What Happened to Music Festivals?
thoughts by Ava Butera
Four to five years ago, festival season was booming and major festivals reached peak attendance. In 2014, Arctic Monkeys graced the Bonnaroo Main Stage and performed one of their most iconic sets, Paul McCartney headlined Lollapalooza in 2015, and Gov Ball 2014 contained Phoenix, Jack White, The Strokes, and Vampire Weekend as headliners. Times just seemed to be better for festivals.
If you went even farther back to the inception of notable, weekend-long concerts, you would notice stellar lineups, affordable ticket prices, and tons of attendees reminiscing on better times. Big festival players, such as Lollapalooza and Coachella both began over 15 years ago and have progressively declined in stellar lineups. Sure, both still attract thousands of guests, but ticket prices have increased to amounts that the average person can barely afford. This therefore inhibits the average fan from attending, making it very unfair. A general admission pass to Coachella currently stands at $429, not including fees. However, tickets for the event sold out almost days after the lineup dropped, causing fans who took too long to decide which festival to attend to have to resort to purchasing passes on resale websites.
We also can’t forget the creation of many small, mediocre festivals across the country, taking away attendance from large weekend festivals. These small festivals take away longtime fans of major ones due to their affordability and better lineup. Even though these small festivals have contained our favorite bands on the lineup, they don’t seem to stand the test of time like Coachella and Bonnaroo. For example, Sound Fest, located in Austin, TX, presented an exciting lineup featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, and even Iggy Pop in 2017. However this festivals was cancelled, despite the hype. Organizers blamed ‘roadblocks outside of their control’ to be the cause. You also can’t forget the infamous Fyre Festival that seemed to rival Coachella in the described experience but let down everyone. It claimed to take place on a luxurious island in the Bahamas, have an indulgent menu of food, and contain fan-favorite acts such as Blink-182, Disclosure, and Daya. In reality, the luxurious lodging consisted of plastic tents and the conditions proved so awful that every band pulled out of the festival days prior to the event. The real kicker: fans spent money on this event, taking away attendees and revenue from major festivals.
2017 felt like the year that every festival contained mundanely identical lineups that consisted of almost the same acts on each one. The reason festival season was so long-awaited, was because fan could not wait to see which festival they would attend, based on how impressive each lineup was. Sure, there are a couple acts that are on almost every bill, but now it seems like each festival is turning into each other. However, in the year 2018, music festival season is looking very dismal. Whether it be the constant placement of Eminem as a headliner, or the outrageously expensive GA weekend passes, music festivals fans are somewhat fed up with what these experiences have become. How are fans supposed to enjoy themselves when the experience and lineup seem despondent and dull?
Not to mention that all but a few festivals still cater to solely hardcore music fans, not just a fashion weekend. Coachella can no longer be viewed as the epitome of a music lover’s festival, in that, now its as if New York Fashion Week has switched location and month. In addition, the whole festival has become a playground for celebrities to mingle, take pictures for social media, and to flaunt their status. What happened to the music? Sure, Two Door Cinema Club played the festival last year, but how many people actually intently watched their set? Or let me reiterate that by asking, how many people just took pictures in front of the stage to show off their outfits?
Why is there such a lack of artist diversity; lineups rarely contain artists of color and females. Of the four or five major festival lineups announced so far, none of the main headliners include females. On the Coachella lineup, the only female headliners are SZA, Beyonce, HAIM, and Cardi B, and that’s pretty much it for major female acts on the whole bill. And we can’t forget the newly announced Shaky Knees lineup that contains no female headliners at all. It’s 2018 and there are tons of amazingly talented female musicians out there. Organizers need to open their eyes and start introducing more diversity into the lineups.
One of the only festivals that proves to be diverse and pleases listeners time and time again, is not even a formal festival at all. South by Southwest is a showcasing festival that takes place in Austin, TX, every March. Here, new, up and coming bands and musicians showcase their music to eager listeners, ready for new sounds. This festival always has a stellar turn out, however, this isn’t an outdoor, dance in the grass type of festival, making it hard to compare to other big names I mentioned before. Therefore my only hope to shed some slightly positive light onto festival season turns out to not even be a traditional festival.
This has turned into more of a list of grievances, as opposed to just explaining the let down of festival season. I’m rather disappointed in how the 2018 festival season has been turning out to be. It shouldn’t be as much of a let down as it is currently withholding itself to be.