Thursday, July 13, 2006

Festivus Overloadus

It seems like a just a couple of years ago that I was thumbing through an issue of Q Magazine and jealously resenting all of the summer festivals with the amazing line-ups (most notably, Glastonbury) that the Brits got to enjoy. Now in 2006, it seems like everyone and their brother is trying to start the next Glasto here in The States. The trend seemed to have been sparked by Coachella, and then just exploded everywhere. Intonation, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Desdemona, Bumbershoot...and now there's Hedgpeth?. As if Intonation, Pitchfork Music Fest, Lollapalooza and Milwaukee's Summerfest wasn't enough in the area, we now have the Hedgpeth Festival just an hour and a half north in lovely Twin Lakes, WI, near the Illinois/Wisconsin border. Headliners include The Flaming Lips (who apparently are physically unable to turn down any festival invitation), They Might Be Giants, The Go! Team, Primus and Kings of Leon. Oddly enough, Hedgepeth is the same weekend as the Pitchfork Music Festival, though I guess we're really talking apples and oranges here. So what has caused this sudden resurrection of the summer festival in The States? To be fair, a couple of the aforementioned festivals have been around for quite some time. Bumbershoot is apparently in its 36th year, and of course Lollapalooza first started in the early 90s. Since "indie" is the new "alternative," one of my theories is that the cycle has just come back around. Now that real bands who play real music are back in vogue, there's a large enough fan base to support the festival scene again. Still, across the board, the festival scene is definitely as big as it has been in quite some time, if not at an all-time high. We've had a lot of big festivals through the years, but I can't think of any other era where we've had so many festivals going on at the same time. So what are your theories? Is this a good thing for music or is the market overly saturated? Are festivals here to stay or is this just a trend that's going to fizzle out when the music cycle shifts again? Discuss...I'll expect your 200+ word essays in my inbox by tomorrow morning.

9 Comments:

Blogger Robyn Detterline said...

I think that it is a phase, but I see it lasting for several years. I do think that eventually the market will be flooded, and that not all of the festivals will make a big enough profit to become an annual thing. I'm wondering if soon the midwest fests, which now are predominantly undergound and indie artists, will start a Lollapalooza trend and gradually start adding bigger names. Ironically, I don't think the Chicago-area can handle three corprate-monster music fests. I do, however, see it being able to sustain a Lollapalooza and a Intonation/Pitchfork for the unforseeable future, as long as underground pop music remains exciting.

7/13/2006 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Megan Timmons said...

I think three festivals this year is overkill. It's a bit of a bummer that I can't see some of my favorite acts at an indoor venue. (fans, air conditioning, skin cancer prevention, lights, intimate atmosphere)

It's a feast or famine situation. On the one hand you have a packed weekend of fun outside, but there are not as many acts I wanted to see at the Bottle, Metro, etc. this summer. So I have not seen as many shows inbetween the festivals.

The other downer about festivals-you don't always get the length of set you want to hear. I could have listened to Chromeo for over an hour, rather than a few songs...

7/13/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous rory oconnor said...

I think the mainstream focus going back to bands that can actually play is a factor in the resurgence of the festival. Several years ago, in that kookie pop music craze of the boy bands and the britneys, the artists were too big to play festivals. There was no need to combine forces; they could draw the crowd alone. So the festival went to the underground and the hippies. Today it seems there is a new buzz band every week. There are so many bands that have a name after one album but have no real mainstream following yet. Festivals seem to make more sense. Obviously, lollapalooza has been doing it for many years now but, almost all the festival scenes of late seem to all be very eclectic in musical styles. I think this is a good thing for music. While I am not a big fan of the festival in particular, I do think they are working at the moment. The problem is we all know how the mainstream can kill a good thing once they get their grubby, greedy fingers on it. So how long can it last, assuming it hasn’t gone overboard already. For all we know this Hedgpeth Festival is that very death rattle. Oh poor Hedgpeth, what did you ever do to me??

7/13/2006 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Bill V said...

Not sure why anyone would choose Hedgepeth over Pitchfork. Also not sure where all of the fests have come from. I've been to Austin City Limits 3 times, and SXSW for about the last 10 years or so. I enjoy both the outdoor or indoor type of fests. Gives you a chance to see loads of acts you never would have checked out, usually in just a couple of day period. It's almost like Pitchfork called me up and asked what 10 acts that I would like at their fest, and they would pick the rest. Really looking forward to those 2 days. You can keep your Rhymefest though.

7/13/2006 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill V said...

