When the Isle of Wight festival kicked off on August 31st, 1968 on Godshill, it featured Jefferson Airplane as the headliner, along with a handful of other bands including a young act by the name of Tyrannosaurus Rex (aka T.Rex).
By 1969 the festival which had been originally planned as a fundraiser for a swimming pool, had booked Bob Dylan (recovered from his 1966 motorcycle crash), the Band, the Who, and Joe Cocker. By 1970, Jimi Hendrix (who would die a few weeks later), Miles Davis, the Doors, Chicago, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Donovan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez and the Moody Blues among many others were playing to an estimated 600,000 music fans who set up a makeshift community of tents called Desolation Row as well as a medical tent for anyone coming down from or having bad drug trips. While many considered the festival a success, more conservative locals resented the “hippies” and “freaks” invading their tiny island and put a stop to it. There were even apparently threats of shooting performers. The festival that inspired the founders of Glastonbury to start their own festival, unfortunately also inspired Parliament to pass a law against such gatherings. Europe’s answer to Woodstock, sadly, went silent in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
In 2002, the festival was revived as Rock Island by concert promoter John Giddings with the Charlatans and Robert Plant headlining. Since then it has featured a long list of rock, hip-hop, and electronic acts, including Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, Faithless, the Police, Fleetwood Mac, Foo Fighters, Roxy Music, Groove Armada, Neil Young, Basement Jaxx, Jay Z, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bloc Party, Suede, David Guetta, and Arcade Fire. In the process, it became recognized as the unofficial start of summer in the U.K.
This year’s season will kick off on June 21 with a 50th anniversary celebration featuring four days of music from Depeche Mode, the Killers, Kasabian, Rita Ora, Manic Street Preachers, Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, Chase and Status, Soul II Soul, and—in a bit of an echo from the past—an upcoming band by the name of T.Rexstasy. It will also feature several areas including a campsite, spoken word stages, and food and drinks.
The Isle of Wight may have been cut short in its prime in 1970 and have gone dark for three decades, but since then it has been named Best Event, Best Family Festival, and Best Major Festival by various organizations, making it a must on festival goers bucket lists.