Where Do Music Festivals Go Now?

Are you prepared for music-festival nostalgia? Over the subsequent few years, we’re more likely to bear witness to fond remembrances and supersized celebrations as among the greatest North American music festivals obtain some extent of longevity meriting acknowledgment. Coachella unofficially turns 20 this yr, however the fest itself hasn’t made a peep concerning the milestone — seemingly 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 suggests it’s simply two brief years earlier than a history-recontextualizing 20th anniversary could be ballyhooed.

Bonnaroo will flip 20 in 2022, whereas Woodstock stands to have a good time a whopping three anniversaries this yr, 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with Rolling Stone, Lang gestured at what the ensuing fest may find yourself resembling: a mixture of new acts, outdated acts, and new acts paying tribute to outdated acts, together with glamping tents, a deal with “social change and activism,” and jugglers.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 practically inarguable that, in the case of the expertise that almost all affiliate with the modern-day music competition, Woodstock possesses no actual sphere of affect; in the present day’s multiday gatherings are extra instantly indebted to the decades-standing custom of British and European music festivals, a blueprint that Coachella’s authentic organizers readily admit to have copied.

The authentic Woodstock’s oft-romanticized repute as an remoted “occurring” — a uncommon incidence that might be ostensibly not possible to duplicate — clashes utterly with the dime-a-dozen regularity of music festivals from the mid-late 2000s on. Even because the trade that retains fests going appears to be within the midst of an financial slowdown, the proliferation of festivals massive and small all through this decade have made the act of attendance as outstanding as going to the grocery retailer. For youthful folks, music festivals are a ceremony of passage on par with heading into a giant metropolis unsupervised for the primary time; growing older music followers, then again, can pack a number of months’ value of concertgoing into one or a number of days spent outside, a feat of food-truck-lined comfort.

Suffice to say, virtually all of those occasions stopped feeling like “occasions” years in the past. When Beyoncé took the stage at Coachella final yr 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 often does, the web had some extent. The Coachella and Bonnaroo lineups had been introduced during the last week and a half, and except for the standard 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 prime 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 principally already knew; as for Grande — who’s coming off what's undoubtedly her most creatively fertile yr but — she counts because the youngest Coachella headliner in historical past, in addition to a female-identifying predominant occasion inside an ecosystem that’s steadily (albeit not shortly sufficient) reserving extra female-identifying headliners.

About that final level: As the music festival-industrial-complex has develop into one other approach of American life, it’s additionally been more and more and fairly subjected to litmus assessments 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 historical past 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 p.c 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 competition tradition not new, it’s well-documented — particularly with regard to Woodstock ‘99, a century-ending disaster that resulted in stories of horrifying situations of sexual assault, together with riots and property harm and an overdose-related dying. (Spin’s award-winning report on the competition from that yr is crucial, and horrifying, studying.)

Reflecting on the catastrophe that was Woodstock ‘99, it’s mind-boggling that competition 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 fallacious 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 massive occasion.” His characterization is, amongst different issues, blithely ignorant with regard to how the latest previous is intertwined with competition tradition’s questionably secure current.

In a just-published uncommon interview with the Los Angeles Times, Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett is barely extra pragmatic when addressing comparable issues, together with a Teen Vogue report from final yr during which its author, Vera Papisova, claimed to be groped on the competition 22 instances 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 yr’s Coachella in addition to its country-focused Stagecoach offshoot — and that’s included being pressured 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 competition, low ticket gross sales (a typical illness going through many mid-to-small-scale festivals during the last a number of years) pressured FYF’s cancellation solely.

When requested about FYF’s common future, Tollett makes use of the phrase “scaled down” in his response, an inexpensive perfect that nonetheless ignores the truth that loads of FYF-scale festivals each existent and discontinued face myriad monetary points indicating that the competition trade’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 competition tradition and the trade that’s created it enters their unruly post-adolescent interval, it’s value pondering past the growing sameness throughout lineups and experiences, as a substitute contemplating whether or not, in 20 years’ extra time, there can be sufficient festivals in existence to resemble one another in any respect.