The carefully curated lineups at the big multiday summer music festivals promise an unforgettable experience for fans -- those who can afford to go, that is.
Memory of a Free Festival
Even before the temperatures start their creep toward the 90-degree mark, the signs are everywhere: another summer-music-festival season is about to begin. The emails, the colorful banner ads on websites, the news flashes with recently added headliners -- it all gives the impression that we should be completely obsessed with every little detail about the festivals if we care at all about music. The festivals tout themselves as being important cultural experiences and irresistibly fun musical escapes: mini-Woodstocks designed to make a community of music fans feel like a part of something larger than themselves. It’s hard not to get excited about being a part of something -- and the festival lineups are incredible. All Tomorrow’s Parties bills itself as the ultimate music experience, a sonic art exhibit curated by bands and musicians, with different festivals occurring throughout the year in the U.K. and U.S. One glance at the lineup for this year’s ATP in the Catskills in New York is enough to send a music fan’s salivary glands into overdrive: My Bloody Valentine, Built to Spill performing the entirety of Perfect From Now On, the Meat Puppets playing Meat Puppets II. But a glance at the ticket prices is more likely to feel like a blow to the jaw: $225, and a minimum of $450 for accommodations. The question for All Tomorrow's Parties is not “what costume shall the poor girl wear” because the poor girl can’t even go. Granted, ATP is the Cadillac of festivals. But even the AMC Gremlin music festivals are more than many can afford these days. Ever since the one-day touring festival (like Lollapalooza, the Warped Tour, and Lilith Fair) gave way earlier in the decade to stationary multiday extravaganzas such as V-Fest, Coachella, Sasquatch, Lollapalooza, Rothbury, and Bonnaroo, summer concert experiences have become more and more for the music elite, leaving ordinary fans out. On many levels, multiday festivals can seem like a good idea: Not only do they supply more band for your buck; they’re sort of musical vacations, unofficial conferences of ardent music fans. They are good for small bands too, giving them access to massive audiences and priming their chances for success as the traditional music business is dying out. Anschutz Entertainment Group’s Don Strasburg is producing the Rothbury festival (taking place July 3-6 in Michigan and featuring the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Widepsread Panic) and the Mile High Festival (July 19-20 in Denver, also featuring the Dave Matthews Band, as well as John Mayer and Tom Petty). He points out that there are three tiers of musicians performing: the big-name headliners, the smaller-time bands that, as Strasburg says, “are really great but people won’t make an over-the-top commitment to go see,” and then up-and-coming bands who many festival-goers will see for the first time. Hence, more than one stage is needed to accommodate the multi-tiered hierarchy, which leads to more costs. But perhaps despite himself, Strasburg gets to the heart of the issue when he raises the idea of “over-the-top commitment.” As inclusive as the festivals can seem, lineup-wise, multiday festivals also shut out and stymie fans who lack the wherewithal to make a trek to remote regions and give over several days to concertgoing. With ticket prices hovering at about the $200 mark, the cost of attendance leaves out a significant number of would-be festivalgoers, and their out-of-the-way locales leave out entire populations who can't afford to travel or are unwilling to spend their leisure budget to basically camp out in a field for a few days. At many festivals, amenities cost extra; showering is only available for those willing to plunk down even more money.