Music Festivals: Does it Matter Who's Playing?
As big headliners and novelty acts start to work the festival circuit full-tim, do festival line-ups even matter anymore?This article originally appeared on The Economist
SEARCH for #Coachella2016 on Instagram and the hashtag pulls up 276,766 pictures, few of which have anything to do with music.
Launched in 1999 as a European-style festival, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival has produced some incredible must-see moments: in 2005, Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy suspended himself upside-down like a bat to sing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. In 2012, Tupac Shakur, a rapper who died in 1996, appeared on stage in CGI form. Historically, Coachella has booked critically-lauded artists rather than chart-toppers, but this is not what it is remarkable for. An influx of beautiful people baring skin has made the desert festival synonymous with fashionable visions of bohemia.
This young generation, which can access music whenever and wherever they choose, is pursuing experiences over products. Before its line-up was even announced, all four days of the 25th anniversary edition of Lollapalooza 2016 were sold out—roughly 400,000 tickets. Perhaps festival-goers were confident that Lollapalooza would organize a musical extravaganza in this anniversary year. More likely they probably felt that, whoever played, the festival would provide an opportunity to capture moments and share them with their friends and followers. Music festivals have become our new promenade: a public showcase of our tastes, lifestyles and bodies. Music performance, in this context, is secondary.
After flourishing in the 1960s and 70s, American music festivals thinned out in the 1980s, before exploding once more in the 2000s. Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Osheaga, Neon Desert and others are all part of this North American boom. Nielsen estimates that the American festival market draws 32m fans a year from around the world. The market may be saturated—around 23 major festivals, such as Counterpoint in Atlanta, were cancelled this year—but the big names continue to draw crowds.
Big festivals have been quick to embrace change by booking breakout groups and cult act reunions: Lollapalooza or Coachella could be time capsules for music trends in any given year.