the park’s North Meadow but managed to get close enough in nearby meadows hundreds of feet away, able to simply hear Brooks sing and that seemed to suffice. According to Capitol Records album sales for Brooks skyrocketed after the concert. Final headcount: 750,000 attendees
3. New York Philharmonic in Central Park, 1986: 800,000 attendees
During this time, the people of New York were celebrating Statue of Liberty Weekend and the New York Philharmonic played under the direction of Zubin Mehta. The New York Philharmonic is one of the most popular orchestras in the world and it has a long tradition of offering its music to people worldwide. In the summer, it often plays free concerts in New York City’s Central Park. On this day, the people in attendance formed the largest audience for a classical concert ever assembled. Final headcount: 800,000 attendees
2. Jean Michel Jarre, Oxygen, Moscow, 1997: 3,500,000 attendees
In 1997, the Mayor of Moscow commissioned famous French musician Jean Michel Jarre to give a spectacular civic-event concert in celebration of the city’s 850th anniversary. It was held in front of the State University of Moscow. Jarre who began his career in Russia surprised the concert-goers with a direct link to the Russian space station, Mir, live from space. This made for a very moving and thrilling moment for everyone in attendance. Final headcount: 3,500,000 attendees
1. Rod Stewart at Copacabana Beach, 1994: 3,500,000 attendees
New Year’s Eve – December 31, 1994 the people of Rio de Janeiro were preparing to celebrate the evening in style. Singer Rod Stewart was throwing a free concert and he decided to do things differently. Instead of choosing a traditional venue such as a stadium or concert hall to sing his many hits in, Stewart chose the Copacabana Beach. He staged a free concert there as a gift to the many poor people of Rio. How phenomenal it must have been to be a part of that crowd, counting down the seconds to the New Year. Final headcount: 3,500,000 attendees
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