There’s nothing quite like the vertebrae-tingling excitement that precedes shuffling into a cotton-candy colored carnival. The impossible games of luck tantalize you with hanging stuffed animals, and rickety roller-coasters fly by, leaving everyone with a sense of awe. But years ago, it wasn’t all about glamour and dazzling show lights. Carnivals were nothing like the wonderlands we see them as today.
Traveling carnivals came about during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. For the first time, large groups of performers posted up around the area to display their talents, and the attractions quickly caught on.
Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Soon, almost every fair that sprang up had at least one carnival show to draw audiences. It was a chance to break away from the basic stuff like Ferris wheels and carousels and watch some pretty wild performances. It was a venue like no other.
Heritage Images / Getty Images
Outlandish masks and costumes immediately grabbed the attention of visitors who could escape into the show for a brief period of time and forget the stresses of their own lives. And, the performances were all at the whim of carnival barons.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
The men who ran the carnivals and looked after the employees knew that the wilder the show, the more people wanted to watch. Unfortunately, without proper rules in place, early carnivals were actually more like living nightmares for the performers.
Infinity Features Entertainment
Rules about children performing weren’t yet in place, so as you can imagine, carnival barons took full advantage of the small and timid workers. Two boys were often forced to duke it out in front of a cheering crowd.
Paul Thompson / Getty Images
Adults, of course, fought too. Flight clubs were one of the most popular events, and men loved watching the testosterone-fueled bouts end with bloody lips and swollen cheeks. Then, there were the insanely grotesque “geek” shows.
Three Lions / Getty Images
The star “geek” of the performance — who was usually quite inebriated —chased live animals, such as chickens or snakes, around a small enclosure. If the geek caught them, they bit the heads off raw!
20th Century Fox
One of the worst aspects of early-day shows was the flagrant animal abuse that almost every creature involved in the production suffered. In order to keep animals from acting out, they were often beaten and starved.
Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Just look at this lunacy! A man named William Carver created the “diving horse” attraction, which severely injured dozens of the animals before it was finally banned. Animals, however, were just the tip of the cruelty iceberg.
Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images
Most carnivals or fairs have dunk tanks where guests try their luck throwing a ball at a lever in order to drop a volunteer into a huge tub of water. Long ago, however, dunk tanks were a much darker game.
Jen Fuller / Getty Images
The earliest form of this game didn’t even have water. A black worker simply stuck his head through a hole while people wailed blunt objects at them. Racism was rampant throughout many of the attractions.
Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
There was a lot of emphasis put on the exciting discoveries the carnivals brought from the “Far East,” which basically meant Asians were scoffed at and mocked. Carnival operators were willing to cash in on anything.
Anything or anyone deemed “different” was put on full display for paying customers to marvel at. It was nearly impossible for guests to walk by signs displaying limbless people or conjoined twins without curiosity kicking in.
Lambert / Getty Images
Inside the rows of small cramped trailers were performers — many of them quite unique in appearance — who entertained onlookers with various talents or physical abnormalities. It was truly exploitation at its absolute worst.
Vintage Images / Getty Images
Guests never went anywhere that had attractions like the “headless girl” or “spider boy” before, so they ate up the chance to see something that left them with shivers. Sadly, most of the performers didn’t even want to be there.
FPG / Getty Images
Although some did believe the shows offered an opportunity to educate society, most of them had no other means of income, and they were at the mercy of the carnival barons who cared little about their wants and needs.
adoc-photos / Getty Images
Men, women, and kids alike became infatuated with these carnival “freak shows,” as the barons described them. But, there were also gender-specific attractions to drum up even more business, and it was pretty gruesome stuff.
Central Press / Getty Images
The early days of lawless carnivals are over, but that doesn’t mean some really wild shows don’t exist. Today, instead of filing into boardwalks or red-and-white tents for a taste of a “fantasy world,” adventurers head to the desert.
JB Lacroix / WireImage
Have you ever been to an outdoor festival so unique and mind-bending that it overwhelmed all of your senses and left you in a state of ethereal bliss? Probably not if you’ve never been to Burning Man, the festival to end all other festivals.
This vibrant cornucopia of art, expression, and epic bonfires started in 1986 by a man named Larry Harvey and a small group of his friends. They would gather once a year in the desert of Nevada to let inhibitions go and celebrate life.
Over the years, more and more people jumped on board the idea of spending a week in the desert at the anything-goes event, and now tens of thousands of people from all over flock there to let their freak flags fly.
Just look at what happens to this section of barren desert! An entire town literally pops up out of nowhere and thrives for one week. The “city” is named Black Rock City, and bizarre stuff happens all week long — but how bizarre are we talking?
