Music festivals are getting a bad rap this year. Even the ones with the best rappers.
The backlash was inevitable, as the number of multiday festivals has swelled nationwide, many of them fashioned after mainstays such as Coachella and Bonnaroo. It doesn’t help that either the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Ellie Goulding seem to be on the lineup at each.
The kickback really kicked in thanks to a proclamation by the New York Times’ esteemed music critics that said they would ignore most of the major festivals this year. Their reasoning was that the lineups are too much alike, and the sound systems and party atmosphere are too poor for critiquing bands fairly. Also, they clearly just didn’t like the events very much.
“Their bookings used to be somewhat exciting, if exciting means special and special means rare and rare means meaningful; they aren’t anymore,” the Times writers declared. Many other critics and bloggers followed suit with their own bashings.
Hold the phone, though — and I don’t mean hold it above your head for cellular service in a sea of 60,000 people, as is the rock-fest norm. The overabundance of festivals may have spoiled the news value of these events, but it didn’t spoil their entertainment value.
Especially in the Upper Midwest, festivals serve a great purpose besides the plethora of live music: They’re also simply about having fun outdoors. Maybe we Midwesterners are more at ease getting our feet a little muddy than those New Yorkers, too.
Minnesota music lovers are known to flock to festivals in the Southern states in the cooler months, including Coachella in April and Austin City Limits in October. We’re getting to enjoy more and more festivals close to home, too, including the well-received newbie fests Eaux Claires (Aug. 12-13 in Eau Claire, Wis.) and Palomino (Sept. 17 at Canterbury Park), plus the ever-sold out Soundset hip-hop fest (May 29, State Fairgrounds) and perennial favorites Rock the Garden (June 18, Boom Island) and the Basilica Block Party (July 8-9, Basilica of St. Mary).
Keep ’em coming, we say.
5 reasons to still love music festivals
1. Bang for your buck. At $60-$100 per day for some area festivals and even at $200/day for the big ones nationwide, the price still comes down to less than $5 per band — and some of those bands charge $50 on their own.
2. Being forced to listen. Don’t fret if you only know a handful of acts on a lineup. Rejoice in it. At least a few of them could become some of your favorite new bands. The worst ones sometimes offer a certain amount of fun, too, as you and your friends think up new ways of bashing them.
3. Bigger sometimes is better. As much as we all want to see our favorite bands up close and personal, there’s a different kind of excitement seeing them play to bigger crowds. Wilco’s set at the Basilica last summer was even more spirited than its Orpheum Theatre shows. Korn may be one of the worst bands of all time, but damn fun to see at a packed Somerset Amphitheater.
4. Safety in numbers. People like to party at concerts, plain and simple. Do you want them driving home afterward, or sleeping it off in a tent in a field?
5. Blended genres. Some newer festivals are finding unique niches and fun ways of cross-blending loosely related genres, such as Summer Set (Aug. 12-14 in Somerset, Wis.) and Palomino regionally. Even the much-ballyhooed Desert Trip Festival in Indio, Calif., found a fun new hook by booking all senior-citizen rock acts (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney).
5 ways to make festivals better
1. Find better locations. Flat, muddy farm fields and giant parking lots don’t cut it anymore. Eaux Claires’ site on bluffs above the Chippewa River set a new standard for the Midwest.
2. Lines are for losers. Any festival with beer lines more than five people deep needs to get its act together. And selling beer really is its act — that’s where festivals make their profits.
3. Think outside the tent. Most festivals offer two kinds of staging areas: giant battleship-like stages, or big sailboat-looking white tents. Again, Eaux Claires set a new standard with performance inside domes or out in the wide open. And one of the best moments at Palomino came when a storm forced a band to play inside the Canterbury Park grandstand.
4. Book fewer performers. It’s nice to have options, but it’s annoying at the bigger fests when three bands you want to see are all on stage at the same time. Fewer bands will make it easier to keep the lineup focused — and keep costs down for organizers.
5. Charge more for tickets. Wait, what?! Yes, pricier tickets might actually be advantageous in many cases. It would weed out attendees there just to smoke weed and hang out, not take in music. It would also mean less money has to be made on the back end from overpriced concessions or overzealous sponsorship.