Where Do Music Festivals Go Now?

Are you prepared for music-festival nostalgia? Over the subsequent few years, we’re prone to bear witness to fond remembrances and supersized celebrations as among the largest North American music festivals obtain some extent of longevity meriting acknowledgment. Coachella unofficially turns 20 this 12 months, however the fest itself hasn’t made a peep concerning the milestone — possible as a result of its first installment, in 1999, clocked round 37,000 concertgoers in attendance, falling far wanting an attendance aim of 70,000; the fest rebooted efficiently in 2001, which implies it’s simply two quick years earlier than a history-recontextualizing 20th anniversary could be ballyhooed.

Bonnaroo will flip 20 in 2022, whereas Woodstock stands to have fun a whopping three anniversaries this 12 months, ringing in 50th (1969), 25th (1994), and 20th (1999) anniversaries for its respective installments. As anticipated, the latter fest’s commemorative festivities are already within the works; this week, Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang confirmed plans for a three-day tour in August at upstate New York village Watkins Glen. The lineup received’t be introduced till subsequent month, however in an interview with Rolling Stone, Lang gestured at what the ensuing fest would possibly find yourself resembling: a mixture of new acts, previous acts, and new acts paying tribute to previous acts, together with glamping tents, a deal with “social change and activism,” and jugglers. Yes, you learn that proper — jugglers.

The notion of celebrating Woodstock’s anniversary at a time when North American music festivals are coming of temporal age solely serves to focus on the intense variations (apart from the jugglers, that’s) between “then” and “now.” For starters, it’s almost inarguable that, with regards to the expertise that almost all affiliate with the modern-day music pageant, Woodstock possesses no actual sphere of affect; as we speak’s multiday gatherings are extra straight indebted to the decades-standing custom of British and European music festivals, a blueprint that Coachella’s original organizers readily admit to have copied.

The unique Woodstock’s oft-romanticized status as an remoted “occurring” — a uncommon prevalence that may be ostensibly inconceivable to copy — clashes utterly with the dime-a-dozen regularity of music festivals from the mid-late 2000s on. Even because the business that retains fests going appears to be in the midst of an economic slowdown, the proliferation of festivals large and small all through this decade have made the act of attendance as outstanding as going to the grocery retailer. For youthful people, music festivals are a ceremony of passage on par with heading into an enormous metropolis unsupervised for the primary time; getting old music followers, however, can pack a number of months’ value of concertgoing into one or a number of days spent open air, a feat of food-truck-lined comfort.

Suffice to say, nearly all of those occasions stopped feeling like “occasions” years in the past. When Beyoncé took the stage at Coachella final 12 months to ship a mega-set of a headlining look that felt virtuosic even by her requirements, a large quantity of post-show web chatter surmised that her immediately iconic efficiency rendered all future festival-headlining gigs irrelevant. Of course, such hyperbole is something however overseas when speaking about something Beyoncé does — however, because it sometimes does, the web had some extent. The Coachella and Bonnaroo lineups have been introduced during the last week and a half, and other than the everyday pop-culture fantasy-league evaluation of who received the biggest-font poster-placement, neither appears able to delivering a Bey-esque sensation.

The latter counts a whopping three headlining units from Phish (much less an indication of laziness and extra a sign of Bonnaroo realizing their crunchy, jam-friendly model) alongside the Lumineers and Childish Gambino — who additionally sits fairly on the high of Coachella’s poster, alongside Tame Impala and Ariana Grande. Perhaps probably the most attention-grabbing commentary about Coachella’s first two headliners is that their look signifies new music from them quickly, which we mainly already knew; as for Grande — who’s coming off what’s undoubtedly her most creatively fertile 12 months but — she counts because the youngest Coachella headliner in historical past, in addition to a female-identifying foremost occasion inside an ecosystem that’s gradually (albeit not quickly enough) booking more female-identifying headliners.

About that final level: As the music festival-industrial-complex has develop into one other means of American life, it’s additionally been more and more and fairly subjected to litmus exams reflecting the elevated social consciousness that society has taken on over the previous a number of years. Drawing consideration to Coachella-operation-company Goldenvoice proprietor Philip Anschutz’s history of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes and Republican candidates has develop into as a lot of an annual custom as fireworks on the Fourth of July; final March, the Chicago-based advocacy marketing campaign OurMusicMyBody reported that 90 % of surveyed feminine concertgoers (at festivals and in any other case) had skilled some type of sexual harassment. Not solely is the rampant, at-times violent tradition of misogyny embedded inside pageant tradition not new, it’s well-documented — particularly with regard to Woodstock ‘99, a century-ending disaster that resulted in reviews of horrifying cases of sexual assault, together with riots and property harm and an overdose-related loss of life. (Spin’s award-winning report on the festival from that year is essential, and horrifying, reading.)

Reflecting on the catastrophe that was Woodstock ‘99, it’s mind-boggling that pageant tradition managed to flourish in its wake to start with — and equally dismaying that, bearing in mind the brand-celebrating festivities in movement, the organizers appear to be taking away the unsuitable classes. When requested concerning the issues that surrounded Woodstock ‘99, Lang tried to downplay the carnage to Rolling Stone as “nearly 200 children who went on a rampage … Woodstock ‘99 was only a musical expertise with no social significance. It was only a large occasion.” His characterization is, amongst different issues, blithely ignorant with regard to how the current previous is intertwined with pageant tradition’s questionably protected current.

In a just-published uncommon interview with the Los Angeles Times, Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett is barely extra pragmatic when addressing related issues, together with a Teen Vogue report from final 12 months wherein its author, Vera Papisova, claimed to be groped on the pageant 22 occasions over the course of ten hours. “We’re difficult employees and attendees to be an integral a part of this tradition shift,” he acknowledged whereas discussing the Every One marketing campaign that can be rolled out for this 12 months’s Coachella in addition to its country-focused Stagecoach offshoot — and that’s included being compelled to handle the problems inside. In late 2017, Tollett’s Goldenvoice firm parted methods with FYF Festival organizer Sean Carlson after he confronted allegations of sexual misconduct; after assuming full management of the L.A.-based pageant, low ticket gross sales (a typical illness going through many mid-to-small-scale festivals during the last a number of years) compelled FYF’s cancellation totally.

When requested about FYF’s common future, Tollett makes use of the phrase “scaled down” in his response, an affordable preferrred that nonetheless ignores the truth that loads of FYF-scale festivals each existent and discontinued face myriad financial issues indicating that the pageant business’s bubble has lengthy since burst. Even Bonnaroo’s struggled, dipping to a record-low 45,500 attendees in 2016 — a sensible dent in its too-big-to-fail standing. As pageant tradition and the business that’s created it enters their unruly post-adolescent interval, it’s value pondering past the rising sameness throughout lineups and experiences, as an alternative contemplating whether or not, in 20 years’ extra time, there can be sufficient festivals in existence to resemble one another in any respect.