We all dream of seeing our favorite musicians perform in front of our very own eyes. Especially as concerts begin to become more of a spectacle, it is one of the most invigorating feelings to witness these historical musical events. You can’t help but feel a part of something greater, something millions of fans across the world feel. Music connects us all, and concerts do an amazing job of nourishing that connection.
But with ticket sales being so expensive and tours not always reaching our towns (or era), it is a great gift to be able to at least digitally witness what these standout musicians have created for their audiences.
Especially with famous festivals like Woodstock being such a renowned event, it only makes sense for there to be a documentary of the performances, as the historical festival is a place many music fans would have loved to experience in person.
From the famous Woodstock to Elton John’s final tour, and the underappreciated Harlem Cultural Festival, here are 10 must-see, best concert documentaries that detail some of the most amazing concerts and festivals to date.
Monterey Pop (1968)
Preserved by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, Monterey Pop highlights the Monterey International Pop Festival. D.A. Pennebaker, a pioneer of “direct cinema,” a documentary genre created in the sixties, directed Monterey Pop and told the story of the three-day festival.
In 1967, around 200,000 people gathered at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California, to see over 30 artists, some of whom included Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix – Hendrix, whose performance infamously included setting his guitar on fire, breaking it, and tossing the neck into the crowd.
The Monterey International Pop Festival kicked off the “Summer of Love” and only helped to catapult the performers to an even larger amount of fame. The festival would influence the wildly famous Woodstock, which would happen in 1969.
You can watch it on Max or Apple TV.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Feature) in 1971, Woodstock chronicles one of the most, if not the most, famous music festivals of all time.
Somewhere between 400,000-500,000 music fans gathered at a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, in August of 1969 to see just over 30 musical acts over the course of four (instead of the advertised three) days due to weather conditions and traffic jams.
The chaotic festival featured some of the most popular musicians of the time, including Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Jimmy Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and The Band.
Woodstock was deemed preserved by the National Film Registry in 1996 due to it being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
You can watch it on Prime Video.
In 1972, Stax Records organized Wattstax on the seventh anniversary of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, California, which were triggered by police brutality and overwhelming racial discrimination.
The benefit concert took place on August 20, 1972, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with Stax’s signed artists, including Issac Hayes, Albert King, Carla Thomas, and The Staple Singers. The movie documents the performances the day of, as well as performances that happened in the weeks after the concert, including The Emotions, Johnnie Taylor, and Little Milton.
Wattstax was directed by Mel Stuart, who is most well known for directing the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Wattstax received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Documentary Film in 1974.
In 2020, the documentary was preserved by the National Film Registry.
You can watch it on Prime Video.
The Last Waltz (1978)
This Martin Scorsese-directed documentary highlights one of the greatest concerts of the seventies. A farewell show from Canadian-American rock band The Band, the two-hour-long documentary presents the concert – as well as snippets of interviews with the band themselves.
The concert on Thanksgiving in 1976 was an iconic collaboration of the biggest stars of the sixties and seventies, with performances by Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, and several more.
Scorsese did a brilliant job telling the story of The Band, showcasing all of the amazing musicians who came together, and ending the show with I Shall Be Released – Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood also make an appearance, along with tens of other musicians of the time.
Even if you aren’t familiar with these stars, the two-hour-long documentary is definitely worth seeing, as you can sense the joy and pride radiating from The Band as they ended their touring career on the highest note possible.
You can watch it on Prime, MGM+, Pluto TV, and Tubi.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
With a 100% Fresh Tomatometer score on the review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Stop Making Sense tells the story of the Talking Heads, a rock band that contributed to the new wave music movement in the seventies and eighties.
The documentary takes place at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, from December 13th-16th in 1983, in support of Talking Heads’ fifth studio album, Speaking in Tongues.
The entertainment company A24 obtained distribution rights in March and will be premiering the resorted video on September 11, 2023, at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The band will come together for the first time since they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 for a Q&A after the premiere. The documentary will make its way to theaters globally on September 29, 2023.
Stop Making Sense, was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved via the United States National Film Registry in 2021.
You can watch it on Filmbox Live.
Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden (2011)
This concert documentary highlights two nights of eccentric singer-songwriter Lady Gaga’s second worldwide tour in 2011, “The Monster Ball Tour.” The nights of February 21st and 22nd are documented, which was filmed at the iconic arena, Madison Square Garden.
The tour itself was praised by critics, citing not only Gaga’s vocals but also the production of the show – her costuming and storytelling. “The Monster Ball Tour” became one of the highest-grossing tours of all time, and Gaga won the Breakthrough Performer Award at the 2010 Billboard Touring Awards.
Produced by HBO, the documentary received critical acclaim and had a television audience of 1.2 million viewers. In the same year, Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour was nominated for five Primetime Emmy Awards and won the award for Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming.
You can watch it on Prime Video.
Homecoming, documents the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival performance by Beyoncé, who has been largely regarded as one of the best performers of her time. The first Black woman to headline Coachella, Beyoncé’s performance has been praised as “historic” by several media outlets.
The performance was more than just pure entertainment, as she celebrated Black pride and Black history with a 26-song setlist, including “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn written in 1900 by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, which has been largely referred to as the “Black National Anthem.”
Beyoncé wrote, executively produced, and directed this Netflix documentary, which is recognized as one of the greatest concert films of all time. Homecoming won several awards, including Best Music Film at the Grammy Awards in 2020 and Best Music Documentary at the International Documentary Association (IDA) Awards in 2019. Beyoncé became the first African-American female artist to win the Grammy since Janet Jackson in 1989.
You can watch it on Netflix.
Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour (2018)
12-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Taylor Swift embarked on her fifth tour in 2018, reaching North America, Europe, Oceania, and Asia.
Her October 6th show at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, was recorded for this documentary and was a night full of costuming and admirable production value, creating what many critics have defined as one of the best tours of 2018.
The documentary was nominated for Art Directors Guild and Royal Television Society, UK awards in 2019 and 2020. At the time of the tour, it became the highest-grossing tour ever in the United States and North America and the third highest-grossing female tour of all time.
You can watch it on Netflix.
Summer of Soul (2021)
In the summer of 1969, nearly 300,000 music fans gathered in Harlem, New York City, over the course of six Sundays to celebrate Black pride and the music and culture associated with it at the Harlem Cultural Festival.
Summer of Soul documents the festival, combining footage of the performers, as well as news footage and modern-day interviews with those who attended. The filmmakers also dedicate time to discussing the lack of awareness of this festival versus the attention Woodstock receives, even though the Harlem Cultural Festival was a major success.
Performers famously included Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, and many more.
It was Questlove’s directorial debut, and he led the documentary to win 72 awards, including the Grand Jury Prize – Documentary (Sundance Film Festival,) Best Documentary Feature (Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards) Documentary Film ( National Board of Review,) and Best Documentary Feature (Academy Awards).
You can watch it on Hulu.
Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium (2022)
Rocketman Elton John embarked on his final tour, “Farewell Yellow Brick Road,” in September of 2018. With 330 shows worldwide, the tour, though briefly interrupted by a COVID hiatus, lasted until July 2023 and became the highest-grossing tour of all time.
John took over the home of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers on November 17-20, 2022, putting on a fantastic last North American show on the night of the 20th, the night documented in this television special.
With a career spanning five decades, watching John’s final North American show, even if not in person, is a very special scene and one you will not soon forget.
You can watch it on Disney+.
Which concert will you be virtually attending?