Allie Tollaksen | Monday, March 3, 2014
Spring is upon us, or at least March is a month that brings spring to mind in most parts of the country. With spring comes the melting of snow, the chirping of birds and the chaotic onslaught of music festival announcements. With Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball and Coachella all announcing their lineups in recent weeks, the panic over tickets and travel plans has begun and is set to continue throughout the summer as acts sign on, weekends sell out and festival news emerges. Though the music-loving, festival-going world is yet to learn of some of the big lineups for festivals later in the summer, the circuit has become so uniform in recent years, much can be said about the 2014’s throng of festivals.
The first is that big comebacks have already staked their claim as this summer’s headliners. Outkast has set to appear at Coachella this coming April as well as at New York’s Governor’s Ball this June. Neutral Milk Hotel, after a successful round of touring and selling out large concert venues, has signed onto Coachella as well, along with Bonnaroo for June and Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival for July. These acts will undoubtedly make their way to either Outside Lands in San Francisco or Lollapalooza in Chicago later in the summer and are more than enough reason to check out whichever day they’ll play.
Along with comeback acts sure to sell out shows (both Outkast and Neutral Milk Hotel span a generation, which is festival gold), this year’s lineup-of-lineups flaunts festival favorites like Jack White, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, Matt and Kim and the Flaming Lips. Though some of their new music may be better than others, these guys are consistent, fun and put on great shows. Bonnaroo, which presents perhaps the most all-encompassing lineup of the popular festivals, snagged all of these bands and more that fall into the “They’re always here!” category, and Lollapalooza is likely to do the same.
Of course, there are the big-name new (or new to many) artists who make coughing up $200 for festival passes difficult to resist. Grimes, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, James Blake and Kurt Vile are among the many tempting acts that have announced their upcoming appearances at festivals this year. And of course, it’s only March, and the rumor mill has churned out plenty of talk about acts like Angel Olsen and St. Vincent, both of whom shouldn’t be missed.
But it’s the early-in-the-day, don’t-recognize-their-name newcomers that make festivals special. To me, the best festival experience is seeing a dozen bands you’ve barely heard of, then coming to appreciate and love them as they go on to become familiar names and sounds by winter. While many want to stake out at one stage for the band they’ve loved for years, my festival-going style involves floating around from stage to stage, catching these newer faces. This year, that means acts like Caveman, Flatbush Zombies, Tourist and Daughter. These artists are sure to move their way up the lineup posters in coming years, and seeing them in the light of day this summer will be well worth the sunburn.
Festivals have become popular, abundant and enormous in recent years, and with this brings good and bad. When festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella sign groups that span so many genres and expand so stages sprawl for miles, it’s hard to go buy a weekend pass and not see some incredible acts at any given moment. But at the same time, the enormity within and uniformity across festivals means your regional fest is probably neither unique nor terribly intimate. By booking bands ranging from EDM to freak folk, festivals get a nice diversity but lose a lot of identity, something that becomes apparent when you’re pushing your way through a Skrillex show to see the Avett Brothers. It’s possible that two people buy the same ticket, yet attend two drastically different festivals.
All of this may be true, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing — more options mean a more customized festival experience. If you’re willing to live as one with swarms of attendees with tastes drastically different from yours and make the increasingly long trek from stage to stage, this year’s group of festivals offers a beautiful buffet of artists old and new.