Curated Festivals and the Changing Face of Summer Entertainment

While most Texans are spending their Friday counting down to ACL or speculating about the Fun Fun Fun Fest line up, I find myself thinking about a festival north of our fair state. We're halfway through June and that means that the 2012 Gathering of the Juggalos infomercial should be dropping any day now, giving delight to juggalos across the country and over 20 minutes of new Insane Clown Posse produced content for snarky bloggers to mock.

There's a lot to like about the infomercial, be it the cameo appearances by various fallen pop stars and wrestlers to finding out which acts are crazy/need a check bad enough to show up and perform. While it's a boon to both ICP fans and haters that's essentially all it is: a gift.

ICP doesn't have to make a big production out of the lineup reveal, but they do it to give the fans something nice. It doesn't matter who's going to perform: juggalos will show up just because it's something their heroes are putting on. That they book like-minded acts and people who it would be fun to throw bottles at is a bonus.

It's easy to give ICP grief but when you start to look at some of the other festivals popping up this year you can't help but think that maybe, just maybe, they've actually been ahead of the curve this entire time.

The first Gathering of the Juggalos took place in 2000. Consider that for a moment: It makes the festival older than both ACL and Bonnaroo and only one year younger than Coachella.

Now consider the summer festival climate back then. Without the mega festivals that we have today, your average concert goer's summer revolved around touring festivals like the Warped Tour and Ozzfest in addition to any radio station megashows that might take place.

Simply put: People didn't travel to festivals -- they waited for the festivals to come to them.

Ozzfest in particular was starting a run of years with incredibly stacked lineups for the world of heavy metal. They regularly had Ozzy or Black Sabbath headlining with acts such as Pantera, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down, Korn, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Yet for all its success in the early '00s, the tour no longer exists and the Warped Tour is a shell of its former self.

There are plenty of reasons to explain their decline in popularity. Two that stand out the most are declining ticket sales and high gas prices contributing to inflated transportation costs. It doesn't matter how much corporate sponsorship you have: If you can't put asses in the seats or keep the show going from venue to venue, you aren't going to make any money.

It didn't help that by the latter half of the decade bands were starting to realize they could make more money by organizing their own summer touring packages. Why be a cog in someone else's money making machine when you can be out doing your own thing with your own corporate sponsors?

While the touring festivals were seeing their popularity start to wane the multi-day, one location mega festivals were seeing there's start to rise. Coachella went from being 25,000 people hanging out to watch Beck and Rage Against The Machine in 1999 to having two weekends of sold out shows just two months ago. ACL managed to sell out in less than a day. Bonnaroo brought 80,000 people to one of the least cool states in the country.

Then there's Lollapalooza, which ceased to exist as a yearly touring show in 1997, was somewhat revived in 2003, and then reborn as a one-location festival in 2005. They too managed to completely sell out their allotment of tickets.

The success of these festivals has led to other promoters booking mega fests of their own and no matter where you're located in the country you probably aren't too far from one. From Firefly Music Fest in Delaware to the Outside Lands Music and Arts Fest in San Francisco, if you want to spend a summer weekend outside with thousands of complete strangers you can.

It should not come as a shock then that bands are looking to get in on the action themselves. Consider:

  • Metallica is setting up shop in Atlantic City for the Orion Music + More Festival, a two day festival they've curated that includes Modest Mouse, Best Coast, Titus Andronicus, and The Sword.
  • Jay-Z partnered with Budweiser to curate the Made In America festival in Philadelphia, with a handpicked lineup includes Pearl Jam, Skrillex, Rick Ross, and Odd Future.
  • Slipknot has their rather uncreatively named Knotfest taking place in August with one show in Iowa and one show in Minnesota, featuring performances by Deftones, Lamb Of God, and Dethklok.

Will any of these festivals become a yearly tradition? It's hard to say, but it's not hard to imagine other bands taking their lead and running their own festivals in years where they want to make some extra money without committing to a full blown tour. With the right fan base and the right location it seems like a pretty easy way for a band to generate income while in the middle of working on their next album.

This leads us back to the Insane Clown Posse. For 12 years now, they've been putting on a show that brings in fans from across the country for a weekend of music, wrestling and recreational drug use.

Many come in groups, and the band have started selling group packages of tickets to help them save a bit of money. It might not make a lot of sense to nonfans of the group, but for the hardcore juggalo it's basically the most important weekend of the year.

It's hard to look at their face-painted summer camp gone crazy and think, "Wow, those guys were really forward thinking," and maybe you won't. Maybe it's easier to just look at it as a fluke by a pair of guys who don't understand magnets and shouldn't have this level of success.

Whether you fall on the side of seeing them as great marketers, accidental millionaires, scientifically inept, or just a pair of guys who want to give back to their fans, there's one thing we can all agree on: The infomercial is going to be hilarious, one way or another.

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