Isle of Wight Festival: A History in Photos

Isle of Wight Festival 2019

Isle of Wight Festival 2019

Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

Flick back the UK's festival history books to 1968, and you'll be confronted with photos of long-haired hippies gathering in a field. The captions? "The first ever Isle of Wight Festival, where tickets cost just £1.25, bands performed on the back of trailers, and a huge open sewer flowed through the site." Hardly the most appealing of images, but it was an occasion that would be the catalyst for the UK music festival industry as we know it today.

Preceding even Glastonbury, the UK's oldest rock festival hasn't been without incident, nor an extended hiatus for that matter. But despite its evolution, Isle of Wight Festival is still as relevant today as it ever was. 

We take a look back at its history in photos, manoeuvring from its very first moments, through its revival, and ending up on Rod Stewart's triumphant headline set at 2017's edition. Prepare yourself for some mullets, naked bottoms, and a very young looking Dave Grohl.

The original festival way back in 1968 went under a short and snappy name, with obviously modest expectations

A year after its debut, the festival witnessed an infamous performance from Bob Dylan - at a time when many were unsure if he'd ever perform live again after his motorcycle accident

He was watched live by The Beatles, minus Paul


And the following year, in 1970, IOW hosted Jimmy Hendrix, The Who and Miles Davis

The festival was quickly becoming a sensation for the young, free-spirits who felt disassociated with mainstream British culture

Free in every sense of the word

But that year will go down in the festival's history books with mixed feelings. In the run up to the event, the promoters had prepared for around 150,000 people to attend. In reality, over four times that number turned up, with many camping outside the perimeter fence, until on the Sunday, it was torn down and declared a free festival. The mayhem prompted promoter Ron Foulk to say: "This is the last festival, it began as a beautiful dream but it has got out of control and it is a monster"


Unfortunately for those who had come to love the UK's answer to Woodstock, it was over before it had really begun. The sheer numbers in 1970 also led to Parliament passing the Isle of Wight Act, preventing a gathering of more than 5,000 on the island and the end of the original Isle of Wight Festival

In fact, it turned out to be an extended hiatus - 32 years to be precise - until it was revived in 2002 under the name Rock Island. Unlike its predecessor, it didn't live up to expectations with only 8-10,000 festival-goers making the trip

After that, however, the event kicked on. Finally settled on its name – Isle of Wight Festival – it witnessed a rare performance from a certain David Bowie in 2004

A very young looking Dave Grohl roared Foo Fighters through a thrilling headline set in 2006

The Rolling Stones, who were familiar with the original festival…

…were finally able to play it in 2007

Tom Meighan from Kasabian savours the atmosphere that same year


While a year later, John Lydon and the Sex Pistols were less complimentary, threatening to kill the crowd and calling fellow headliners The Police "bumholes". That said, should we expect anything else from a band with a song called Anarchy in the UK?

Gone were the mullets and the nudity. In came heart-shaped sunglasses


Gone too was the festival's inherent rock identity, symbolised in the headline performance of Jay-Z in 2010

2012, however, was remembered for slightly different reasons

It was the wettest summer in 100 years, causing havoc across the festival site. And yet, that didn't dampen the spirits of many


And those spirits lived on into 2015, with that year seeing spectacular headline performances by Blur and a UK festival exclusive from the one and only Fleetwood Mac

2016 didn't let up either as the legendary Queen made their first UK festival appearance, 46 years after forming. Now fronted by popstar Adam Lambert, the band rolled back time with beautiful results

And in 2017 it was the turn of another legend. This time it was Rod Stewart who rolled back the years and rolled out the hits on the famous main stage

2018 was the festival's 50th birthday, and boy did they put on a show: Kasabian, Depeche Mode, The Killers and Liam Gallagher all headlined

Isle of Wight Festival will take place on 13-16 June 2019. Early bird tickets and glamping options are now on sale, including payment plan tickets.

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