Exactly fifteen years ago today, I was sitting in a tree in Grant Park (Chicago), rocking a choker I thought made me look like Ryan from The OC (it didn’t) and a terrible haircut (I did it myself), and watching a band I didn’t know (it was Wilco) play a song that I had never heard before (“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”). While the necklace and the practice of self-inflicted cranial mutilation were thankfully discarded during the subsequent decade-and-a-half, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” has since that moment remained perched atop my all-time favorite song list—much the same way my idiot-looking, mid-pubescent-ass teetered above the 2006 Lollapalooza crowd the first time I heard it.
That’s the magic of music festivals: for every overcrowded line, and overpriced drink, and sweaty, dehydrated, overlong wait between shows, there is always that one miraculous set by that one act you hadn’t heard of before that makes the whole thing worth it.
In honor of this summer’s return to the festival scene, fellow MMH contributor Simon Pruitt and I are kicking off a festival series of our own: Decadepalooza! In the MMH spirit, we’ll be traveling back through the history of modern music and drafting our own festival lineups from some of our favorite artists in the game during each ten-year window.
Up first: The ‘60s!
The rules are about as straightforward as rules tend to get at MMH:
- Only artists who released music during the years 1960-1969 are eligible for the draft, and only the music they produced during that era will be included.
- Each festival must have one (1) headliner, two (2) co-headliners, and one (1) opener.
- Each headliner must have at least one #1 hit within the decade in question.
- No artist selected as an opener can have a platinum album during the decade in question.
- At the conclusion of the draft, the festival promoters will select a venue and one additional variable to add to their festival.
For those hoping to get as close as possible to the true festival vibe, we’re each including a playlist of our dream sets by each act, which you can stream via the links in our festival titles; and for all you competition-junkies, draft results will be posted at the conclusion of the piece, below our individual festival breakdowns.
Without any further ado, welcome to Decadepalooza I: The ‘60s!
Nate’s Festival: The British Invasion Is Coming From Inside The House Tour
Opener: John Coltrane
One of my favorite things about music festivals is the variability—the way you can bounce from stage to stage and see a completely different type of show. So what better way to kick things off than by opening my festival with a performance by (arguably) the most one-of-one artist on the board: John Coltrane.
We’re specifically bringing on the A Love Supreme quartet here (Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on keys, and Jimmy Garrison on bass), prior to the group’s veering fully into avant-garde cosmology, and Coltrane’s untimely death. The early/mid-60s is the absolute apex-era for the sax player and his ensemble, during which his music was a perfect synthesis of the technical prowess and creative freedoms of jazz in its most liberated form. I would’ve given anything to be able to catch this group in their heyday, so may as well give my festival-goers the chance!
Co-Headliner #1: Sly & The Family Stone
Felt lucky that this crew fell to me. Though their best studio album doesn’t drop until ‘71 (apologies to “Stand” heads, but “There’s a Riot Going On” takes the cake), this is prime live-show Sly era—total party starter band, but one that was both lyrically and representationally boundary-pushing for the time. Transcended the typically racialized classification of their music without sacrificing the Blackness that was inherent to it, and in the process completely upended the landscape of pop/funk/soul/RnB for the next two decades.
For those wanting a behind-the-scenes peek of what ‘60s era Sly& Co. were capable of, swing by your nearest Hulu and check out the recent doc from Amir Questlove Thompson, Summer of Soul (and check out Chris Conner’s review of the film on MMH).
Co-Headliner #2: Aretha Franklin
Top-billed in any other festival lineup, and easily one of the greatest artists to ever do it, Aretha Franklin is a co-headliner in the most literal sense of the world, and the absolute anchor to my festival.
It’s hard to call the 1960s the height of The Queen of Soul’s powers when “Spirit In The Dark,” “Young Gifted and Black” and the video of her performing at the Kennedy Center Honors that always makes me cry are still to come, but this decade gives us “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Natural Woman,” “Respect,” and the “People Get Ready” cover—and that’s just off two albums. Absolutely untouchable stuff. Welcome to the festival, Ms. Franklin!
Headliner: The Beatles
As if it needs to be said by now: the sixties were stacked.
There’s a 2018 NBA Draft-level of depth we’re dealing with here. So with all apologies to Deandre Ayton (a very good NBA player who I love), Trae Young (a likely great NBA player who I do not love), and a Marvin Bagley (a person who plays in the NBA), when it came time for me to make the first pick in the inaugural Decadepalooza draft, it felt imperative to select the Luka Dončić of this rookie class, one of the greatest bands in the history of modern music, a musical-landscape-altering force who were so good it’s become cliche to say it, four mop-top boys from Liverpool, and the headliner of The British Invasion Is Coming From Inside The House Tour: The Beatles.
