Is the New York City Music Festival Dead?
  • TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2012

  • Posted by: Andrew Gruttadaro

Coldplay's "The Escapist" had barely ended before festival-goers began anticipating the next year of the All Points West Music & Arts Festival. But there never was a next year. A 2010 lineup never materialized. Amidst reports of booking troubles and execution criticisms, All Points West folded and hasn't been back to Liberty State Park in New Jersey since.

Fast-forward two years. Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza have never been more successful, the celebrity-stamped Coachella is "officially" the coolest trip to make, and New York City -- the most important city to the ever-burgeoning indie movement -- still does not have a major music festival. The biggest festival in New York City this summer is GoogaMooga, a festival focused on food, not music. The sides of MTA buses sadly promote Firefly -- a festival held in Delaware. And adding even more salt to an open wound, in late May Brooklyn-born rapper Jay-Z announced the lineup for his inaugural festival Made in America. The venue? Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You know something's wrong when the guy who wrote "Empire State of Mind" won't even have his festival in New York.

The hard truth may just be that it is too hard to successfully put on a large-scale music festival in the New York City area. The first issue to tackle in a city of squished-together buildings across all five boroughs, is where do you hold a festival? Bonnaroo is held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee. To put that into context, Central Park -- the whole thing -- is 843 acres. APW's coordinators AEG Live/Goldenvoice (the group also behind Coachella) seemed to find a worthy venue in the expansive and also breathtaking Liberty State Park. But Liberty State Park is in Jersey City, which leads to a second issue -- transportation and handling a large flux of people.

In 2008, the first year of All Points West, there was mass outrage over the extremely crowded ferries and ferry lines, as well as their exorbitant costs. The official ferry prices were cut by five dollars in 2009, hardly solving the problem. It also didn't help that AEG Live neglected to note that there were alternate, cheaper, more traditional ways of getting to the venue, like city-run ferries and PATH. Throw in New Jersey's suffocating alcohol laws, which limited customers to only five beers a day, and Liberty State Park quickly loses its allure as a problem-solver.

Finally, the fact that New York City is the biggest hub for music and entertainment might actually work against it in terms of hosting a festival. Instead of performers and booking agents being drawn to the buzz of New York City, they're keen to the thinking of the city's concert-goers, which is something to the effect of, "I know that I can see these bands by themselves for much cheaper, so why am I going to pay four to five times as much to see them in Jersey City or on Governor's Island?" For people who live in or around Tennessee, Bonnaroo is their only chance to see Radiohead. The same doesn't hold true for New York residents, and that scares the management behind headlining artists (who are the life vein of large-scale festivals).

What we New Yorkers need to do is just accept that a festival the size of Lollapalooza might be out of our reach. It's probably impossible. And after the failures of APW, Bonnaroo N.E., and Across the Narrows, event coordinators are most likely forever turned off by New York City. So instead of ruing the demise of All Points West and the death of the large-scale festival, we should be thankful for our smaller scale ones: Governor's Ball and the newly-established Catalpa. While they're smaller, one day shorter and their headliners of Beck, Passion Pit, The Black Keys, and Snoop Dogg don't really match up with the Jay-Zs and the Radioheads of the world, they're still a decent chance for New Yorkers to get a taste of music festival-ness without having to go very far. And let's take solace in the fact that nearly every band that plays at Coachella or Bonnaroo will eventually roll through New York City and play at a place that's measured in square-feet instead of acres.

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