Music Festival 411
- By Brandon Chiat
- Published on February 10, 2012
|Summer Camp 2011 - Photo Credit: Mike Cavanagh|
It’s that time of year again. It’s a music fan’s Christmas morning over and over again – festival announcement season. Halloween and New Year’s Eve runs are now fading memories, and with the exception of a few spring tours, everyone is focusing their attention on warm weather and tasty tunes.
Festivals as we know them have grown impressively over the last decade, burgeoning to include different niche demographics and experiences. As the music industry shifts from selling music to producing shows, the festival circuit has taken on an increasingly important role.
[FIND complete lineups, ticketing information and analysis in our 2012 Festival Guide.]
Like all competitive industries, these events have been forced to focus their appeal, and as such, we have seen the emergence of several distinct festival experiences:
The Destination Festival
|Mayan Holidaze 2012 - Photo Credit: Kyle Buckland|
Let’s face it, the bands on the bill tour regularly and you could just as easily catch them when they come through your town. Strolling down the canals of Amsterdam’s Red Light District or digging your toes into the white sandy beaches of the Mexican Riviera is the real appeal – seeing some of your favorite bands tear it up while you’re on vacation is just the icing on the cake.
Pros: “Once-in-a-life-time” experience; the opportunity for intimate, genuine interaction with your favorite artists in a relaxed atmosphere
Cons: By far the most expensive events on the festival circuit; usually involves a passport, three flights, a pack-mule and a Sherpa to get to
The Jam-Centric Festival
Steadfast in their tradition, jam-centric festivals like Gathering of the Vibes and All Good only book bands from the scene, thus preserving the memories of counterculture era festivals like Woodstock and Monterrey Pop.
|Wakarusa 2011 - Photo Credit: Jessie Popper|
Jam-centric festivals also serve as giant reunions for heady fans nationwide. Is that the gorgeous dreaded flower child you spent three unforgettable weeks on Phish tour with? Yes, in fact it is – uh, what was her name again?
Pros: The best of the best from the jam scene; every band is incredibly talented musically; a collection of likeminded people all there for the love of the music; positive vibes and a sense of community; you can tell your kids about Bonnaroo when they start making period movies about it
Cons: Jaded vets talking about the glory days while trying to charge you $5.00 for a garlic grilled cheese; some rookie willing to pay $10.00 to that jaded vet for said cheesy delicacy.
The Media-Hyped Mega-Event
Whether it started off as a jam-centric festival that exploded in popularity, like Bonnaroo, or always exuded that ultra hip, trendsetting vibe, like Coachella, these mega-events are always the most talked about parties of the summer.
|Bonnaroo 2011 - Photo Credit: Julia Rickert|
Hate ‘em or love ‘em, these giants of the festival circuit set the standard for the summer concert experience and are here to stay. Backed by corporate sponsors, these events offer auxiliary experiences, like a Garneir Fructis salon in the middle of Bonnaroo – because, you know, everyone should have perfectly coifed hair in the middle of the Tennessee heat.
Still, these festivals attract the attention of almost every entertainment industry professional and offer you the best chance to discover new music outside of your comfort zone.
Pros: Hundreds of new bands and musical acts to discover; the phenomenon of being one in 100,000 plus people in a field; unforgettable performances by legendary headliners getting eclipsed by that up-and-coming band you and a handful of people catch
Cons: Long lines and massive crowds; a departure from the heady community vibe; a very expensive festival experience; feels like you’re in a commercial for music festivals
The Weekend-Long Rave
Is electronic music a fad for Americans? Maybe so, maybe not – but that hasn’t stopped events like Electric Zoo, Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Music Festival from becoming the wildest events of the year.
|Ultra 2011 - Photo Credit: Julia Rickert|
Pros: Debauchery laden parties that are the stuff of legends; beautiful people who know only one speed: rage; stacked lineups with undercards featuring the inevitable stars of tomorrow’s electro
Cons: Look out for 16-year olds in bikinis – just because she says she’s 18-doesn’t mean you won’t go to jail; get ready to drop upwards of $400.00 on the whole experience – there’s no camping so a hotel is all but required
The “Concert Series”
Similar to the mega-event, but smaller in size, these festivals pride themselves on being eclectic. Sampling from every genre, these non-partisan events like The Hangout and Austin City Limits, offer a little something for everyone.
This is both admirable, assembling talented bands from a lot of different genres, and regrettable, because you don't necessarily get one unified crowd.
Rather than being a cohesive festival, these events play out like a series of individual concerts – great for discovering new music, or getting to see bands that don’t tour in your area; not so great if you’re looking for that unexplainable festival experience.
Pros: The opportunity to discover new music while also seeing some of the best headlining acts around; a little bit of everything means it’s easier to convince all the members of your crew; great for fans who like a little of everything
Cons: The lack of crowd cohesion can make for a lacking overall festival experience; lots of new fans running around could be a bit of a nuisance
The Vanity Festival
From Wilco to Pearl Jam and Yonder Mountain String Band to Umphrey’s McGee, band hosted vanity festivals have become all the rage as of late. Phish, the jam band emeritus was among the first to harness the power of their passionate fan base and leverage it into a weekend-long party This arguably paved the way for Bonnaroo, and consequently, the modern festival scene as we know it.
|Camp Bisco X - Photo Credit: Holly O'Connor|
In addition to Phish, a diverse but small group of acts have been organizing their own annual celebrations for their hardcore fans since the 1990s, including The Disco Biscuits, moe. and a very bizarre gathering staged by The Insane Clown Posse.
The trend obviously isn’t limited to the jam scene – let’s not forget that Lollapalooza, started as a Jane's Addiction farewell event.
In a music industry that has transitioned from album sales to live show production as the principle revenue driver, bands are willing to take the financial risk of underwriting an event, and put themselves in position to reap greater rewards at the gate and merch tables. Luckily for us, they assemble their favorite fellow acts resulting in never-before-seen collaborations and some of the most cohesive lineups on the circuit.
Pros: Unbelievable jam-collaborations; cohesive line-ups; strong-sense of community; meeting up with all your favorite fans from all over the country
Cons: The lineup changes very little from year-to-year; unless you’re a hardcore vet, you can feel a bit alienated and intimidated
The Regional Festival
Flying just under the national radar, these events are arguably the most important contributors to the growth of the jam scene. Events like Camp Barefoot specifically cater to promoting young, up-and-coming regional talent.
|Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at Camp Barefoot 5 - Photo Credit: Jordan August|
Booking them alongside established headlining acts allows these young musicians to network with industry professionals, reach new fans and ultimately grow their markets.
For the fans, it’s an intimate, relatively low-cost alternative to the other festival events.
Pros: strong sense of community; direct influence to the growth of bands and the scene at large; cost-effective alternative to the larger events.
Cons: production value is somewhat lacking; limited marquee headliners; usually scheduled late in the summer when money and energy is running low
Find complete lineups, ticketing information and analysis in our 2012 Festival Guide.