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One thing that is decidedly not unique this year, is the list of headliners. It seems like every festival is picking their main events from a tiny pool of elite artists making their way around the festival circuit. The draw of some of these mighty acts are becoming completely diminished as they headline multiple festivals throughout the same summer.
The worst offenders? We can start with everyone's favorite mop look a like Skrillex, who is headlining the Hangout Music Festival, the Bamboozle Festival, the Spring Awakening Music Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, Camp Bisco, and Outside Lands Music Festival! Thats six major festivals – and that's only in the United States! Skrillex is also headlining over ten festivals around the world, everywhere from the UK to France.
Another problem facing these events is bands embarking on nationwide tours during the festival season. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are headlining The Hangout, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza – all in the midst of an international tour spanning over 60 dates! A destination based festival's headliner should draw people across the country for the promise of a 'can't miss' event – that gets diminished when I can see the same band a stone's throw from my bedroom.
And what about bands with dedicated fans who are willing to travel and catch multiple shows on a tour? Their fans have been alienated through tour planning. Bonnaroo booked Phish – known for it's traveling circus of fans who drive through the night as to not miss one show – in a way that makes it impossible for the fans to catch their tour opener, and still catch their set at Bonnaroo. Same story for the Hangout Festival, who booked the Dave Matthews Band to play the third day of their festival – while on the first two festival days the band is booked in other cities. If dedicated fans want to follow these bands – they simply cant.
Oh, and believe me, there are some more guilty parties here. Jack White, finally solo from his variety of other projects – is going to make sure you hear his new tracks. He's headlining The Hangout Festival, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch Festival, Firefly Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands. Even with his drawing power and the freshness of his new solo show, six headlining gigs in addition to a summer tour is just overkill.
Even The Black Keys, who have ascended from it's garage rock roots to be a bonafide headliner, have top billing at Coachella, Lollapalooza, Catalpa, Osheaga (Montreal), and Firefly. Do you see a trend here? Five festivals in the midst of a world tour. Rock and roll vets the Foo Fighters are taking on Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, Bamboozle, the New Orleans Jazz Fest, the DeLuna Festival, and the Music Meltdown. Even the re-unions, the one gimmick that usually works in creating a "once and a lifetime" opportunity, have faded this year. At The Drive In and The Beach Boys, probably the two most talked about re-unions for this year, both booked multiple festival dates. Pulp, who re-united for Coachella, had trouble bringing in fans for their re-union tour – their recent Radio City Music Hall shows had tickets for nearly half of face value on the secondary market.
Who is really to blame here? You can't really blame the artists – while they could be weary of overexposure, who can fault these acts for turning down such large pay days – upwards of six figures – for just one night of music? It's like a 'Godfather' offer – who's going to refuse that? One theory is that there is just a lack of superstar, headline worthy acts out there today, forcing these festivals to reach into what is essentially the same handful of artists to be their main draws. If your Scrabble bag only has 6 different letters, a bunch of players are gonna get the same ones. Another reason could be the sole number of festivals this year – theres another one seemingly every week. With so many headlining spots to fill, there is a bound to be some overlap.
But, don't worry, it's not all bad. For one, this just means more music in general. More options, more chances to see some of these huge names. And, of course, there are some positive exceptions. Outside Lands has an extremely diverse line ups featuring the usuals – Jack White, Foo Fighters, Skrillex – along with huge legendary names that haven't really been seen on the recent festival circuit – Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and Crazy Horse. This is probably this year's best job of giving fans the hottest names of the summer, along with some legends that they may not get a chance to see otherwise. Lollapalooza also struck gold when Black Sabbath decided to withdraw their 2012 American tour – Lollapalooza is now the only chance American rock fans will have to catch Ozzy and the gang this year.
While we have a lot to be thankful for this festival season, with some of the biggest and most diverse line ups ever, along with technological and budgetary advancements allowing these events to become unique spectacles full of insane light shows, art instillations, and, well, holograms from the dead. In a sense, maybe that is the future of these headline acts. The spectacle of the event itself will become the main draw, with the artists creating a soundtrack. But, until walking into a festival is akin to walking into the year 3000, let's try to make sure the music is the real draw of these festivals.
-Written by Justin Charles
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