One of the first things visitors notice after they arrive are the messages of positivity scattered throughout the playa, which is the name of the sand-covered expanse. Only good vibes are allowed, and everyone who comes is strongly encouraged to bond with each other like family.
Those good vibes even extend to souvenirs: Money only buys ice and coffee at this festival; everything else people acquire must be gifted from another attendee. This only encourages goodwill and love.
While some people might be looking to meet like-minded friends, others go just to soak in the colorful personalities at the festival. They want glimpses into the minds of some of the world’s most boisterous people.
Because even if you’d never attended Burning Man before, it wouldn’t take much exploring to quickly realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. Unique personalities populate the desert landscape.
As awesome as all the people are, you can’t go more than a few minutes without setting your eyes on the brilliant pieces of artwork throughout Black Rock City. Professionals spend all year crafting them specifically for Burning Man.
Some of that artwork doesn’t even make it out of the festival! Just look at this epic piece. This looks a bit dangerous, sure, but there’s no need to fear. Over 2,000 volunteers, including firefighters, take part in the festivities, ensuring the safety of everyone around.
Many of the sculptures are designed to glow at night, or have the sun reflect off of them in amazing ways, illuminating the already mind-blowing designs. How long do you think it took to build this suave guy?
This sculpture was called “Love,” and it depicts the inner child of both the adults trying to connect, even though they’re upset. Deep meaningful art like this is one of the reasons people return year after year.
To get around such a large area of land and see all the sculptures and dazzling displays of creativity, festival goers rent bikes. Elaborately dressed attendees embracing their inner spirits decorate their two-wheeled vehicles so no one else accidentally rides off with it!
And although Burning Man takes place in the desert, and daytime temperatures can swelter, the nights can actually drop below freezing. However, just because the moon is out doesn’t mean the absolute mayhem stops…
Once the sun dips down, people throw on some heavier clothing and venture back out into the heart of Black Rock City. There are games, shows, bonfires, and thousands of people looking to make lifelong memories. Fire-blasting skee ball anyone?
Burning Man aims to tingle every one of your cosmic senses, and it does so in elaborate displays of never-ending psychedelic visuals. There is never any minute of the day you can’t venture out and find something that will leave you in awe.
Still, it wouldn’t be a festival without some music to dance to until your feet fall off. DJs from all over set up their equipment for all-night raves. You can pretty much kiss sleep goodbye at Burning Man — but that’s to be expected.
The final event of the seven-day carnival of weird is what gives the entire Burning Man festival its name. People write messages to lost loved ones and then add their notes to an elaborate wooden temple.
Finally, in the darkness on the festival’s final night, tens of thousands of people gather at the wooden temple topped with a timber man. With the messages to loved ones still inside it, it’s set on fire. People gaze in awe as flames as tall as buildings lick the sky while the wooden man burns.
Burning Man can definitely be an intense experience if you’re not ready. But, for those who choose to embrace the weirdness and organized chaos, it’s something they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives. So what do you say — are you in?
While Burning Man is today’s wildest celebration of the soul, Woodstock was the festival of the 70s. The historical event, which went beyond just rock music, held an astonishing 400,000 attendees. But believe it or not, Woodstock wasn’t actually the largest music festival of its time.
Just four years after the legendary performance, concert promoters Jim Koplik and Shelly Finkel laid the plans for a festival that would put Woodstock to shame. Held at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway in Watkins Glen, New York, the event would come to be known as “Summer Jam ’73.”
Unlike the three-day Woodstock jam fest, Summer Jam was scheduled for just one day and would only feature three acts. But these weren’t just any three acts: The Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band were all slated to grace the festival stage.
Live Music News & Review
With the promise of a big-name lineup, 150,000 tickets were snatched up as music fans across the country marked their calendars for July 28th. The festival would certainly attract more attendees as word of mouth got around, but, come on: how many people would really show up?
Well, instead of the crowd that Koplik and Finkel had anticipated, a staggering 600,000 fans arrived in Watkins Glen. Massive traffic jams clogged the roadways, leading many to leave their cars behind in favor of walking to the Raceway.
“When we first got there we were able to drive in and out of the site, but the road became like Armageddon overnight,” the Allman Brothers’ tour manager told Parade. “It was like there had been a nuclear attack and people had just abandoned their cars.”
Not only that, but the vast majority of fans actually showed up the day before the festival was set to begin. With thousands of screaming fans surrounding the stage, the bands had no choice but to run their soundchecks in front of them.