Not sure why anyone would choose Hedgepeth over Pitchfork. Also not sure where all of the fests have come from. I've been to Austin City Limits 3 times, and SXSW for about the last 10 years or so. I enjoy both the outdoor or indoor type of fests. Gives you a chance to see loads of acts you never would have checked out, usually in just a couple of day period. It's almost like Pitchfork called me up and asked what 10 acts that I would like at their fest, and they would pick the rest. Really looking forward to those 2 days. You can keep your Rhymefest though.

7/13/2006 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger polly styrene said...

All of the above comments make a lot of sense. But just to play devil's advocate here...I know I'm sounding like happy holly here, but I actually like the festivals. I'm poor, I like being outside, and I like seeing people outside on and offstage. It's a godsend to have so many festivals in Chicago for so many reasons, but here are the top ones that come to mind:

Taking time off from work in bulk

Coming from another, often smaller, city to Chicago and getting a huge dose of your favorite bands in one fell swoop

Seeing folks come out of the woodwork, folks that actually have time to talk in between sets and you can hear them

paying about a buck a band, sometimes less

festivals drawing names that don't normally play in public as much as you'd like: Jon Brion and almost all of the line up at Touch & Go's upcoming event come to mind, not to mention bands from other countries...

a chance for some of the lesser known bands to get more exposure and play with some of their inspirations

a chance for some of us poor folks to see them and the added bonus...

there's no looking cool and posing while you're covered in grass, sand, and three buckets of sweat-- two of which aren't yours

I love intimate concerts too, but I think one of the many reasons why festivals are resurging, at least in Chicago, is that a lot of these indie bands' target audience just can't afford to go see so many of them at anywhere from $10 to $50 a pop. Give me all of them, even if only for an hour, at $35 and I'm good to go.

7/13/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger LuckDragon said...

It may have something to do with all the corporate sponsorship availiable, and the reach into the youth demographic...
that and more drugs on the streets :)

7/13/2006 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Knapik said...

I agree with Poly Styrene, not only because I was a fan of her work with the X-Ray Spex, but because - *gasp* - I like being outside.

As a lifelong Chicagoan and music lover, I've spent far too many nice days and nights cooped up in old bars listening to bands (or old warehouses listening to DJs). We only get about two or three months in this town during which spending time outdoors is not a frostbite-inducing activity, so I think the festival trend is awesome.

I remember the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000. Being outside and listening to the music we loved, right there in the city center, made us feel like we owned the entire city. Although that had the additional magic of celebrating an entire genre of music in the city that spawned it, I feel similarly whenever I attend a good outdoor festival anywhere. The brief time I spent at this year’s Intonation certainly made me feel that way: that in a city overrun with tepid festival programming of the kind you get at Taste of Chicago, here at last was something representing freaks like me! We were out of our hiding places and onto the streets, enjoying our music in the sun like everyone should have the chance to do.

I’m not at all concerned with market over-saturation. Love it or hate it, capitalism usually takes care of that. Some festivals will survive and some will pass. Chicago can easily support Lollapalooza, Intonation and Pitchfork annually. I think the latter two have a similar audience, and while Lollapalooza somewhat overlaps it, it has a much wider reach into a different cross-section of the population as well. I’d draw you a Venn diagram if I had the time, but I don’t so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

Poly Styrene also brought up a few other good points. Running into old friends or acquaintances in an environment conducive to talking makes festivals fun for extroverts like me. Also, people coming from another city is not only a good thing for them, but for Chicago as well. It boosts attendance at the festivals, which aids their survival, and also brings tourism dollars into the city. I think it’s easy to think about tourism only affecting Mag Mile shops, but when you get a bunch of indie rockers coming to town, it helps all the mom and pop shops we have here that people who like indie music are likely to want to patronize.

So if Poly is “Happy Holly” here, I guess that makes me Prozac Pete. What can I say? There are plenty of cold months in Chicago where we can pack into the Empty Bottle for warmth over a bottle or two of Huber Bock. During the few clement months, I’ll gladly go out as much as possible and have a Goose Island Summertime in the sun instead!

Oh, and Luckdragon said something about more drugs on the street? It’s news to me, but if that includes any weapons-grade LSD, please tell your local indie pharmacist to find me at Pitchfork at least an hour before Os Mutantes’ set. Thanks.

7/13/2006 07:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Megan Timmons said...

I feel as if I was a bit misunderstood...I do like being outdoors. In fact, it's great when the weather cooperates-the sun is great for acts. At Intonation watching the Constantines rock out in the sun was a musical moment of perfection. I just wish there was a bit more balance throughout this particular summer...

7/13/2006 09:13:00 PM  

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