Friday, January 5, 2018

Festival Lineups | Lefsetz Letter

Are they headliner dependent? And is every American festival turning into Glastonbury, an institution where the flavor of the moment appears? Then again, Glastonbury is famous for comebacks.

Coachella started as a genre festival. Lollapalooza too, at least in its traveling incarnation. Bonnaroo was a jam band gathering. Now they all have the same headliners, there’s no reason to travel far, you can see the hitmakers in your own backyard, or do you want to?

I’m not sure, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it since Governors Ball announced its three headliners would be Eminem, Jack White and Travis Scott. Em’s a legend, it’s his turn. But Jack White is a press darling who appeals to an older generation and Travis Scott appeals to youngsters and…is it the same audience that wants to see all three and does anybody NEED to see all three?

Used to be that’s why you went, you NEEDED to be there, at a happening.

Now it’s just another show. Albeit with better food and worse bathrooms.

In the music business we always believe we’re going forward, that no rearward steps will be taken. That the act will continue to have hits, that the shows will continue to sell, and then we’re stunned when nobody shows up after the album flops.

Nobody showed up at Bonnaroo in 2016, so Live Nation, its new owner, bought insurance, loaded the bill with heavyweights, i.e. U2. But could it be that camping in Tennessee in the middle of summer ain’t such a great experience? Used to be a badge of honor to go, not so much anymore.

Coachella is a rite of passage for Southern California teenagers. There aren’t enough hipsters to fill the polo field. But they love to dress scantily and dance. EDM lives forever in SoCal, like Oingo Boingo and Depeche Mode. Do you give the people what they need or what they want? Are you curating a cultural event with meaning or just selling tickets?

The canard has been that these festivals have meaning, but that now appears to be untrue.

But Coachella is equivalent to spring break, it will never die.

Nor will Lollapalooza in Chicago, it’s too good a location. Kinda like JazzFest. The music is just one element of an overall vacation.

And you can throw in Outside Lands and Austin City Limits but after that, how many of these festivals are cool and needed? Sure, you want an east coast location, but you also have to deal with the weather.

But, once again, that’s about selling tickets. A promoter will service everybody who comes.

But last year people decided not to come and some festivals were canceled.

So suddenly the festival world wakes up and realizes we’re living in an era of hip-hop, but does it dominate financially the way it does on Spotify? And what’s the live experience like? The truth is indie hip-hop festivals are burgeoning. And who wants to go see the same old tired rock acts. But do we just switch headliners and everything goes along swimmingly?

We’re at an inflection point. And it’s not only the changing of the guard at festivals, but the music itself. Hip-hop triumphed by embracing the internet. But new sounds will follow its pathway. Not the old sounds, but new twists. And if these festivals are so hip, why don’t they mix it up with country acts, who rap too? Why not give the audience everything?

But the truth is all the major festivals are rearguard events celebrating the past. Once upon a time they tried to usher in the future, when their proprietors were young and thought they knew better, now they’re inured to their lifestyle and the bottom line reigns.

So maybe it’s the same as it ever was, hell David Byrne is gonna play Coachella, to very few I’m sure. Maybe the festival is bigger than the acts on the bill. Maybe in this era of experiences everybody’s got to leave the house.

But the idea of a cutting edge enterprise where you go to experience what you should know?

That’s dead and gone.

The festival is no different from Google, Facebook or Snapchat.

You’re the star.


No comments: