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Monday, June 05, 2023

For Your Entertainment: Music festivals–then and now

<p><span>"<a href="" target="_blank">'One Day Like This' - Elbow, Glastonbury Festival 2014</a>" by <a href="" target="_blank">Kris Williams</a></span></p>

It’s no secret that music festivals have grown immensely in popularity. A temporary escape from reality, music festivals gather hundreds of artists for relatively inexpensive prices (cheaper than seeing your favorite bands individually, too). However, has their growing popularity potentially compromised the performances of the artists?

Recently Kanye West’s headlining sets at Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Wireless in London sparked controversy among festival attendees. His extended rants and choppy set ignited boos from the crowd and made headlines for his unorthodox performances. Many who actually attended the festivals attested to the greatness of his set and argued the booing only came from a few people in the crowd. 

Despite the arguments, does Kanye’s headlining set represent a departure from who people enjoy and want to see at festivals? A similar situation erupted after Outkast’s first performance at Coachella, which many felt lacked energy and connection to the crowd. On the flipside, many flock to EDM centric festivals like EDC with little or no awareness of who plays. They jump, sing along to popular hits, and dance, but many could not tell you most of the artists on the lineup. 

Are music festivals experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis? Older festival vets complain about the decline of great festival crowds as the events attract more and more curious people. Have festivals changed from their modest beginnings into events which people use simply as escapes from reality? 

I do not believe festivals have changed all that much. While Americans just started getting into the business, generations of Europeans are familiarized with the concept of music festivals. Glastonbury, perhaps the largest festival in the world, lures thousands to England every year with monstrous lineups. Crowds remain largely the same year in and year out. 

To think every festival attendee will invest his or her interest in every act on a festival’s bill is a bit naïve. An artist like Kanye West regularly polarizes crowds and Outkast’s extensive catalogue dates younger attendees by decades. Kanye West still performed to rave reviews after his Yeezus tour and Outkast balanced their set lists to appeal more people at later festival dates. 

Music festivals can act as great sites of exposure for lesser known bands and artists. People may not buy tickets for a rising band like Jungle, but intrigued festival-goers will check them out in the afternoon on a day of Lollapalooza. Everyone won’t agree on who should headline, who should play which times, or who should appear on a lineup. Festivals, while changing due to increased popularity, still maintain their most attractive principles. Times are a changing but maybe that’s not so bad.

"'One Day Like This' - Elbow, Glastonbury Festival 2014" by Kris Williams

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