10 Most Iconic Concerts of All Time


Image of Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium, London, July 1986.

Freddie Mercury, Wembley Stadium, London, July 1986 – Author: Anne Erickson, Photo © Queen Productions

I love a good concert. So, what were the most iconic concerts of all time?

I’ll never forget the first concert I attended. I was just a little kid, but it’s an exciting memory, and I remember it well. My first was The Monkees at a local state fair, and Weird Al opened up. I was certainly too young for Weird Al and didn’t get what was going on there, but at the time, I was obsessed with reruns of The Monkees’ TV show, so had a great time singing along to songs such as “Daydream Believer” and “I’m a Believer.” A few years later, I attended another big show: New Kids on the Block in Detroit. Don’t judge. I was a kid.

Today, my taste is more towards rock and metal. I’m a radio host and music journalist, so I’ve seen hundreds of shows throughout the years. There’s something irreplaceable about going to see a favorite band or artist and sharing that experience with thousands of other people, strangers, who love the same music you do. Those can be shows at hole-in-the-wall bars or huge arenas, but that connection via music is the same. So, what are the most iconic concerts of all time? What are the best concerts of all time?

Read on for Audio Ink Radio’s list of the 10 most iconic concerts of all time. We included a few festivals, too, even though festivals and concerts tend to be separate things. I mean, could we really leave out Woodstock? Not so much.

The Rolling Stones, Hyde Park, London, 1969

The Rolling Stones have performed many legendary concerts, but perhaps the biggest happened at Hyde Park, London, on July 5, 1969. The performance took place just three days after the drowning of Brian Jones, who had recently parted ways with the band. The Stone famously appeared wearing all white and performed their first concert in two years in front of 250,000 screaming fans.

Jimi Hendrix, Monterey Pop Festival, 1967

It’s difficult to argue that Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the greatest guitarist of his era. The musician, who was gone far too soon, played a rousing set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967. What do people most remember about Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Festival. That’s easy. At the end of the set, Hendrix, literally, was on fire, as he soaked his guitar in gasoline and actually lit the instrument on fire.

Metallica, Monsters of Rock, Moscow, 1991

Metallica are the kings of metal, and they were certainly the kings of massive concerts during their performance at the Monsters of Rock festival in Moscow in 1991. They performed in front of an incredible 1.6 million people, making this one of the biggest concerts in history. Other headliners included AC/DC and Pantera, but Metallica’s set was especially magical.

Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival, 1965

Was this the birth of rock ‘n’ roll? Perhaps. Bob Dylan headlined the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965, and that was when folk became mainstream. Dylan’s legendary performance at the festival went viral, before the term was even around, and not only did it help spread the gospel of folk music around the world, it also introduced rock to the masses.

The Beatles, Shea Stadium, New York, August 15, 1965

The Beatles performed to 56,000 people at Shea Stadium in New York on Aug. 15, 1965, and the size of that crowd set a record. The Beatles showed up to the venue in a helicopter, and this was at the peak of their boy-band period, so they were greeting with thousands of screaming young ladies. The show was the highlight of the Beatles’ 1965 tour.

Freddie Mercury Tribute Show, Wembley Stadium, London, 1992

Queen’s most legendary performance was at Wembley Stadium in London in 1986, and the band returned there in 1992 for a special tribute show for late vocalist Freddie Mercury. When Mercury passed away from A.I.D.S. in 1992, it was a huge loss to the music world, and fans mourned for years. They’re still mourning, actually. This tribute show featured an incredible lineup of artists and bands performing Queen’s music, including Metallica, Elton John, Def Leppard, George Michael, Axl Rose and more.

Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison, 1968

Traditional country music often cites going to prison at least once in its verses. Johnny Cash was a man who understood the idea of sinning and redemption, and he brought his popular, traditional country sounds to 1,000 prisoners at Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968. It’s one of the most unique and meaningful concerts of all time.

Queen, Wembley Stadium, London, 1986

When it comes to giving a larger-than-life rock show, nobody does it better than Queen. Even now, with Adam Lambert in the fold, Queen puts on a great show, but nothing compares to Queen fronted by the late, great Freddie Mercury. Queen’s performance at London’s Wembley Stadium on July 11 and 12, 1986, is one for the history books.

Live Aid, Philadelphia and London, 1985

Live Aid shook the world on July 13, 1985. The even became the biggest charity and musical event in the world, with organizer Bob Geldolf raising a massive amount of funds to relieve famine in Ethiopia. Performances took place in Philadelphia and London and were broadcast to 1.5 billion viewers around the world. The biggest names played the show, including U2, Phil Collins, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Neil Young and more.

Woodstock, 1969

Woodstock is the festival of festivals. It’s really the blueprint for every other major music festival to follow. The event, which took place from Aug. 15 through 18 in 1969, was much more than just a collection of concerts. Woodstock was an artistic and political moment in time, where more than half a million music-lovers gathered to celebrate love, peace and great music. From Jimi Hendrix to Carlos Santana to The Who, Woodstock was filled with larger-than-life musical moments.

One show that I was very tempted to include but didn’t was Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York City on Nov. 18, 1993. While that was certainly one of rock’s most iconic performances of all time, it wasn’t really a concert, in the traditional sense. Still, it deserves a mention on this tally. For more music ranking, find Audio Ink Radio’s feature on the best classic rock bands of all time here.

Anne Erickson
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Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Metal, Music, Rock