A legend on the British music festival scene, Reading is the oldest popular music festival in the world, first held in 1961, when it began life at the National Jazz Festival, changing to its current incarnation in 1971. During the 1970s and 1980s, the festival would revolve around a specific music genre, from prog rock and blues (early 1970s), to punk (late 1970s) and metal and heavy rock (early 1980s). Despite a few years in the mid-1980s, when the council 'banned' the festival, and a disastrous late-1980s attempt at a revival (when festival-goers just weren't ready for live 'pop'), the event has gone from strength to strength and remains one of the integral dates on the festival calendar. Staged at Little John's Farm in the middle of Reading, with a capacity of 87,000, the festival has seen some legendary music moments, from Nirvana playing their last UK concert in 1992 (Kurt Cobain enjoying his infamous 'wheelchair' moment), and the 1998 'fight' between The Prodigy and Beastie Boys over “Smack My Bitch Up”, to countless acts being bottled off the stage (something of a Reading tradition), including Meat Loaf (1988), Daphne & Celeste (deservedly, in 2000), 50 Cent (2004) and Panic! At The Disco (2006).
In the mid-1990s, festival-going as a summer 'hobby', was at its peak, and Reading struggled to contain the amount of people flocking to its fields. In 1999, it began 'sharing' its weekend line-up with Leeds, at Temple Newsam (the previous site of the V Festival). Most headlining acts would play Reading one night, then go to Leeds the next night, or vice versa, which took the heat off the Reading organisers who, at one point, feared the cancellation of future events because of health and safety concerns. The Reading Festival has been conducted this way ever since, and is often simply known as “Reading/Leeds”.
In 2005, the Reading Festival added a 'Fringe' to its existing itinerary, providing a chance for small, unsigned acts to attract already-attending industry professionals to their shows. The Fringe has proved a popular part of the Festival as a whole, ever since, and also contains comedy tents, clothing and craft stalls. A year later, when Glastonbury was cancelled, Reading saw its biggest-ever attendance, and also kept some of its tents open later than normal, to prevent everyone exiting the site all at the same time. In 2008, the “BBC Introducing...” stage was added, which quickly became a showcase for new acts, and the same year also saw major logistical changes, with easier access from the campsites to the main arena fields and additional concessions, stalls and facilities.
As with most major festivals, camping is paramount, and the accommodation for tents and camper vans is larger than the arena and other music venue sites put together. Reading has also become increasingly child-friendly, as the 1980s and 1990s die-hard festival goers have families of their own, although the majority of attendees are still traditionally students and hip, urban professionals.
The 2012 Reading Festival will be held on the 24th - 26th August.
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