FORT WORTH, Texas — After cancelations in 2020 due to the pandemic, many of the country’s biggest music gatherings such as the Austin City Limits Festival and Bonnaroo are set to resume in the fall of 2021. The annual celebrations attract huge crowds excited to see several big-name musical artists all in the same spot.
But before these festivals became commonplace, the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth hosted a one-day concert that may have helped pave the way.
On June 21, 1997, an estimated 400,000 people braved the Texas heat and hours of traffic to attend Blockbuster Video Rockfest. It was a festival with essentially free admission lasting from the first act around 10 a.m. to well past midnight featuring many of the bands that would come to define Generation X.
“This was before the large festival scene and culture took root in America,” said music critic and journalist Kelly Dearmore who was one of those in attendance. “I was 21 then and I’m 45 now and I remember it like it was yesterday.”
The concert also took place before camera phones and social media so quality video documenting the musical marathon is rare. MTV was broadcasting live on-site from their tower in the TMS infield and WFAA video from that day shows fans moshing, being sprayed with water hoses to stay cool, and staking out places on the track to watch performers like No Doubt, Bush, Jewel, and Counting Crows among many others.
“It is certainly one of the small handfuls of biggest concerts in Texas history. It has got to be one of the top 3 or 4,” Dearmore said.
Blockbuster Video was the sponsor and tickets to the event were basically being given away at Blockbuster stores and other businesses around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But the hard part was not getting tickets but rather getting to the speedway.
Backup along State Highway 114 was backed up for miles as fans tried to make their way to TMS, a venue that was only one-year old at the time. One caller to a Q102 radio program reported moving less than six miles in an hour and Dearmore also remembers the gridlock.
“We left from Irving and it still took a couple of hours.”
And as if the day was not crazy enough, the morning after presented more challenges as Fort Worth police reported getting several calls from parents about missing children who did not return home the night before. WFAA video shows some of them were sleeping it off wherever they could find a comfortable spot at the track.
Such wild stories from the concert and the liabilities they present are the reason why Dearmore does not believe you will see many similar scenes in the future.
“The one-day nature of it, the fact it was free and backed all by corporate money, I don’t know if a corporation will want to put their name on a free-for-all event like that these days.”
But having covered the music industry and attending more concerts than he can count, Dearmore said Rockfest is one of those experiences that will forever stick out.
“It is cool to say I was there. I have seen some cool tours, but I am just as proud to say I was at Rockfest,” he said. “Knowing what a big deal it is and having it in (DFW), I would have regretted it to this day had I not gone.”
Even some of the musicians he has interviewed over the years such as Gavin Rossdale of Bush and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows told him they have special memories of that day in Fort Worth.
“They both remembered that day very clearly and remember feeling overwhelmed disbelief at the size of the crowd and what was happening that day.”