31 years ago, the first ever edition of Rock in Rio brought together a diverse collection of world superstars – and an audience of well over a million – at a time when Brazil was emerging from two decades of military dictatorship. It was supposed to be a one-off event, but with hindsight it is easy to see why the monumental power of Brazil '85 couldn't simply disappear into nothing.
As Rock in Rio Lisboa 2016 approaches, we asked the team behind the festival to tell us the story of Rock in Rio, all the way from Brazil '85 to Portugal '16.
How did it all start back in 1985?
"The festival was founded by Roberto Medina, who had been working in advertising for more than 20 years. And he was challenged by a beer brand, called Malt 99, to come up with a stunt that would take their new product to at least a million people.
"At first Roberto was not sure of how to do that, but one night he got the idea to promote a music festival that would not be your typical festival. Brands actually made Rock in Rio happen. That first event was attended by 1.3 million people, and the festival was 10 days long in total."
The first edition of Rock in Rio was attended by 1.3 million people in 1985
What is Rock in Rio all about?
"The headliners in ’85 were Queen, Rod Stewart, AC/DC, Snake, Ozzy Osbourne… so there were a lot of different kinds of music! Robert’s idea was that if you really want to get people together, you don’t want just pop or rock. You want everything together. So he basically came up with the idea that music would bring people together, and that is still the motto of Rock in Rio: uniting people using music as a common language.
"Another thing that was ground-breaking about Rock in Rio was that it made the audience as much a star of the show as the artists. It was the first time ever that during a concert the audience was illuminated by the lighting system, so the artists could really see who was standing in front of them.
"In '85, when Queen performed in Brazil, they were very well known but one of the songs that really made a difference was Love of My Life, which was not one of their hit songs. If you Google it, it's really remarkable to see – there were a million people singing Freddy Mercury's lyrics, and he's just watching them sing. In an interview, probably 10 years later, Brian May said that one of the most amazing memories of their career was still being able to hear that audience sing. I think that's kind of what Rock in Rio stands for."
How did the festival make the journey from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon?
"The second edition was in ’91 – at first, Roberto thought that he would only do this once. So I think in ’91 it was Coca-Cola who approached him and said they wanted to have Rock in Rio again. Then after the third edition in 2001 there were conversations between Brazil and Portugal about Rock in Rio coming to Lisbon. That was the start of the festival going international.
"In Brazil, Rock in Rio is like Woodstock. The first one happened when there was a change in the political regime – they were leaving a dictatorship. So it was kind of the first really free moment for the Brazilian youth, and it was a really symbolic moment.
Crowds at Rock in Rio 1985 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"When the festival came to Portugal, that of course wasn't the case. But there aren't many festivals that will allow you to experience jazz or pop or rock or metal, all on the same day. That's what has clearly made Rock in Rio stand out from other festivals. We don't believe that people only listen to one type of music, and at Rock in Rio everyone in the family will find something that they will like."
Why do you think Lisbon has become such a good host of Rock in Rio?
"There is a very strong cultural bond between the two countries. So it made total sense to come to Portugal as the first international destination, even though Rock in Rio has also now been to Madrid and the US. In Portugal, we’re very aware and tuned into music, and live music experience, so festivals get a lot of attendance here.
"Speaking the same language helps, of course, but I think the wider cultural connection made it easier for the audience to get the concept and to test if Rock in Rio was strong enough to adapt in different countries. I think we definitely know the answer to that question now!"
Joel Robertson was speaking to the Festival Team at Rock in Rio Lisboa.