Coacapalaroo Festival is new to the United States this year. No, "lying on the internet day" was Monday. Instead, the three major US alternative music festivals, Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo, all seem to have shared the same bookers this year. They may as well be an extremely large touring festival given the variation between acts. The homogenous, indistinguishable nature of the line-ups is pretty weird to me. I know there's a "festival circuit" that bands go on, but the centralization of line-ups this year is really quite something. Are these festivals victims of their own success, constantly pushed to justify an increasing ticket cost and attendance numbers? Or did the bookers simply hibernate and then panic?
In fact, there is something of a formula to booking any major US festival right now, it would seem. It makes for the same boring line-up, the same acts and clichéd spots being repeated over and over again to the point where the alternative becomes mainstream, where it's impossible to distinguish between the bulk of the line-up. These are meant to be the three big alternative contained-space outdoor festivals (not a city takeover like 35D or SXSW). Alternative should mean bookers taking chances, booking a fascinating line-up, and booking interesting acts all the way down the bill. Here are a few of the traps the big alternative US festivals seem to have fallen into.
- Baaeur appears at two of the three festivals, and you know he's only there to do one thing, and it's going to be awful. Alternative festivals, guys, alternative. Not YouTube companions. Thankfully, the Rise of Psy came too early to be in festival circuit demand.Book the flavor of the year to headline
- Mumford and Sons will bring their indistinguishable brand of soft rock to close out days at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza in a fit of lowest common denominator, widest possible current appeal booking. Sure, they're huge right now. But headlining those two festivals? Really? Don't you want a band with more than one popular album to do that? A band whose Wikipedia entry doesn't begin "Early years: 2007-2008." I have pasta older than that.Book a boring undercard that is exactly the same as every other festival
- Where's the metal? Where's the funk? Where even is the rock? Where's the bands that aren't electro-based indie? These festivals are meant to be all-encompassing, genre-blind, and have something for everyone. Instead they're just stops on the tours of Alt-J and Foals (both at all three!), Beach House, James Blake, and the XX. Indeed, rather than book an exciting metal band on the undercard, there's quite a few big, safe EDM acts on the undercards, just because they know those will bring in the money. You won't get a rock or metal crowd out to see two or three undercard bands, but you'll get an EDM crowd out to see Wolfgang Gartner or Porter Robinson wherever they are.
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- I'm not sure in which universe Phoenix should be headlining Coachella over New Order, but it's not one I want to live in. Similarly, Paul McCartney at Bonnaroo. This is not a coup. Quite the opposite. His post-Beatles career almost made it onto my British apologies list last year. Just play a recording of "Hey Jude" and be done with it. Much cheaper.
By way of closing thoughts, if I see the Red Hot Chili Peppers headline one more festival I will punch a cute animal. They are an appalling live band, and the most boring booking a festival could possibly make. They absolutely scream "we are totally out of ideas for this headline slot." Save your money people. Go to 30 or so local gigs across the year instead. You'll still be able to catch most of these bands, and your overall experience will be quantifiably better.