“That afternoon rehearsal ended up being my most powerful memory because in daylight you could see 600,000 people stretched out in front of you and my God! What a sight!” recalled Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks.
Still, fans had to wait until the next day to truly get a taste of what Summer Jam was all about. Camped out in tents, sleeping bags, or just sprawled out on the bare ground, the crowd buzzed all night in anticipation of the greatest music fest of all time.
When the 28th finally arrived, fans cheered their heads off for The Grateful Dead, who kicked off Summer Jam with some of their greatest hits. Then it was The Band’s turn, though right in the middle of their two-hour set a rainstorm rolled in and forced everyone offstage — well, almost everyone.
Keyboardist Garth Hudson weathered the storm and gave the fans exactly what they’d come for: an unforgettable day of music. As the rain soaked both he and the crowd, Hudson jammed out on his keyboard until the rest of the group was finally back on stage.
After The Band wrapped, The Allman Brothers finished strong with a mix of new songs as well as some classics. It was well into the early morning of July 29th by this point, but, amazingly, the bands weren’t done just yet.
Wild Sound Studio
In an hourlong encore, all three of the legendary groups took the stage for one huge jam session. They performed together well past 3 am, capping off one of the greatest music events in history… sort of.
Despite eclipsing Woodstock in size, Summer Jam is not as well-remembered as some of the other music festivals of the era. In fact, most people – even those who attended – don’t remember it all.
Like Woodstock, drug use was rampant during the festival, though instead of “uppers” like LSD, Summer Jam was heavy on “downer” drugs like marijuana and alcohol. Dealers sold freely on the Raceway, and overdoses were a sight as common as tie-dye.
But drug use wasn’t solely limited to the attendees. In a 2016interview, Butch Trucks claimed the performances at Summer Jam were a lot worse than most people remember, mainly due to the fact that all three bands were completely strung out.
“I think a lot of those people came to hear the greatest jam of the three best jam bands in the country,” Trucks told Forbes. “So after we finished playing, we all came out for the jam and all I can say – I’ve heard the tapes – is it was an absolute disaster.”
Another theory as to why Summer Jam isn’t as well-known as Woodstock is that the counterculture movement in America was more-or-less over by the time the festival came around. The Vietnam War was just about to end, and most people were ready to move on from their flower-power days.
Others have said that the actual placement of the stage was one of the biggest reasons for Summer Jam’s lack of a lasting legacy. Because fans were so far away from the bands, some didn’t “connect” with the performers in the way the crowds at Woodstock did.
Wild Sound Studio
Whatever the reason, Summer Jam ’73 will forever be known as “the Woodstock that wasn’t.” But, lucky for us, we still have plenty of Woodstock memories – and photos – to satisfy our longing for the days of peace, love, and bell-bottom jeans.
At Woodstock, they say the feeling of love and tranquility permeating the air was palpable. One of the most iconic images of the event features two lovebirds canoodling.
The young couple captured on film was Bobbi Kelly and Nick Ercoline embraced. Fast forward to 2018, the pair celebrated 38 years of marriage. Talk about love ruling the day!
If a band was feelin’ the groove, they just kept on jamming well beyond their time slots. A pregnant Joan Baez started her set at 1 am, and this gal rocked out well into the wee morning hours.
Tim Hardin, who struggled with addiction and stage fright, scratched down some last minute notes before his set on day 1. Whatever it was, it worked. His song “If I Were a Carpenter” made the audience explode.
Since it was the middle of August, all those bodies got real hot. A select number of the more spiritually in-tune danced for rain. Their magic worked. Torrential rain poured down on and off all weekend long.
When it rains, it…muds. Everywhere. Head to toe mud would have been a problem for any other group, but not the carefree Woodstockers. People kicked off their shoes and embraced what mother nature dealt them.
Dairy Farmer Max Yasgur and his wife Miriam didn’t look like your typical Woodstock goers. That’s because they hosted the festival on their farm in the Catskill Mountains!
At great personal risk, Max took a firm stance in the face of critics that protested the music fest. He believed they were discriminating against young anti-war hippies.
Splish splashing through ginormous mud puddles didn’t wipe the smiles off those happy camper’s faces. To navigate some of the larger mud lakes, people devised log “bridges,” like the one pictured. But some people said, heck, let those bell bottoms soak!
Sure, bands ignored their allotted set times, but organizers tried to streamline the process. To cut down on wait times between performers, they devised a plan — wheels.
With two wheel clad stages, one band could set up while another jammed out. Then they could just wheel the next band into place when it was go time.
While the festival wasn’t synonymous with a family friendly environment, the music could still be heard from outside the boundary of the farms, so locals listened too.
