Music festivals didn’t begin with Woodstock and they won’t end with October’s Desert Trip of classic rock with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who, Neil Young and Roger Waters.
To get a clue about how these dayslong celebrations came about and what they’re like if you’re still a festival virgin, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland packed a truckload of trunks and crates to take its exhibition, “Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience,” on the road to its only East Coast destination — Stony Brook.
The Long Island Museum has a history with the Hall of Fame, having hosted its 2007 traveling show, “The Supremes, Reflections: The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection” from Motown’s pre-eminent 1960s girl group. “From time to time, they’ve pitched shows to us,” says Long Island Museum curator Joshua Ruff. “This one fit perfectly into what we’re doing this summer.”
IN THE MIX
“Common Ground,” opening Friday in the Visitors Center, complements a broader historical exhibit, “Long Island in the Sixties,” premiering in the Art Museum on the LIM campus next month, as well as a June 23 Dar Williams concert.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” says Ruff. His boss, director Neil Watson, launched an initiative to bring live music back to the museum, which once hosted the Fiddle & Folk Festival (at Benner’s Farm in Setauket since 2012). “It’s about making the museum a destination,” Watson said last winter in announcing the Sunday Street folk series and the North Shore Pro Musica chamber series in the Gillespie Room of LIM’s Carriage Museum.
No one, not even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, knows when music festivals began — people gathered to hear superstar lute players in ancient Greece — or who invented them. But a good place to start in the modern era is with 90-year-old George Wein. In “Common Ground,” you can read his 1955 letter to Miles Davis inviting him to the Newport Jazz Festival or Dylan’s pay stub from his infamous “going-electric” rebellion in the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. “If I met Bob Dylan, I’d thank him for making me famous,” Wein said in a TV interview.
The “Youth Quake” section of the exhibit features the metal sign from the Yasgur Dairy Farm, site of the Woodstock Festival, and a “security flow chart” from Woodstock. Hah! The Monterey Pop Festival is represented in the gilted caftan worn by Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas and a photo of her wearing it in concert. Don’t touch the Hammond organ loaned by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or, in the “Festivals With a Purpose” section, the blue corduroy jacket worn by John Mellencamp at a Farm Aid event.
To get an overview of what music festivals are all about, take a seat in the “Common Ground” theater for an 18-minute video history. It’s more than just rock and roll.