Welcome to March. Welcome to festival season. South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, kicks off a seemingly never-ending barrage of festivals, all eventually leading back to Austin to wrap up at ACL in the fall. In that timeframe though, you could spend every single week roaming around the country to see a slight variation of bills collecting this year’s touring musicians. In fact, I would love to see someone try that documentary style in a sort of The Endless Summer tribute. I wonder what that person would look like by the end of it? Beat up, sun stroked, half deaf, blitzed out of their mind. Would they be able to tell us all of the differences in each LCD Soundsystem set? Could they settle the argument of Bonnaroo vs. Coachella? Maybe they’d just be bored by it all.
There are a lot of vocal haters when it comes to the amount of festivals. And it’s true that many of them should never have been funded in the first place. When you go to enough of them, you start to see the difference between the ones organized by real music people and those that weren’t. It’s also easy to see the ones that were constructed purely as a cash grab by a couple of assholes who thought this was their chance to finally be rockstars. Inevitably, these are the ones that go away as quickly as they arrived, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Search around enough and you can also see the criticisms of the redundancy of lineups across the country, but look harder and these bits are usually coming from people inside the industry — bloggers, critics and people like me — who go to multiple festivals. It’s easy to forget that most fans are not in the industry. They go to one, maybe two, music festivals in a year, and that lineup is the only one they’ve seen. They’re not making these festivals for us, it’s for them. The way it should be. They’re the ones that are really enjoying those music moments, waiting all day to be at the front of the crowd for their favorite artist, sweating through the overpriced water, and eventually going back to an overcrowded campground so they can do it all again the next day. We get our backstage pass, air conditioned tents, complimentary drinks, golf carts to and from, and still we’ll complain that a festival’s lineup is lame because it too closely resembles another one 700 miles away.
I really am guilty of this. Like anything that any of us do over and over, we form opinions without considering the whole picture. It’s not wrong, just annoying to anyone who’s not in the same boat. Honestly, I regret losing my wanderlust. I remember looking forward to each and every festival — a chance to see a show that we’d be talking about for years after, a chance to maybe even meet my heroes. But lately I see it for all of the lines I’ll be standing in, the uncomfortable weather situations and the old game of really only seeing about 20 minutes of any given set, never really taking much of any artist’s music in for long enough to make too much of an impact. Seriously, how pathetic did all of that just sound?
I’m really saying all of this to hold my own feet to the fire. I need to fall back in love with festivals again. I want to hit the ground running with a smile on my face and the presumption that anything can happen. Who cares if it doesn’t pan out?
The important thing for the rest of us to remember is that if you want to complain about festivals, don’t go. Your knocking Forecastle doesn’t make Louder Than Life any better or worse and vice versa. Just know that someone there is getting their life changed. And every time they hear their song, they’re going to be placed right back in that moment. And that’s bound to make the world a better place — a mantra I need to remind myself of from time to time. •
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Speed of Sound.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.