It wasn’t every parent’s cup of tea, but this tiny dancer fit in just fine. Woodstock even hosted two births, one in a car stuck in traffic; for the other, a mother was airlifted by helicopter off the property.
Woodstock was short on a lot of things, but concert goers didn’t let that kill their vibes. Stands provided the limited free food on hand. If only the food truck had caught on sooner…
The festival took place 50 miles away from the actual Woodstock in the town of Bethel. The sleepy town wasn’t prepared for the huge influx of traffic, and makeshift signs helped people navigate on foot.
These lovebirds couldn’t contain their grins! In her hands was the symbolic flower of the ’60s: the daisy. Daisies represented cheerfulness, innocence, and purity. While Woodstock wasn’t strictly innocent, you’d be hard pressed to find a more cheerful event.
Bovine beauties were a dime a dozen on Yasgur’s dairy farm. The cows proved a gift at the festival, what with the water shortages. Concert goers milked cows for a drink, which also helped the creatures — cows require milking every 1 to 2 days to prevent infection.
To catch some Zs, many resorted to pulling up the least muddy patch of grass. But dosing off was a challenge because, apart from two hours of silence, bands played for every minute of a 48-hour period.
The roads were clear when they snapped this picture, but impossible traffic jams prevented travelers from making it to the festival. Some half a million partied away on the dairy farm, but an estimated 1 million additional people never made it off the highway.
Billed as a three-day festival, it surprised no one when music and debauchery spilled over into a fourth. Headliner Jimi Hendrix was due to play on Sunday night, but fired up his guitar at 9 am on Monday morning.
Peace and love were the law of the land at Woodstock. There wasn’t a security team to keep daredevils from scaling the scaffolding to glimpse their favorite performers. Still, not a single act of violence was reported — but sadly there were two deaths.
“No, not a policeman, a please man!” The toothy sheriff was a member of the “enforcement” team since no cops were allowed. The guy, known as Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm, traveled all the way from his New Mexican commune for the festival.
“Sound energy, sound power, is much, much greater than any other power in this world,” said spiritual master Sri Swami Satchidananda. He set the tone for the weekend of Woodstock on Friday evening when he spoke to the crowd as part of the lineup.
Stuck in a car, surrounded by thousands of others at a complete standstill, in the middle of August — all the components to a road-rage-filled nightmare. Hippies, however, still saw the good in waiting for Woodstock. They deserve more credit, too, because, in 1969, only 50 percent of cars were equipped with air conditioning.
Entry policies at Woodstock were basically “the more the merrier.” Organizers knew they were completely over their heads. After selling 100,000 tickets, they ran out, and still had a crowd of over 300,000 attendees waiting to get in. So, they scrapped the fees, and people stepped over fences to get in.
Breaking bones in the middle of this crowd would put a damper on festivities. Fortunately, army choppers swooped in bringing extra food and 45 volunteer doctors. They believed in the spirit of the festival and offered their services.
When the helicopter carrying Janis Joplin and her crew emerged over the trees, and she caught sight of the massive crowd, she couldn’t contain her excitement. Initially, she told her band it was just another gig. But giddy with nerves and joy, she ended up staying for the remainder of the festival.
Music didn’t stop when the acts left the stage. In between sets, people took the groove into their own hands and formed spontaneous drum circles. No drum? No problem. Old oil drums, a 2″ x 4,” and a bit of a stump served as readymade percussion instruments.
Is that field breathing? The huge crowds sent New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller into panic mode, and he attempted to squash the festival. Luckily, love won out, and instead of stamping out the fun, he deployed the National Guard to help the organizers.
Ladies served looks at Woodstock that totally earned the hippie nickname “Beautiful People.” Singer Melanie Safka performed her hit song by the same name twice at the concert. The second time was on stage, but the first, she crooned to security guards who barred her entrance without a performer’s pass.
Another band that mingled among the crowd was Jefferson Airplane. They weren’t scheduled to perform until Sunday morning but they helicoptered in early to join in the fun. Singer Grace Slick and the wife of drummer Spencer Dryden, Sally Mann, snacked and enjoyed the music.
The Grateful Dead came close to fulfilling their namesake during their 90-minute set, which consisted of only 5 songs and a massive amount of technical difficulties. The rain pelted down ferociously, and The Dead risked electric shock the entire time.
Very few photographers were granted permission to attend Woodstock, but thank goodness the ones that made the cut captured action shots like this. After all, it was all about the music, and with legendary performances by bands like The Who, Hendrix, CCR, and Santana — anybody would be flippin’ their hair.