Peak Festival

It’s not about talent, it’s about branding. That’s why Coachella can sell out before announcing acts and Glastonbury’s such an institution, they’re rites of passage in a world based on experiences, acquisition is the baby boomers’ drug of choice, whereas their progeny are satisfied with photographs, get the latest mobile handset and post to Instagram, that’s a rewarding experience, as long as your homies were in attendance and you met some new people and you had a good time.

Squeezed together with bad facilities, overloaded porta-potties and undercooked hot dogs? That won’t do, first and foremost you have to respect the audience, make everybody feel like an individual. And sure, you can sell VIP, just as long as the VIPs don’t mix with the hoi polloi. Then again, put enough perks on the benefits list and even the denizen seen as poor will pony up. That’s another thing the wankers don’t understand, people have unlimited money for what they desire, and you should ignore those bitching, because they want to get in for face value and sit in the front row and unless you provide this they’ll beat you up on social media. But you need to ignore them. Remember in the sixties when these same people wanted all music to be free? Nothing is free, just don’t overcharge unless the experience is worth it.

So the modern festival experience was built in the California desert nearly two decades ago, and Coachella was such a financial disaster that Goldenvoice was ultimately acquired by AEG. Proving you need deep pockets to survive. You’ve got to lose before you make it.

Before that there were traveling festivals, but they’re now passe. We want to go to a location and be able to brag about it. And if your festival ain’t brag-worthy, it’s gonna fail. Like I said, it’s not about the talent so much as the experience and the impact.

If you’re not making people feel left out by not attending, the dreaded FOMO, shut your doors now, close up shop, you’re not gonna make it. All the acts today are uber-accessible. All over the internet. Seeing them at the festival is oftentimes worse than watching YouTube. It’s the grit, the rubbing elbows that people are into. Just a couple of years ago you could get away with having the same headliners at multiple festivals, that won’t work anymore, except at the biggies.

And what are the biggies?

Coachella and its country sidekick Stagecoach.

And you go up north and you’ve got Outside Lands.

And you move across the country and you’ve got Jazzfest, ACL and Lollapalooza, and then the war for the title in NYC and a few coastal properties in the east and south and then we’re done. We don’t NEED any more festivals, because the public doesn’t WANT THEM!

As proven by Pemberton. I don’t want to hear any complaints that it was a fraud. Maybe so, but did any of the agents say no, they wouldn’t cash the check? Of course they said yes, their greed intact, but now after the sudden failure of Karoondinha they might say no in the future, because unless you’re AEG or Live Nation, chances are it ain’t gonna make it.

Yup, Live Nation purchased Insomniac with its Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas, where you can die and get away with it. Then again, there’s that new lawsuit… Used to be people sued over hit songs, now they sue over festival missteps. Kinda like Fyre. But that guy had it right, it’s about the hang, not the music, and now he’s got criminal penalties to face. What kind of bizarre world do we live in where you can rip off people on Wall Street and skate but if you have an aborted music festival you go to jail? I’m not saying Billy McFarland shouldn’t pay for his sins, I’m just saying if you’re truly rich you can get away with breaking the law.

And music used to be the playground of entrepreneurs, with more vision than cash. You find a deep pocket and you launch. But no longer, it’s big business. Like I said, you’ve got to be willing to lose before you make, seven figures, and now everybody’s gun-shy re the wannabes.

So what have we learned?

We don’t need any more festivals. If you want to start one go niche and worry whether you can get the word out.

And it’s not about headliners, but the experience. It’s not about the music, unless it’s the electronic stuff in the tent outside of the mainstream. Then again, you want to be able to say you SAW the headliner, so you can boast and discuss, but go to one of these shows, the people in the back dribble off.

So we’re at a turning point. If you’ve got tons of cash and can tie in sponsors that will deliver unique experiences, you can launch.

And if you’re already in the business and relying solely on headliners, good luck! This is what happened to Bonnaroo. The experience in the heat is just not that good, not in June in Tennessee. You’d rather be in Chicago or Austin where you can retire to your hotel room and recharge in the a/c, begging the question whether new festivals should be city based.

Then again, there’s the weather problem. Outdoors is always a crapshoot, even in California. But the promoters can make so much money, they don’t want to say no.

But this is the new world we live in. Where who’s on stage is not as important as who’s off stage. Where attendance must be a badge of honor or you won’t go. And despite the whole world going niche, in festivals you want to be able to gain a nationwide audience, be part of the discussion by going, or else you won’t, go that is.

It’s a far cry from the Fillmore East and a far cry from Woodstock.

But as Sly Stone once sang, everybody is a star. The mystery of the performers is history. And now it’s all about lifestyle.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

P.S. There is money in niche, as long as you fly below the radar. Just look at Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey’s Lockn’ festival, where they recreated “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and are set to perform “Terrapin Station” this year. Attendance doesn’t compete with the biggies, but going is a badge of honor those in the know respect. You’ve got one time performances evidencing creativity. But all innovation comes from indies, which is why they deserve a chance, but can they get one in today’s corporate world?

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