I'd love to say it's begun, but it's been happening for a while now, festivals are dying on the vine. In this month alone, there are something like 37 festivals occurring here in the United States. What's that mean? It means that the once hallowed grounds of the music festival world are cluttered with a ton of the same ol' same ol'. Aside from the fact that there are way too many festivals, the lineups aren't grabbing the attention they once did ten years ago, and many of the lineups don't have much heart or soul, meaning we could start seeing more and more festivals go the way of the buffalo. With FYF Fest coming to an end this year, it just proves that without getting everything right, festivals will start to disappear sooner than later.
To be fair, it's not the fault of anyone who was scheduled to appear at FYF this year, but the overall lineup wasn't anything to get overly excited about either. The L.A. based festival was coming off of a successful 2017, and heading into their fourteenth year as a festival. While the festival is no longer independently run, it was being produced by Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of AEG. While the actions of the festival's founder Sean Carlson and the political leanings and donations made by AEG's owner Philip Anschutz could have had something to do with the decline, it more than likely had to do with a yawn at the festival's lineup and experience. Goldenvoice is no slouch to music festivals, producing nine others including Coachella and Panorama, and is a solid name in festival lineups and surprises.
So, what happened here? Well, here's where we're at as far as music festivals go, no one cares anymore. Think of it, if you will, at how things are advertised to you. Here's how advertising typically works. Advertisers know that they need you to see something 30 times to acknowledge it, 60 times to remember it, and 90 times to engage with it. In all honesty, I forgot FYF Fest was even a thing when the announcement came that they were cancelling the festival this year. This is mainly because, no one I knew asked, "hey, have you seen the lineup for FYF this year?" Which to me, translates to no one really caring. If a festival lineup is sick, I hear about it from multiple people either on social feeds or through word of mouth, neither of which occurred with this festival.
The festival world is cluttered with fests that have the same or similar lineup as another a city or a state over, and this has been a thing since the big production and promotion companies started buying up festivals a decade ago. A good example of this is C3, the group now owned by Live Nation, who produces Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Festival. For years when people asked me who was going to be on ACL, I'd always point them at the Lollapalooza lineup. While this year both have different headlining acts, Lollapalooza with The Weeknd and Bruno Mars, and ACL with Paul McCartney and Metallica; the rest of the lineups are virtually interchangeable. Are there some differences in the two lineups? Of course, but are they almost identical as well? You bet. This is because of multiple reasons which we'll do our best to explain.
The first reason is the 360 deal. You may or may not have heard of these, they're basically agreements where the promoters make the merchandise, book all of the shows, and take care of production, promotion, and ticket sales. All the artist has to do is show up, perform, and grab their flat rate check. No dealing with how many shirts were sold, how many VIP attendees made it, or how many tickets were sold, because the promoters take care of all of that.
The second reason, is outright tour ownership. A lot of bands sign one year deals with either Live Nation or with AEG, and in fact, many do one year with one and the following year with the other. This means that a band will play a city or market, under the terms of their agreement like a normal tour date for that promoter, but the date will be at a festival. If that promoter owns several festivals, which both Live Nation and AEG own many, then their date in your city might be at said festival. This means that festivals have just become stops on a tour, and there's nothing wrong with that. Except, when it's the same names on all of the festivals, where's the individuality between the festivals, and why go to one in California, when you can see the same lineup closer to home?
There are however plenty of independent festivals still churning out stellar lineups, and in all honesty those might be the ones that stick around longer, because they're booking as fans first. Being a fan first and foremost means that you're going to book who you'd like to see, not who will move ten thousand tickets. The best example of a well run independent festival is Riot Fest. Each year they've gotten one act to basically blow our minds and come out of retirement to perform. Last year it was Jawbreaker, and the year before it was The Misfits, but this festival has always done different experiences that set them apart from what the bigger companies do, no matter who was performing.
Another well run independent festival, is the Pitchfork Music Festival. Operated by the same people as the magazine, this fest has always had a nice mix of underground or unknown acts alongside some of the better medium to larger names in music today. Last year the festival hosted Priests and Angel Olsen as well as some larger names. This year is no different with acts like Tame Impala, The War on Drugs, and Chaka Khan alongside acts like Girlpool, Japanese Breakfast, and Julien Baker.
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As far as a unique experience, you won't find a festival better than Houston's Day For Night. Going into year four in 2018, the festival has hosted acts like Aphex Twin, Thom Yorke, Justice, The Jesus Lizard, Run The Jewels, as well as locals like B L A C K I E, LIMB, Hearts of Animals and many more. Of course, for this festival, having Dillon Francis, Battles, or New Order is cool, but the art is the real show stopper. With art from world renowned artists that display visual eye candy, the festival is seriously like no other on earth. As far as experience goes, there's nothing else in the same parking lot as this festival happening today.
The same could be said about smaller independent festivals like Marfa Myths. Thrown by NYC label Mexican Summer, the festival hosted the likes of Wire, Tom Ze, Ryley Walker, Suzanne Ciani, Jem Cohen, and many many more. The festival was held in the tiny West Texas town of Marfa, and had art exhibitions with Texas acts and hard to come by performances from artists that don't tour through here of even who don't tour much at all.
So, where does this leave us? Does it mean that festivals will either have to start booking with heart or stop occurring? Essentially, yes that's exactly what this means. When it comes to a music festival, let's not kid ourselves, the whole thing can be a giant pain. Parking, what you can and cannot bring, the prices of food and drinks, and of course the festival grounds navigation are all kind of exhausting. So in the end, it's essentially more about the experience and a lineup that's based off of love, not based off of numbers.
While Metallica and Paul McCartney are two acts that should make people excited, look great on a balance sheet, they might not be what people actually want. In the future, if festivals don't start booking acts that can bring it as well as names that are that nice little addition, as well as experiences that make the attendees feel special; then we'll start seeing more and more of these music festivals drop off sooner than later.