Of the Golden Ages I’ve personally experienced, the one I miss the most, the one that I long for even though I know there will never be anything like it again, is the Golden Age of Touring Festivals. Peaking in the late ‘90s, those were the days when there were multiple touring summer festivals, each bringing a dozen or more bands to cities from coast to coast, for full days of music from bands young and old, rich and hungry.
Some of the happiest memories of my life, some as small as the taste of a particular drink on a hot day and as large as meeting some of my favorite bands, were made on summer days where Texas was too hot but I was too young to care. Ozzfest, Lilith Fair, Lollapalooza, Warped Tour—I might not have made it out to every one of these festivals, but just seeing the lineups be announced was enchanting in a way.
But the touring festival model is so dead that it doesn’t even warrant a Wikipedia page. Most festivals closed up long ago, and even the last tour standing, the Warped Tour, is calling it quits as a nationwide presence after this summer. This Sunday gives Warped Fans—many of whom weren’t even born when the festival first hit the road—one last chance to enjoy everything Warped, and touring festivals in general, have to offer:
Yes, the bands listed at the top of the bill are responsible for getting people in the door, but for those dedicated to spending all day in the heat to make the most of the show, those early day performances were a chance to fall in love with names you weren’t familiar with. And this was good for smaller bands trying to make a foothold in markets they were visiting for the first time.
Touring festivals were a great value.
Getting to see 10-20 bands for one ticket was a killer value. According to some historical data I found online, Ozzfest 1999 would have cost you around $50 to see Black Sabbath, Rob Zombie, Deftones, and Slayer, and that was just the main stage. Warped Tour prices were often cheaper and for more bands.
Touring festivals gave you something to look forward to.
There’s a reason the line “I couldn’t wait for the summer and the Warped Tour” made it into a Blink-182 single. For teens who didn’t get to go to shows on weeknights, or lived in places that didn’t get a lot of touring shows, or just didn’t have a ton of disposable income, these festivals coming to town were events. The end of the school year didn’t just mean sleeping in and summer jobs, it meant that it was almost festival time.
Of course, in the long run, it was a touring model that couldn’t sustain itself, especially as metal bands, in particular, discovered there was more money to be made doing their own headlining tours; look no further than the number of hard rock and metal shows up in The Woodlands this summer. Why play at 2 p.m. in the heat when you can play at 7 p.m. while the sun sets? Why play 30-minute sets on stages with little to no production when you can look like a superstar for an hour? Who wants to lug a stage around when there are plenty of venues with open dates and permanent stages?
Sure, the touring festival model wasn’t perfect. There was always the risk of sunburn and heatstroke. A stray thunderstorm could cancel an entire event. You couldn’t always see everyone you wanted to see on tours structured like Warped or you’d have to sit through terrible bands like Crazy Town at Ozzfest. But in the end, I never left a festival upset about going, even the times I felt near death from soaking up too much sun. If you missed it, I’m sorry. You would have loved it.