Woodstock announced the lineup for its 50th anniversary three-day celebration. Artists including Jay-Z and Halsey are among the headliners.
Brian McCollum, USA TODAY
“Music festival season?”
For fans in 2019, what was once a summer run of several marquee music events has, over the past decade expanded into a full-year push, from festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo unveiling their lineups in January, through the glut of summer music festivals and into music events that have sprung up in warmer climates in the fall and winter. Now, it’s possible for concertgoers to somehow engage every month of the year with what were once branded “summer” music festivals.
Last week saw the rollouts of the Lollapalooza and Woodstock 50 lineups, and despite their drastically different locations, the tops of their lineups didn’t look much different from Coachella, Governors Ball, Boston Calling, Bonnaroo and the rest of America’s biggest festivals.
The best advice for fans clamoring to get tickets? Save your money, considering music festivals have turned into a homogenized gimmick for big businesses that barely allow concertgoers the serendipity of discovering new acts.
Festival culture is here to stay, with Nielsen Music estimating that 23 percent of the U.S. population attended a music festival in 2018, up from 18 percent in 2017, the biggest year-over-year growth of any kind of live music event.
But, save for the music fest superfans, or VIP attendees looking to splurge on a special weekend whatever the cost, America’s biggest music festivals have only become less attractive for the average fan to attend, from the often-prohibitive costs to the homogenization of many fests’ lineups.
A majority of the country’s biggest fests cost nearly $100 per day for passes alone. Factor in travel – flights, hotels, shuttles, parking and camping passes and other transportation and lodging costs – as well as any food, drinks or merchandise, and the price of attending these festivals can run into the thousands of dollars, with Money magazine pricing a 2018 Coachella trip for a “typical traveler” at over $2,300 per person. With Nielsen estimating that frequent live-music attendees in 2018 spent an average of $247 per year on tickets, that doesn’t come close to covering a three-day pass for many music fests.
And all that money spent for what? It’s become increasingly common to see a mix of the same 15-20 names headlining nearly every one of America’s biggest festivals, and even a quick peek at this years’ lineups reveals the same trend.
Childish Gambino is headlining the trifecta of Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, with other artists falling in the middle of the festivals’ Venn Diagrams including Ariana Grande (Coachella and Lollapalooza), The Strokes (Governors Ball and Lollapalooza), Tame Impala (Coachella, Lollapalooza and Boston Calling), The Lumineers (Bonnaroo and Woodstock 50), The Killers (Forecastle and Woodstock 50), Lil Wayne (Governors Ball and Lollapalooza) and Twenty One Pilots (Boston Calling and Lollapalooza).
That’s no change from last year when the festivals’ headlining slots were dominated by names such as Eminem, Jack White, The Weeknd and Travis Scott.
Yes, there are functional benefits to many of the big music festivals booking the same few headliners – mainly, that music fans can see marquee names at whatever event is closest geographically to them, instead of, say, flying across the country to see Beyonce at Coachella in 2018, because that was the only festival she played. Plus, there are hundreds of non-headlining acts on these festivals’ bills that can provide the music discovery that many fans seek out from these big events.
And yet, the homogenization of music festivals has stripped the character away from the summer’s largest events. Instead of seeing more once-in-a-lifetime booking choices at these fetes, like 2012’s surprise Tupac hologram at Coachella or Beyonce’s groundbreaking set last year, the lineups look more similar than ever. Seeing a Childish Gambino against the Chicago skyline in Chicago or in a dusty Tennessee field at Bonnaroo will likely be exactly the same, save for a different backdrop for fans’ Instagram photos.
The solution, for fans not ready to give up on the idea of music festivals completely, is to go smaller and seek out festivals that are centered around a genre, community or theme. Many musicians have begun curating their own festivals, like Wilco’s Solid Sound in Massachusetts, Pharrell’s Something in the Water in Virginia and the Roots’ eponymous Picnic in Philadelphia. Afropunk is an annual celebration of black culture in Brooklyn, the larger-scale version of which is Essence Fest in New Orleans. Seeking out music festivals hosted in collaboration with art spaces or independent record labels can also narrow the field to the most eclectic offerings, including Basilica Soundscape in New York and Levitation and Marfa Myths in Texas.
With the number of festival options that are more affordable, diversely programmed and accessible to more music fans around America, it’s never been a better time to seek out a new festival to attend this summer –– and to skip shelling out for the same old behemoths.
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