Seven incarnations of the festival have been held in Rio de Janeiro, in 1985, 1991, 2001, 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017, eight in Lisbon, in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, three in Madrid in 2008, 2010 and 2012, and one in Las Vegas, in 2015. Brazilian entrepreneur and advertiser Roberto Medina was responsible for the inception and organization of the festival, as well as moving the 2004 ion to Lisbon, while controversially keeping the brand "Rock in Rio". In 2011, Rock in Rio returned to its original location, Rio de Janeiro, with a new line-up of singers and groups.
Rock in Rio is one of the largest music festivals in the world, with 1.5 million people attending the first event, 700,000 attending the second and fourth, about 1.2 million attending the third, and about 350,000 people attending each of the three Lisbon events.
In May 2018, Live Nation Entertainment acquired a majority stake in the festival (including from previous stakeholder SFX Entertainment), with Medina continuing to manage the festival's operations. Live Nation stated that it intended to "[integrate] their industry expertise" into their overall business.
The first ion of the festival was held from January 11–20, 1985. Queen, George Benson, Rod Stewart, AC/DC, and Yes were the headliners, each occupying top spot for two nights (Benson, however, ceded it to James Taylor for their second night in the same bill, due to the huge delay Taylor's extended performance had caused to his concert two days before). About 1.4 million people attended the 10-day-long festival.
Rock in Rio in numbers
The City of Rock, which was built for the festival, covered an area of 250,000 m² (around 2.7 million square feet)
1,600,000 litres of beverages were served, using 4 million plastic cups.
Both Queen shows were filmed (on January 11 and January 18) and broadcast throughout Brazil by Globo. Each show was watched by nearly 200 million people in over 60 countries and in front of 350,000–500,000 people for each night setting a world record for the biggest paying audience ever at the time. It was later broadcast in the United States on MTV as "Queen: Live in Rio".
Iron Maiden was the only non-Brazilian act to play just one concert at the festival (on its opening night, headlined by Queen), due to other bookings, while every other international act performed twice. During the song "Revelations", lead singer Bruce Dickinson hit himself accidentally with a guitar and cut his eyebrow. Dickinson continued to sing in spite of heavy bleeding. They performed in front of a crowd of 350,000 people.
The Go-Go's broke up after their two Rock in Rio performances, (headlined by Queen and Rod Stewart) though they would later reunite in the 1990s. The two Rock in Rio shows were the debut and swansong for short-tenured Go-Go's member Paula Jean Brown, who had replaced Jane Wiedlin. (Wiedlin would return to the reunited 1990s lineup.)
The January 20 appearance of the B-52's would turn out to be their last with guitarist Ricky Wilson, who died from AIDS in October of that year as the band was finishing their next album.
Initially, Def Leppard was scheduled to play at the festival. However, they dropped out about two months before the event, due to delays on the recording process of the album Hysteria. Eleven days before the date Def Leppard would have played at the festival, drummer Rick Allen suffered an accident that cost him his left arm. They were replaced by Whitesnake.
Guns N' Roses's January 20 concert was their first ever with then new drummer Matt Sorum and keyboard player Dizzy Reed. George Michael's second concert, on January 27, the festival's closing day, featured his ex-Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, who joined Michael for a few songs at the encore. Again a misplaced Brazilian act suffered from bad reception, with Lobão being pelted with beer cans and being forced to cut his performance short.
A notable appearance at Rock in Rio 3 was that of American hard rock band Guns N' Roses, with a new line-up featuring guitarist Buckethead, original member and singer Axl Rose (vocals), and longtime member Dizzy Reed (keyboards). "I have no intention, and I never did, of denying you all something you enjoyed," Rose told the audience. "And I thought it was only fair for you to see that this new band can play the fuck out of these songs. It's very hard to ask a musician to learn to play the part or parts played by other musicians before that. These guys here have worked very hard."
Carlinhos Brown, the opening act on the day Guns N' Roses performed, was attacked by water bottles throughout his performance. Bassist Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age performed nude for part of their set and was arrested for indecent exposure after the concert, being released soon after.
Full list of artists who performed at Rock in Rio 3:
The Palco Mundo (World Stage) at the Rock in Rio 4
The Rock Street at the Rock in Rio 4
The fourth ion of Rock in Rio, back to its origins, was held on September 23, 24, 25, 29 and 30, and October 1 and 2, 2011, at an area (pt) to be built next to the old City of Rock – which is currently the site of the Olympic Village of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Three different stages were employed, with the headlining concerts at the Palco Mundo (World Stage), the secondary ones in Palco Sunset (Sunset Stage), and DJs playing at a specialized stage for electronic music. The closing acts, Guns N' Roses and System of a Down, entered following a poll on the festival's website.Maroon 5 was a last hour addition, following Jay-Z leaving for personal reasons.
Full list of artists who performed at Rock in Rio 4:
After the huge success of Rock in Rio 3 in Brazil, Roberta Medina decided to organize a festival of the same stature in Lisbon. The decision to maintain the name Rock in Rio was controversial, and detractors of the idea in Brazil started calling it Rock in Rio Tejo, after the Tagus river (rio Tejo, in Portuguese) which runs through the Portuguese capital.
The first ion of Rock in Rio Lisboa, as the festival was officially called, took place in 2004. Although the festival had a slight change of name, it kept the same structure as the Brazilian ions. An entire City of Rock, with an area of over 260,000 audience was erected at the Bela Vista park, with a large centre stage and several tents where different artists would perform, simultaneously.
Full list of artists who performed at Rock in Rio Lisboa:
June 24 sold out almost three months prior to the festival.
Rock in Rio USA
"Rock in Rio USA" was the first North American ion of the festival, being held in Las Vegas on May 8, 9, 15 and 16, 2015. The festival took place on two weekends, oriented towards rock and pop music. Rock Weekend took place on May 8 and 9, and Pop Weekend took place on May 15 and 16. It took place in the City of Rock (Las Vegas), located north of the Las Vegas Strip.