The first year of the festival (1993) featured headline performances by Sonic Youth, Hole, Faith No More and The Black Crowes, and included other notable acts such as Manic Street Preachers, Julian Cope, The Young Gods and House of Pain. However, the event was marred by controversy as festival goers were made to put out camp fires and turn off sound systems at midnight. These rules were in contrast to the 24-hour culture of the Glastonbury Festival, with which many of those present at Phoenix were familiar. There were even demands for refunds, and the festival's reputation was marred from the outset. The enforcement of these rules by security staff led to many of the festival goers showing their displeasure in no uncertain terms. Fencing and light rigs were toppled, fires set and physical clashes between festival goers and security staff also occurred.
The festival never really recovered from its poor reception, and although it attracted consistently popular acts, festival goers were less than happy with the site (an old airstrip) and there were also complaints about the prices on site.
Problems with the event reached a climax in 1996 when many festival goers missed David Bowie on the Thursday night due to problems letting people on site. Having sold out that year for the first time due to the Glastonbury Festival taking its usual year off (every 5), the organisers struggled to cope with the crowds and extreme heat. Temperatures on site exceeded thirty degrees Celsius on all days. The weekend was further marred with problems with water being unavailable in parts of the site. The event was notable for the fact that the Sex Pistols headlined their first major UK festival on that weekend.
The festival continued for one more year but could never compete with its main rival, the Glastonbury Festival. The 1998 Phoenix event was cancelled due to poor ticket sales, but some acts were moved to that year's Reading Festival.
In July 2011, Vince Power announced his intention to resurrect the festival in his introduction to the programme of the Hop Farm Festival. Power wrote: "For those of you who remember the Phoenix Festival, it's my intention to resurrect this festival next year as Glastonbury is taking a break."