Venue: Grant Park, Chicago IL
As tempting as it was to swing for the Fyre Fest-fences, for nostalgia reasons it felt right that our first-decade festival would be at the first spot I ever attended a music festival. Chicago is dope and Radiohead playing “Fake Plastic Trees” with fireworks reflecting off buildings around the park is still a top-three concert moment for me (one I would love to recreate with Aretha/“Natural Woman”), so it’s difficult to think of a better option.
Variable: Featuring a performance of “The 2000-Year-Old Man” by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
Simon’s Festival: You Really Got Us World Tour
Opener: The Kinks
The “You Really Got Us” World Tour opens with none other than the title act. The Kinks released the smash hit “You Really Got Me” in 1964, creating the spirit and sound of punk rock in the process. The song and the band itself were so far ahead of their time that people are just now starting to notice. With fuzzed-up guitars and blistering drumlines, The Kinks presented an edgier, harsher sound to rock and roll. Their ‘60s discography was packed with tight melodies compacted into 2-3 minutes. Just like that, the modern blueprint to punk was invented and incidentally perfected. There’s no other band I’d want opening my show, the Kinks are a trendsetter for music culture and a tone-setter for my concert.
Co-Headliner #1: The Animals
Much of the 1960s music landscape was defined by the pseudo war between the electric and acoustic performers. The electric half was spurred on by the fumes of innovation and experimentation, led by newer bands like The Who, The Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix. The acoustic and more contemporary side had some serious hostility towards the incoming generation of musicians. Bob Dylan was championed as the savior of this style of music, though he later incorporated the electric guitar to the disdain of those who supported him.
Between these two groups existed a middle ground, those who respected the past but made steps to acknowledge the future. There is no greater middle ground than Eric Burdon and the Animals. With unique lyricism and a penchant for heavy instrumentation, the Animals remained a key pillar in the development of rock as a legitimate music genre, not just a fad. As a frontman, Burdon was just cerebral enough to please the Dylan crowd while exhibiting an attitude like all the great rockstars of his time.
The Animals’ live shows were a blend of adrenaline and poise, all streamlined through the charisma of Burdon. Their role in my concert is to act as a bridge between the boisterous Kinks and the high-profile superstars to come. It’s a role they’ve always played perfectly, and one they’ll play again.
Co-Headliner #2: Elvis Presley
It seems almost disrespectful to have the anointed King of Rock and Roll serve as the #2 in any kind of live show. That being said, ‘60s Elvis is more remembered for his movies and gospel albums than the rebellious heartthrob of old. Either way, this decade featured “Suspicious Minds,” “It’s Now or Never,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” some of the most iconic hits from the King’s dizzying discography.
The Elvis inclusion adds some mainstream recognition to the show and a more palatable sound to the outside listener. The King of rock might be out of his prime, but he gets the call on the power of name alone.
Headliner: The Rolling Stones
The Stones are the rightful headliner of “You Really Got Us.” The band was at the forefront of the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” stereotype in the late ‘60s, embracing it wholeheartedly. Jagger and Richards were at their creative peak during the decade, churning out all-time classic albums “Aftermath,” “Let It Bleed,” and “Beggars Banquet” in a short three-year stretch. These records featured the band’s greatest commercial successes like “Paint It Black,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Satisfaction.” On top of that, iconic hits like “Under My Thumb” and “Mother’s Little Helper” served as B-sides to some of these incredible records
Few bands have owned a decade or genre quite like The Rolling Stones. Their finale set at the end of “You Really Got Us” only certifies that dominance. As Jagger leaves the stage after a rousing encore of “Gimme Shelter,” attendees can finally catch their breath after the most exhilarating night in music history.
Venue: Fillmore East in NYC
An iconic indoor venue in downtown NYC. Might be a little small for the bands performing, but its unmatched historical quality makes it a worthy choice.
Variable: Hosted by Merv Griffin
The Draft, in review:
Pick 1 (Nate): The Beatles
Pick 2 (Simon): The Rolling Stones
Pick 3 (Nate): Aretha Franklin
Pick 4 (Simon): The Animals
Pick 5 (Nate): Sly and the Family Stone
Pick 6 (Simon): Elvis Presley
Pick 7 (Nate): John Coltrane
Pick 8 (Simon): The Kinks