Amidst the political tumult and widening societal divisions of the late 1960s, from which an international phenomenon of peace-loving progressives was born, England’s biggest island, the Isle of Wight, held its first large-scale culture festival, which would quickly cement the verdant holiday destination as more than a weekend retreat from the worries of working life, but also as a countercultural haven for the British bloc of the hippie movement in the West. The island may only lie four miles off the coast of Hampshire, but this was perhaps all the distance needed to provide a sense of escapism from mainland England and its political establishment to enshrine the Isle of Wight Festival in British history as a symbol of 1960s subculture. Often regarded as Woodstock’s European cousin, the legend of the Isle of Wight Festival peaked at its 1970 incarnation, which was the festival’s triumphant final run as a counterculture-defining exhibition of the US and the UK’s finest rock, pop and folk acts. Having already hosted the likes of musical luminaries such as Fairport Convention, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Who and many others in its two previous years, the Isle of Wight Festival of 1970 secured legendary sets from generational icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Terry Reid, with The Who even returning to perform what would go on to become their lauded live album and DVD, Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, released in 1996. However, the economic and logistical difficulties of hosting a festival with attendance numbers exceeding six times that of the island’s population, leading to Parliament passing a public order and safety bill in the form of the Isle of Wight City Council Act (1971), crushed any hopes of another Isle of Wight Festival being held beyond its crowning 1970 showpiece.
That was until its 2002 revival, however, under the one-time moniker of Rock Island, after which the festival once again became a yearly event under the name of the Isle of Wight Festival. Although no longer the era-defining emblem of its original form, with the same lush landscapes of reclusive, bucolic England, the Isle of Wight Festival’s 21st Century reincarnation began to gain traction with each annual iteration, scoring headlining slots from Paul Weller to David Bowie to R.E.M. to The Prodigy in its early years, whilst recent line-ups have included Status Quo, Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Stone Roses and other rock and pop powerhouses too numerous to name. This year’s Isle of Wight Festival, which runs from the 8th-11th of June, adds to the iconic British summer festival’s growing legacy with an especially eclectic roster of artists. Friday’s attendees, particularly, will be treated to a diverse selection of music from the main stage, with the pop-infused electro house stylings of David Guetta headlining, following a set from rap rock veterans Run-D.M.C., as well as from new soul and blues blood Rag’n’Bone Man and indie rock acts Kaiser Chiefs and Nothing But Thieves. Saturday, on the other hand, is an indiehead’s paradise, with back-to-back performances on the main stage from Arcade Fire, Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Kooks and Texas. Sunday rounds the weekend off with Bastille’s electronic indie stylings, George Ezra’s rootsy folk sound, Imelda May’s refined rockabilly and The Shires’ harmonious, British country twang, all of whom set the stage for the final headlining set of the festival from none another than singer, word-slinger, bandleader and crowd-pleaser Rod Stewart.
Outside of the hustle and bustle of the main stage, the Isle of Wight Festival 2017 sees the return of Hard Rock Cafe’s very own stage for the fourth year running, at which festival-goers can expect to be turned onto one of the plethora of up-and-coming, undiscovered or utterly unknown bands the line-up has to offer. Whether it be the all-girl quintet and Iggy Pop collaborators, PINS, the European Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands champions of 2016, 100 Fables, the female punk passion of The Sex Pissed Dolls, or any of the other fresh faces on the music scene, the Hard Rock Stage is tailored for surprising attendees with the raw talent it has on offer.
Once again, the Isle of Wight Festival accommodates for a wide array of music fans, perhaps even more so than previous years. Whether visitors are going simply to catch the big, head-lining acts, or are maybe more interested in discovering some of the new blood on offer, it promises to be yet another volume in the festival’s rich and enduring legacy.