As more and more festivals announce their line-ups, I find myself wondering what is going on with the festival circuit. To be frank, I’m a little bit worried. As a disclaimer, I don’t go to as many festivals as Wes and Todd do, but I do monitor the trends on what is going on with the line-ups and I have a bone to pick with all of them individually, and more importantly collectively.
I’ll start with the headliners, which I believe shows a lot about where the festival runner’s heads are at. Three words: Mumford & Sons. Not one, but two major festivals (Sasquatch and Bonnaroo) decided Mumford is deserving of one of the coveted headlining spots. They are certainly a crowd-pleaser, but do these festivals really need to give 2+ hours to a band with two middling (at best) albums, which both contain songs structured in a very similar way. Yeah, Mumford cracked the code on songs that “build and release”, but their body of work does not hold up to their current popularity.
Mumford is not the only poor headlining decision though. I absolutely love Tom Petty, and he was great when I saw him at Bonnaroo in 2005. But, I have seen him for $10 at an amphitheater twice since then. Its not a hard ticket to get, because he tours all the time, and I would have understood it more if he was the 4th most interesting headliner at Bonnaroo this year, but this choice is just not exciting. Along the same lines, Red Hot Chili Peppers (Coachella) also tour constantly, and are certainly crowd-pleasers, but how about some more big acts that have done something relevant in the past ten years.
Among the other confusing headliners are Phoenix (like them, but headliner?) and The Postal Service (can’t see that sound translating to thousands of people outdoors). Headliners should be an event, and several types of acts fall into “event” territory. 1.) Acts that are epically classic, even if they haven’t done much relevant for awhile (see Paul McCartney at Bonnaroo this year). 2.) Acts that are at the top of their game creatively and have enough of a body of work to play for 2+ hours (see Jack White at Lollapalooza last year). 3.) Acts that haven’t played a festival yet or rarely tour the United States (see The Stone Roses at Coachella this year).
There are just so many acts that if you threw enough money at them would be likely to accept a headlining gig at any one of the major festivals. Here are some suggestions. 1.)Prince!!! 2.) Reunite what’s left of N.W.A. and add Snoop and Eminem to fill in the blanks. Have Cube, Dre, Snoop, and Em all perform some solo stuff along the way. Even without Eminem, this would be epic. 3.) The Throne. Or just Jay-Z solo. Or just Kanye solo. Yeah, I know they’ve done festivals, but are at the top of their game, have ample material, and kick ass live. 4.) Jack White. If you haven’t made a call to Jack White, then you have failed. 5.) Elton John. Why hasn’t he done a festival yet? These are just a few examples, and we could come up with many, many more that would satisfy a mainstream audience and be certain to put on a great show.
My next issue has to do with all the overlap of artists. I understand there is to be some overlap, but it is almost hard to differentiate between the the line-ups due to overlapping artists, and an overall lack of identity of the individual festivals. Festivals used to seem to have more of a culture about them, which started with the style of artists brought to the festivals. Sure there were always a couple oddballs, but thematically festivals used to have a common thread. Now they are just all going after who is the hottest, who will sell the most tickets, and who will be touring that summer. I’d like to see a little more effort in piecing together these line-ups than grabbing a bunch of names out of the “Who is now” hat.
All these issues aside, I’m sure I would have a blast at any one of these festivals, and some of them do bring something interesting to the table. An artist here (Dwight Yoakam at Bonnaroo!), some solid comedy slates there (Sasquatch is stacked). But overall, these festivals are all melding into one big conglomerate.
A few more things. Lollapalooza hasn’t released its line-up yet, but if it looks much like the rumored line-up below (minus Mumford), it is off to a pretty great start.
Finally, The Pitchfork Music Festival doesn’t bring the biggest name, but it does have a built in identity that is refreshing. There is not a common “theme” of music per se, but they do just bring in a bunch of music they overall reviewed positively. So, if you agree with Pitchfork’s music taste, then you will probably be really into their festival. The one oddball this year is R. Kelly, who I’m pretty sure is only a headliner because Aziz Ansari made him cool for hipsters everywhere. Yes, I really think R. Kelly’s inclusion directly relates to Tommy Haverford’s stand-up.