A lot of people I know lose it over summer music festivals. Whether it’s Coachella, Lollapalooza, Oozlelolooza, or whatever the latest trendy festival is, there’s a ton of excitement surrounding the big, summer festivals. For some artists and bands, their appearance in a music festival is virtually all they talk and Tweet about for months in advance. It’s almost as obnoxious as the dozens of Facebook photo albums friends post after their weekend in a steaming parking lot with 20,000 strangers just to catch a lazy, 45-minute set after 15 openers. Festivals may be the big thing to do in July and August, but count me out.
Last summer, I went to New York City’s Governors Ball with a friend. It was definitely a fun day, but I don’t think I’ll ever go to a festival again after that. The few sets we managed to see were too short, too quiet, and unimpressive.
While Portugal. The Man, Bloc Party, and Beirut have exciting recorded music, their sets were nothing special and the bands seemed like they didn’t care about the crowd. The Lumineers’ set was even worse and, to this day, it ranks as the worst, most boring musical performance I’ve ever seen.
I can’t really blame the bands. The crowds didn’t deserve much love. Most people were absolutely hammered and spent their time talking loudly with their friends, not helping the terrible acoustic.
But these complaints about my day at Governors Ball are only secondary to what I see as the main problem with summer music festivals: they create the wrong kind of expectations and interactions between artists and the people who go to their shows.
To start with, festivals ruin an opening act’s opportunity to have a captive, interested audience that may go on to support their music one day. For fans who go to non-festival shows, the openers are an exciting way to get pumped up for the main act. Showgoers who have never heard an opener’s music before might really like what they hear. I never would have checked out some of my favorite bands if I hadn’t heard them open for another artist.
At a music festival, multiple stages and plenty of room to lounge around away from performers mean that no one is ever forced to listen to a set they didn’t plan on seeing. The only people to stick around near the stage are either hardcore fans or, more likely, someone who wants to hold a spot for a later act. The openers never get a good chance to impress an attentive ear, so they play like garbage.
Another big problem with festivals is the way they stop bands from doing their own summer touring. This is especially true of the travelling music festivals, which go around the country for an entire summer, making a stop every couple of days. Rather than putting together a tour of their own or joining a bigger band, bands on summer festivals just jump on the bandwagon. They figure the festival will attract more people who might like their music and earn them more money than a regular tour ever could.
This frustrates me, especially since missing a touring festival with a lot of your favorite bands means not being able to see any of those bands that summer, which brings me to Warped Tour. Warped Tour breaks my heart. Every year, a handful of bands I like join the roaming trash heap that is Warped Tour and, since I don’t go to Warped, I don’t have a chance to see any of them.
“Why not just go to Warped Tour and see them there?” you might ask. Well, Warped Tour is particularly annoying because of how many crappy Hot Topic “hardcore” bands there are, along with their obnoxious, 13 year-old fans. For every Citizen and The Wonder Years at Warped, there are four Sleeping With Sirens and Falling in Reverses. I’d much rather spend my summer supporting Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s great music venues every other weekend than melt in the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum during the Long Island stop of Warped Tour.
I understand why summer festivals have such success and broad appeal. They give people a way to see a ton of artists, buy cool merchandise, and go outside and get wasted in the afternoon all in one day. But it means these bands are taking the easy way out, and, in doing so, draining away all the personality that comes from a three-band touring lineup and replacing them with the corporate sponsorship and mass appeal of a giant festival.
In short, festivals appeal to casual showgoers. They’re the hors d’oeuvres of the music world. But me, I like to save it all for the entrée