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The slow and cruel death of music festivals across the United States

Will Tomer/The Round Table

Will Tomer/The Round Table

The end of summer largely heralds the conclusion to the annual music festival circuit. For several of the hottest months each year, various events scattered around the globe attempt to curate the most exciting musical lineups, avoid horrendously inclement weather and attract the largest crowds.

For a few years, particularly at the beginning of this current decade, music festivals were one of the hottest commodities on the market. Festivals draw in hundreds of thousands of youthful concertgoers, which naturally appeals to corporations and advertisers.

In the U.S., the majority of festivals have been snatched up by the world’s largest and second-largest concert promoters — Live Nation and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). Both groups have been buying festivals around the country at a prodigious rate. As of 2016, Live Nation currently owns (or partly owns) the humongous Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn.; Lollapalooza in Chicago; Sasquatch in Quincy, Wash.; Electric Forest in Rothbury, Mich.; and The Governors Ball in New York City.

AEG currently operates Coachella in Indio, Calif.; FYF Festival in Los Angeles; Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del.; and the brand-new Panorama in New York City.

An astute reader may have noted the overlap in New York for both Live Nation’s Governors Ball and AEG’s Panorama. Well, the drama was even more substantial than that because both events took place on the same patch of public land (Randall’s Island) just over a month apart from one another.

The Governors Ball was founded and, until this year, run by the independent Founders Entertainment. But when AEG tossed its hat into the ring, Founders was faced with a tough decision. While the group fought long and hard, Founders felt the fight would be hard to continue and sold a majority stake to Live Nation.

As a result, the monopolization and commercialization of the music festival enterprise was particularly palpable this summer. The Governors Ball was an overcrowded mess, with over-the-top price gouging and wall-to-wall people. The delicate personal touch of the Founders Entertainment crew (who still do have some control over the festival) felt like it had been obscured a bit. The whole third day was ultimately cancelled due to storms (more than 70 people had been injured by a lightning strike at Germany’s Rock Am Ring Festival the same weekend).

Meanwhile, Panorama’s inaugural attempt at taking New York by storm was met by its own weather challenge: a heat dome. The weather phenomena brought temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit into the city, perhaps discouraging people from leaving their air conditioners. As a result, weak turnstile numbers likely disappointed the executives at AEG. Meanwhile, several musicians even reported that their laptops melted.

Either way, the two largest promoters in the land went up against one another and they both lost. And, in the process, so did all the festival goers who shelled out hundreds of dollars to be there. Just a few years ago, these communal experiences had personality and room to ebb, flow and breathe. Now, they are yet another commercial entity designed to sap people of their money. They shouldn’t be allowed to sap the fun out of live music, too.

Only Mother Nature was able to stop them this year, but unless people take a stand soon, this could be the death of music festivals as we know them.

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