Story: Arts festivals

Page 3. Music festivals from the 1960s

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National Jazz Festival

The National Jazz Festival held in Tauranga each Easter began in 1963 and by the 2000s was drawing crowds of 60,000 jazz fans. Wellington and Nelson have their own jazz festivals. The Manawatu International Jazz and Blues Festival has been running since 1967.

Summer nights of jazz

Inspired by the movie Jazz on a summer’s day, which documents the Newport Jazz Festival, musician Dave Hall got together nine bands for ‘Jazz on a summer’s night’ in Tauranga in 1963. Around 1,000 people attended this first event of the National Jazz Festival. It has been held every year for over 50 years, making it the third-longest-running jazz festival in the world.

The first rock music festivals

Influenced by Woodstock, a counter-culture music festival held in up-state New York in 1969, the 1970s saw New Zealand’s first rock music festivals. Redwood 70 was dubbed the first ‘national music convention’ while the Great Ngāruawāhia Music Festival of 1973 headlined Black Sabbath.1 Neither broke even but they laid the groundwork for other festivals such as Nambassa, which was held in 1978, 1979 and 1981. A three-day festival of ‘music, craft and alternatives’, Nambassa was organised by Peter Terry on hippie principles.2 Over 60,000 people attended the event in 1979, held on a farm near Waihī.

Revellers in Waihī

Organising Nambassa in 1979 was no mean feat. When an additional 25,000 people made their way to the festival site on Phil and Pat Hulse’s farm in rural Waihī, organiser Peter Terry had to arrange for more paddocks for parking and camping, and water had to be trucked in.

Sweetwaters and beyond

The first of the big 1980s rock music festivals was Sweetwaters. Held in Ngāruawāhia and featuring Elvis Costello, Sweetwaters’ tagline was ‘festival of music, culture and technology’.3 Forty-five thousand people attended Sweetwaters in the first year (1980) and it was held each year until 1984. Other smaller festivals like Brown Trout and the Rainbow Festival continued throughout the 1980s, but none reproduced the attendance numbers and counter-culture atmosphere of Nambassa and Sweetwaters.

During the 1990s and 2000s Australian music festivals like the Big Day Out and Raggamuffin became established events in New Zealand. The Big Day Out was first held in New Zealand in 1994 and continued at Mount Smart Stadium each year until 2012. It returned in 2014 but has not been held since. Laneway, held in Auckland, is a more recent Australian import (2010).

Other music festivals include Splore, a three-day festival held in Tapapakanga Regional Park, which began in 1998; Camp A Low Hum, which was held annually from 2007 to 2014 in Wainuiomata; and Homegrown, held on Wellington’s waterfront, since 2008.

Some music festivals appeal to a more specialised audience. Some focus on a music genre, such as Raggamuffin, which showcases reggae, dub and hip hop artists. Parachute was an annual Christian music festival which began in 1992 and was discontinued in 2014. The special values of the festival meant that it was an alcohol and drug-free zone and families were encouraged to attend. Country settlements such as Clareville in the Wairarapa and Niagara in Otago host their own country and bluegrass music festivals, while Canterbury has a folk music festival. The Gathering was a New Year’s Eve dance party held in Nelson Bays from 1996 to 2002.

R ’n’ V

Rhythm and Vines began in 2003 as a New Year’s Eve celebration for three Otago University students and their friends. They decided to throw a party at a family vineyard, Waiohika Estate, in Gisborne. 1,800 people, mostly friends and locals, attended the first concert, headlined by New Zealand band the Black Seeds. The festival was later extended to a three-day event and 25,000 people attended in 2014. Headline acts have included both New Zealand and overseas talent, including Kimbra and Franz Ferdinand. In 2011 Rhythm and Alps was introduced in Queenstown and Cardrona.

Alternative festivals

In the tradition of Nambassa, Kiwiburn is an experience where participants are encouraged to be an active part of an alternative community, with a focus on performance, music and visual arts. Kiwiburn, held in Hunterville, is the New Zealand arm of Burning Man, an American festival held in Nevada. It has been run in New Zealand since 2004.

The Parihaka Peace Festival has been held annually since 2005 at Parihaka . The festival attracts poets as well as performing artists such as Ladi6, Moana and the Tribe and Fat Freddy’s Drop. WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) is an international showcase of world music and dance. It first came to New Zealand in 1997 and after being held in Auckland twice, WOMAD found its home at the Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth.

Footnotes:
  1. ‘Beginnings – Rock music festivals,’ http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/rock-music-festivals/beginnings (last accessed 28 January 2014). Back
  2. ‘Rock music festivals,’ http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/rock-music-festivals (last accessed 28 January 2014). Back
  3. ‘Sweetwaters and beyond,’ http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/rock-music-festivals/sweetwaters-and-1980s (last accessed 28 January 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

Marguerite Hill, 'Arts festivals - Music festivals from the 1960s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/arts-festivals/page-3 (accessed 20 May 2019)

Story by Marguerite Hill, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 5 Aug 2016