Let's say, hypothetically, you're a music lover who's never made it to a concert. And you want to make up for lost time. No problem. Get thee to Rio next September. As long as you have plenty of energy and a week to spare, you can catch up on a lifetime's worth of music. And not just any performers. We're talking a living, breathing, heart-racing Who's Who in rock history, with headlining stars at last year's festival including Beyoncé, Muse, Justin Timberlake, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Iron Maiden. Marking its 30-year anniversary at 2015's event, Rock in Rio has rocketed from a memorable 1985 show in Rio de Janeiro to a behemoth, week-long celebration of rock music (with a little pop, blues, rap and Música Popular Brasileira sprinkled in for good measure) with offshoots in three countries. In 1985, fresh from its dictatorial past, Brazil had never hosted a festival on this scale. Entrepreneur Roberto Medina changed that with the birth of Cidade do Rock, the City of Rock. This guy aimed big. Among the 28 bands at the first show? Think AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and Queen.
Music as a Universal LanguageFor the second edition, in 1993, they took to the world's largest stadium (World Cup fans will know Maracanã) for nine days, playing to a crowd of 700,000 who'd come to see mega stars like Guns N’ Roses, INXS, Run DMC, Joe Cocker and Carlos Santana. (For comparison, 350,000 people attended Woodstock '94.) They broke a Guinness record with A-HA's show—198,000 people watching made for the biggest paying audience ever at a single musical event. Ten years later, with the third edition, the festival bloomed to more than just a music event. In 2003 Rock in Rio rolled out their “For a Better World” program, aiming no less than to transform the world with discussions on environmental issues, education and citizenship. Rock in Rio is a “vehicle for communication of emotions and causes,” proclaim the organizers. “Using music as a universal language, it uses its power to gather people, not only to thrill the audience, but also to impact the lives of those in need.”
Taking the Show on the RoadNot stopping with Brazil, they stormed the world, taking the show to the old country with a 2004 event in Lisbon, Portugal, followed by Madrid, Spain, in 2008 (both are now biennial events) . Rock in Rio rocked its way through a dozen editions, making 2013 in Rio its 13th. In 2015 not only will they return to Rio, but they're coming to America in May, adding Las Vegas to their roster. And they're bringing it. Medina told Billboard magazine that, compared to other U.S. music festivals, it's “not a little bit bigger, [it's] a lot bigger.”
It's Kind of a Big DealIt's hard to overstate just how huge and storied this festival is. It's so mammoth it's held in what will be Athlete's Park in the 2016 Olympics. Its impact on the local economy was almost half a billion U.S. dollars last year. Tickets sold out in four days in 2011. Nearly 600,000 attendees in 2013 (scaled down on purpose) took in 160 musical attractions, fueling their exuberance with 530,000 liters of beer, 48,000 pizzas, and 280,000 hamburgers. Besides breaking records for crowds, food consumed, and YouTube live viewers (it took Felix Baumgartner’s space jump to top the three million people who tuned in to Metallica’s show during Rock in Rio 2011) the festival boasts some 10 million followers on social media. And #TheyMeanBusiness: Rock in Rio has their own rcknr.io URL shortener.Despite ominous interpretations of a Nostradamus prediction that fueled rumors in 1985, no catastrophe befell the festival, and in its run it's seen everything from a wedding—set to “Under the Bridge” in cello—to a naked performance when Queens bass player Nick Oliveri took it all off in 2001. A Bon Jovi fan got a kiss on the World Stage, another lucky soul sang along with Bruce Springsteen, and then there was the time Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto took a (surprise!) jaunt on the zipline during his show.And they continue to ramp up. Entertainment conglomerate SFX recently bought a 50% interest in a new entity that will own and operate the festival franchise. (SFX's Sillerman plans to conquer the world of dance music, according to a September 2012 Billboard cover story).
The Color of Rock is GreenRock in Rio puts their money where their mouth is with the social responsibility thing. Since launching For a Better World, they've sunk more than 11 million euros in projects like planting 40,000+ trees; building a school in Tanzania and a health center in Maranhãom, Portugal; educating elementary school students in Rio; and installing solar panels on 38 public schools in Portugal. Do you think overflowing trashcans when you think a festival of this size? Not so much. Out of last year's 183 metric tons of waste, 35.7 tons of recycle residues were sorted and sold to benefit 29 cooperatives. Seventy-one more tons of organic waste were taken for composting and use as organic fertilizer in reforestation projects.It might sound a little granola, but don't worry. Metallica tattoos are in abundance among the heaving crowds. At the end of the day, roller coaster and Ferris wheel notwithstanding, this is a rock concert, albeit on a huge scale. Rock fans are here for a screaming good time, which they got in spades last year with the likes of Florence and The Machine, Slayer, Avenged Sevenfold, and The Offspring. And this is no camping-in-a-field event. Founder Medina has called Rock in Rio the five-star hotel of music festivals, and those who will pony up can expect VIP buses and lounges.
I Love Rock 'n' RollFans' adoration for this event runs deep. Before a single band was announced, more than 10,000 people purchased a card guaranteeing pre-sales for 2015. Take note from previous years -don't blink, or you might miss out on what could be the biggest music festival ever.