The Reading Festival originates from an annual Jazz and Blues festival organised by the National Jazz Federation and London's Marquee Club. The inspiration came from the Newport Jazz Festival of 1950s America. The first National Jazz Festival took place at Richmond Athletic Ground in August 1961 when the main attractions included traditional jazz musicians such as Tubby Hayes, Johnny Dankworth and Tony Russell.
By 1965 the popularity of traditional jazz had waned, overtaken by rhythm and blues performers such as the Who, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart. Subsequently the festival became known as the National Jazz and Blues Festival. Noise complaints forced the 1966 festival to move to Windsor Racecourse, then in 1968 to Kempton Park and then, in 1969, to Plumpton. The festival finally reached Reading in 1971. Reading Council granted permission to the promoter, Harold Pendleton, to hold the festival by the Thames as part of the town's Festival of Arts.
Between 1971 and the mid 1980s the festival built a reputation for booking the biggest names in the business, as well as showcasing the talents of new bands from around the globe. The late 1980s and early 90s were to see changes in the contemporary music scene with indie sounds and dance cross-over acts coming to the fore. In 1988 the Mean Fiddler, who had championed such acts in venues across London, were given the task of booking the festival bands. The following year they were asked to organise the whole event and, after the legendary festivals of the early 1990s, the future of the festival was assured. It is now organised by Festival Republic.
The Festival creates huge interest in the town with almost 90,000 music fans invading Reading every August Bank Holiday. The Reading Festival is truly world-class with bands appearing from all over the globe (particularly the USA), making the town an internationally recognised name on the music scene. It has become an important part of Reading's life and during late 2004 Reading Museum staged a major retrospective exhibition called 'Music, Mud and Mayhem', telling the 30 year history of the festival.