WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15, 2014|
Posted by: Matt Howard
Last week Coachella announced its official 2014 lineup and like dominoes, additional spring and summer festivals followed suit. In previous years, we would count down the days for these announcements, waiting on the edge of our swirly chairs for that first press release or tweet to appear. Once the news was out, we would weigh our options like a professional sports draft based on the full body of each showcase, but our sharpest attention would always be paid to the headliners. This year, however, that childlike anticipation seems to have evaporated.
The alluring romantic quality of a destination festival seems to have weakened over the past few years as more and more lineups are annually added to the calendars. Every corner of the country seems to be pitching their own circus tents and sending out mass invites to the world. Sure, certain festivals have healthy assemblages of faithful followers who will continue to hoard vacation days every year to travel back and revisit their musical alma maters. But what about the newbz? Why would a first-time festivalgoer pay thousands of dollars to venture across the country when they can inexpensively dip their toe in the figurative water an hour down the interstate? One might argue about the impact of competing and taste opposing lineups, but what this year's announcements have shown us is that planners are focusing far too much attention on pleasing every ear.
In the past, festivalgoers were baited by rumor-fueled surprise headliners and reunions of relics who still possess massive cult followings. The latter of these two lures became a semi-annual celebration at Coachella with bands like Rage Against the Machine, Pavement, and more joining together on the massive stage for once-in-a-lifetime performances. This year, too, it was announced that a reunion would ensue; one that had music fans all over the world foaming at the mouth. Back in November it was revealed that OutKast would reunite to celebrate their 20th anniversary in the Coachella desert. But what wasn't publicized that early was the rap duo's ultimate plan of performing at 40 festivals. So what we now face is the automatic assumption that one of every three festival headlining spots will be occupied by OutKast, which reduces this mysterious excitement by a third. Think of it this way: If you lived near Delaware, would you travel to the California State Fair to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl when the same short thrill could be experienced in your own backyard?
It's difficult to predict the outcome of this regional festival wildfire. When I was in college I knew people who would cash in their meal plans first thing second semester to fund their adventures to the marquee music festivals. It's challenging to imagine the same sort of thing happening today. Sure, you might miss the desert mysticism of a Coachella or the agrarian community of a Bonnaroo, but most rationally thinking music lovers would settle for the lineup nearest by to save themselves from potential starvation.
Marquee festivals are going to have to find some way to retain their iconic allure and stay ahead of the regional festival curve in order to acquire attendees in up-and-coming generations of music listeners. Unfortunately at this point the solution won't be discovered in the lineups, as they've already shown signs of significant desperation. Remember when Coachella resurrected Tupac? And Bonnaroo, Paul McCartney?