Coachella and Lollapalooza are sold out. Bonnaroo’s nearly there, too. But eager fans need only be patient: Wait a few years and chances are you’ll have a star-studded music festival of your own within driving distance.
New music festivals are popping up more quickly than you can count in the United States. As the summer festival season gets under way this week with the sprawling Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival down in the desert in Indio, Calif., some of the most successful promoters in the scene are looking ahead to next year and beyond when they’ll launch new ventures in untapped markets.
“I do think that there’s really plenty of opportunities for people to create some great festival experiences,” said Ashley Capps, a co-founder of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. “In fact, I think in many ways the audience in America is just now starting to fully embrace festival culture.”
After a disastrous run when festivals disappeared more quickly than the family farm in the late 1990s, a small group of concert promoters established beachheads — the four mega giants Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza in Chicago and Austin City Limits Festival in Texas. Each of those has survived a decade or more and continues to gain in popularity.
In the last five years, several others have taken root like the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago; the Hangout Music Festival on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala;, Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco; Governors Ball Music Festival in New York; Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Festival (formerly Moog Fest) in Asheville, N.C., and Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. Even more are being started by artists themselves, Metallica and Wilco among them.
That abundance comes with its own problem: As more festivals debut worldwide, the competition for top headliners becomes more intense.
As does the scrutiny. Put McCartney, Mumford & Sons and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at the top of your bill, like Bonnaroo, and you’ll get few complaints.
Throw The Stone Roses up there, as Coachella did, and there’s going to be some yammering, as festival producers found this year. Many fans asked, “Who?” when the British rock band appeared atop the festival’s lineup and speculated the `90s holdovers might hurt attendance.
Yet the complaints had no effect on ticket sales. Coachella, which recently expanded to two weekends, sold out both. Lollapalooza, with headlining ‘80s band The Cure, sold out in a record four hours.
“There’s always going to be complaints about every lineup. You have to look at tickets sales,” said Charles Attal, whose C3 Presents produces Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Festival. “If they’re selling out in an hour, it’s the fan experience. I don’t think it’s about one band.”
For Grace Potter, who plays in 10 or more festivals a year and recently started her own Grand Point North Festival in Vermont, festivals are about the experience of discovering new bands. But she acknowledges that there may be a burnout point.
“I think that it’s absolutely (viable) for the next 10 years, but at a certain point, if we fractalize it too much, you’re really diluting the water too much because people have to make choices of what they want to do,” she said.