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Rock Hall's Common Ground exhibit focuses on music festival history

Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
John Patrick Gatta

From festival veterans to those who never plan to spend a day with thousands of live music lovers as they endure hot temperatures or rainstorms, there’s something for you at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s exhibit, “Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience,” which runs through Jan. 31, 2015.

“We hope that all of our visitors will be able to see themselves in the many audience shots that surround the artifacts in the exhibit,” said Meredith Rutledge-Borger, Associate Curator at the Rock Hall. “We want folks to remember that trip to Woodstock or Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza or wish that they could have been there.

She added, “We want fans to learn, for instance, that Bob Dylan changed popular music forever by going electric at Newport ‘65 and got paid the princely sum of $100 to do so. We hope that visitors will share our pride in the incredible benefit that harvesting the power of a music festival can have, using Wattstax or Live Aid as examples.”

Explaining the exhibit’s title, she said, “It captures the spirit of a music festival with all the diverse types of festivals, performers, audiences and locales. There is an uncommon commonality in the music festival experience, a sense of community, fellowship and transformation that you really don’t find elsewhere.”

The exhibit covers multi-day campouts, single day special events and traveling extravaganzas. While 1954’s Newport Jazz Festival is viewed as the first outdoor music festival, “Common Ground” makes an exception with the Spirituals to Swing concerts held 1938-39 at Carnegie Hall because, according to Rutledge-Borger, “those concerts really set the template for the revelatory, transformative festival experience.”

A veteran of various music fests including Riot Fest and Furthur Festival, Rutledge-Borger used that knowledge towards putting together the photographs, artifacts and short documentaries that chronicle the fest’s beginnings through to the present day. Each section offers a different period with a focus towards history making events such as Newport, Monterey Pop, Isle of Wight, Live Aid, Glastonbury, Bonnaroo and Electric Daisy.

“I love the opportunity to see so many different artists and commune with a bunch of like-minded fans – they can be inspiring, energizing and so much fun.

“There are as many different types of festivals as there are different types of festivalgoers. That’s part of the beauty of festivals. There’s a smorgasbord that can be found not only on the stage but in the crowd. With globalization, the differences between not only European and North American but also South American, Asian and Australian festivals and audiences have fallen away and you can find so many more similarities than differences in the music festival experience around the world.”

Incorporating online voting from music listeners around the globe, the exhibit collected the Top 10 Music Festival Performances of all-time. They include performances from Woodstock, Monterey Pop Festival and Live Aid, and are shown in a video montage at the entrance of the exhibit.

Commenting on one that stood out for her, Rutledge-Borger said, “U2’s performance at Live Aid deserves to be included because of that one moment when Bono made personal contact with one member of that vast audience. In the chaos that is everything that a festival can be, there was that moment of intimacy and one-on-one human contact that was so personal yet shared with a billion viewers round the world. It was an extremely moving and powerful experience.”

To watch the Top 10 music festival performances video link, go to

If you’re attending any of this year’s music festivals, you can be a part of “Common Ground.” The Rock Hall invites this year’s festivalgoers to send their photos through social media where they’ll be displayed on a video screen at the exhibit’s entrance. They should be sent to twitter with the hashtag #myrockhall, while images uploaded with individual festivals’ hashtags will automatically be posted.

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