Chive Fest Southfork Ranch, Parker Saturday, November 1, 2014
On the battleground of providing viral content to users on the internet one website has risen above all others when it comes to repeatedly scraping the bottom of the barrel to get eyes on the digital prize. The Chive, aka Buzzfeed for Bros, has built an empire on scantily clad young women, links to other sites, viral hoaxes and their willingness to destroy all the goodwill that Bill Murray has built since Lost In Translation.
The Chive is pretty much what would happen if Maxim and FHM gained sentience, had a child, raised it on pixie sticks and fireball shots, and then released it to wreck havoc on a safety school along the lines of TCU. So that's why the brand has expanded from silly merchandise, and awful beer to trying to put on large scale events like the music fest that took place at Southfork Ranch on Saturday. Strike while the iron is hot, and squeeze out every dollar you can, that's the American way.
But, despite generating over 20 million unique visits a month from its loyal and ever-growing fan base, it seems like the fest might have been a miscalculation.
The music festival wave has crested, especially in North Texas where it feels like we're drowning in a sea of sub-par offerings on a weekly basis. Instead of someone taking control of the area and giving music lovers a premium product, North Texans are left to languish with assorted choices that aren't quite up to muster with the larger fests that are being put on around the state.
Chive Fest suffered from line-up-itis. While the fest features recognizable names, none were powerful enough to justify the rather pricey $75 ticket. Which I guess is the point: The fest wasn't about the music, it was about squeezing out profits from the brand's considerable fan base.
Southfork was awash in costumed attendees who drank the The Chive beer with glee, while purchasing Chive brand shirts, Nalgenes, hats and "disco sticks" (generic glow sticks) with glee. There were two separate mechanical bulls, because TEXAS, and a giant neon C that attracted a giant line of "Chivers" who wanted nothing more than to pose with it and then post the chaos around them to Instagram.
But the onstage offerings also left a lot to be desired. A mishmash of acts that would have made sense in a larger, denser line-up took the stage to perform for groups of people who were more concerned with partying and hitting on each other than actually paying attention to the acts.
Manchester Orchestra had a spattering of fans throughout the crowd; in fact they were probably responsible for skewing the fest from being 75% male to only 74.8% male. Nonetheless it felt like the crowd couldn't care less about their performance. The John Butler Trio, meanwhile, makes music your dad likes: It's inoffensive, full of riffs, and blander than a cheese pizza. Needless to say, they drew a hell of a crowd.
The most captivating act performing at the festival was the Strokes' frontman Julian Casablancas. While on hiatus from the Strokes, Casablancas has embraced his whims in putting together a band, the Voidz, who let him explore his fascination with the lo-fi aspects of music from the' 80s. Casablancas is making horror movie soundtracks for indie-rock fans.
A crowd of maybe 40 thinly gathered by the Dumb and Dumber To stage to watch one of the most praised artists of the last decade perform, and it doesn't get much thicker than that. Casablancas sported a a throwback University of Houston Elvin Hayes satin jacket and the commanding presence of a man who is at ease performing in front of thousands of people. Oh, and you could see the look of disappointment in his face.
You see, the tour game is hard on a band. Bouncing from town to town and venue to venue can be rough, and the creature comforts and bigger pay-day that a fest provides is hard to pass up. While, yes, this show would have been better off selling out Trees, Casablancas and his agent did his band members a favor by getting them the bigger payday at Chive Fest.
The night before, Casablancas and the Voidz played to a sold-out House of Blues in Houston; on Saturday, they found themselves being ignored for shitty piped-in pop music from the main stage and beer tents. About halfway through his set, it became obvious that Casablancas was over this shit. His on-stage banter morphed from allusive jokes to thinly veiled shots at the crowd, who refused to pay attention to his music in favor of the randomness of the costumed drunkards that wondered around nearby and the sound bleed from the main stage.
As if to really drive home the air of bad taste, the night's headliner Jake Owen (a milder take on nefarious the Bro-Country performer) decided to honor the November 1 Latin holiday of Dia de los Muertos by outfitting his entire band in mariachi gear and sugar skull paint. This kind of cultural appropriation goes hand in hand with the co-option of Native American headdresses for festival wear, of which there were many. Keep Calm and Cultural Appropriate On, Chivers.
Listen, The Chive might be pulling in over $100 million a year, with profits growing at a rate most sites would die to have, but this festival felt like a misstep. An act of hubris by a crew that's riding high on the drug of soaring profits and exploding traffic. Or was it? Likely their fans got what they wanted out of the experience, and The Chive got to take their money. After all, there's a reason they didn't try to do this festival in Austin, where their corporate offices are: They knew the competition would eat them alive. Might as well play to their own strengths, right?
Either way, The Chive seems to know how to adjust to its audience on the fly, and a few things will remain true no matter what: The fans of the site are the picturesque definition of the term uncouth, and their beer fucking sucks.
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