With live concerts set to make a highly anticipated comeback this summer after fourteen months of torture amid the pandemic, we wait patiently to one day return back to a muddy field and sing along to our favourite artists.
In the era of socially distanced concerts, having 1,000 people at a gig seems like a pipedream right now, and the thought of tens of thousands cramming into main-stages at festivals in a few months is beautiful.
The beauty of live music can differ from gig to gig; sometimes stadium shows can flatter to deceive, and even though you’re watching a master at work, you’d rather be at a dive bar watching a local band and drinking reasonably priced beer.
It takes a special kind of talent to make mammoth shows a success, but if you thought football stadiums were big venues, then wait until you see this list and the most highly attended concerts in history. If you thought you had a bad view at Wembley Stadium during Fleetwood Mac’s residency in 2019, then wait until you see how many people attended these shows below.
Let’s get to it.
The biggest concerts of all time:
Oasis – Knebworth (1996)
August 10th 1996, something momentous occurred. Oasis, four lads from Manchester with one tumultuous brotherhood at its core, took to the stage at Knebworth House for the first of their two-night residency. The shows would not only see them play to over 250,000 people, but it would cement their legacy as one of the greatest rock and roll acts Britain has ever produced.
“Genuinely, now, if I close my eyes, I can’t remember walking on stage at Knebworth,” Noel Gallagher once famously said when pressed on the matter.
Speaking not only to the hundreds of thousands in attendance but also the 2.5 million people who applied for tickets, Noel told the crowd: “This is history,” smirking at the sea of adoring fans— “I thought it was Knebworth”, replied Liam.
Bruce Springsteen – Radrennbahn Weissensee (1988)
On July 19th 1988, East Berlin hosted Bruce Springsteen, along with his E Street Band. The show was iconic, not just for the vast attendance but also helped heal the divided city of Berlin between the Communist East and liberal West. The concert’s societal importance transcended music and helped bring unity back to Germany.
Springsteen’s show at Weißensee, the first in East Germany, would change the lives of the thousands of people who were in attendance who many had never had the opportunity to watch a concert but let alone a rockstar of this stature, at the peak of his powers in front of 165,000 fans.
Paul McCartney – Macarena Stadium (1990)
Paul McCartney’s solo career was enjoying a fruitful renaissance throughout the early ’90s. The show he played at Rio De Janeiro’s Macarena Stadium remains the biggest headline performance of the former Beatles man’s career.
180,000 people witnessed McCartney deliver a greatest hits set, including all the loved Beatles numbers and a smattering of tracks from his most recent album, Flowers In The Dirt.
Fatboy Slim – Brighton Beach (2002)
Over 250,000 people flocked to Brighton Beach in July 2002 for a rave, unlike anything Britain had hosted ever before. The free event, which was called the Big Beach Boutique, had been expected to attract just 60,000 people, a similar number who had attended Fatboy Slim’s inaugural event a year previously, but things didn’t quite turn out like that.
Thousands were left stranded in Brighton overnight, the beach was in tatters, and the town stank of urine for two weeks. The event cost Cook £200,000, and he then spent another £75,000 on the clean-up. The backlash was so severe that he took up the advice of his neighbour Sir Paul McCartney and left the country for a few days.
The Rolling Stones – Hyde Park (1969)
The Rolling Stones have lit up Hyde Park on many occasions throughout their electric career, but none so more poignant than in 1969 when over 500,000 fans attended.
Brian Jones had tragically died just two days previously, and Mick Jagger dedicated a heart-wrenching reading of Percy Shelley’s Adonais before beginning their mammoth set. It culminated in the release of thousands of white butterflies and marked a fitting tribute to their former bandmate.
Live 8 – Philadelphia (2005)
On July 2nd 2005, a Live 8 concert was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with 1.5 million stretching out across a mile along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Pennsylvania.
The illustrious line-up featured Kanye West, Eminem, Linkin Park, Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, The Black Eyed Peas, and bizarrely opened by the Kaiser Chiefs.
Monsters of Rock (1991)
Monsters of Rock originally began as a mammoth rock show every year at Castle Donnington but morphed into a touring circus that travelled around the world.
Their show in Moscow in 1991 saw 1.8 million metalheads come out in force to watch a masterclass from AC/DC and Motley Crue. Still, it was Metallica who ended up taking all the plaudits with their shimmering performance in the Russian capital.
Rod Stewart – Copacabana Beach (1994)
The highest attended show of all time isn’t a concert by the Beatles or Stones or anyone else held in the highest of rock ‘n’ roll esteem; Sir Rod Stewart holds that record.
Stewart, remarkably, was booked to headline the free annual concert held at Copacabana Beach in 1994, and a staggering 4.2 million people turned up to watch the former Faces frontman bring in the New Year in style. The closest contender to Stewart’s crown is Jean-Michel Jarre, who performed to 3.5 million people in Russia in 1997 to celebrate Moscow’s 850th birthday, but nobody is yet to break Rod’s record.