(This article was originally published in the California Aggie)
As Coachellers head down to Southern California comparing coachy playlists, swapping meaningful concert stories and contemplating which drugs will elicit the most authentic experience, I’ll be at home representing the delegation of unpopular opinions and disliking music festivals.
While music festivals aren’t a new phenomenon, in the last 10 years there’s been an increase in attendance, media coverage and the quality of performers. Festivals used to be primarily for rock acts, but today’s lineups feature artists from across the musical spectrum. Today, it wouldn’t be weird for The RZA to follow Joanna Newsom on stage after a Crystal Castles live set (I’d actually be way down for this). Furthermore, these festivals gain widespread attention through the use of social media, blogs and vocal college students who think an overpriced ticket for one bad sunburn will make them a purveyor of youth music and culture.
Okay, that was harsh, but let me break it down. I’m an avid music fan and follower of everyone from The Boss to The Bo$$ and I’ve shelled out stacks over the years for live shows. One of my favorite parts of the concert experience is the crowd and the relationship between the performer and that audience. You know, that crowd that knows every line to the 2007 album Sound of Silver and the guy next to you who has his arm around you and wait … now you have your arm around him, but it’s all cool because you both love LCD Soundsystem and now you’re jumping in the air?
This is an important missing piece to the festival experience. Sure there’s a lot of jumping and even making friends with the people next to you, but because there are some 200+ acts performing, chances are that the guy next to you doesn’t share the same deep emotional connection to the artist as someone who went to a show specifically for Beirut, Holy Ghost!, Dr. Dre, etc. Call me a traditionalist but I like one night, one artist, one fan base.
This isn’t just me, though. The artists themselves know that a portion of their crowd is just trying to get position for the next act or taking a break from the rave tent. While many of their true fans may be in attendance, most of these people didn’t come out specifically for them. The wide range of music offered at festivals is great to an extent, but now you have Black Keys fans in front blocking your view of Mazzy Star, and you don’t need me to tell you how that scene ends.
There’s no question festivals diminish the importance of one act; instead, it’s about the experience — the lineup. “Bro, we saw Grouplove and Childish Gambino when we were peaking and then caught the last bit of Kaiser Chiefs before heading over to Miike Snow’s DJ set. That guy is so swag.”
Okay, obviously this is a cruel bastardization of a brochell, but it makes my point that at festivals there can be a propensity to put emphasis on quantity of performances. I believe each artist deserves their own conversation. Don’t describe a Metronomy, Beats Antique and Real Estate performance in the same sentence just because you saw all of them on the same day.
I’ll be the first to admit, it does sound pretty cool to say, “Yeah, they were sick live,” and even cooler to say, “Nah, they sucked live, so we left and took another hit of acid.” And the collaborations and specials at these festivals are unparalleled. I can say I am truly jealous of those who will get to see Dre and Em perform “Guilty Conscience.” I wonder if Eminem still remembers any swear words?
Festivals are way too expensive and uncomfortable to go to if you don’t truly love the festival experience. Roughing it around 80,000 people all trying to use the same 50 Porta-Potties while paying $8 for Arrowhead Spring water shall be a testament to your will to be festive.
I’ve made peace with my place as a music fan, without being a festival kid. I know #FOMO and #YOLO says to just buy your ticket and go, but it’s all streamed live now anyway so why not watch it on your couch instead of 500 miles away in the hot sun while standing on your feet for eight hours at a time?