Daniel Barabasi | Monday, April 28, 2014
Air-conditioned bathrooms. Rehydration zones. Fenced-off relaxation areas with better views. Reservation-only four-course dinners. Beauty parlors sponsored by Sephora.
All available at your friendly neighborhood music festival.
Personally, the list above sounds like a friend describing their latest family vacation to a Cancun resort, not the VIP experience at Coachella, Ultra Miami or the reinstated Electric Zoo Festival in New York.
I have heard many critics complain about the mainstream pop turn many lineups have taken over the years, however, in the meantime, organizers have been slowly whittling away at the discomfort a music festival entails. Suddenly, we realize the rugged, dirty, “dangerous” festival we once loved is all but gone.
In its place, we have the “safe” festival: If the sun gets too hot you can hide in the baths or have the layers of mud quickly whittled away at the local spa. Don’t worry though, you won’t miss your favorite artists. In fact, with an extra few hundred dollars you can get priority viewing with no lines in the VIP section. Did I mention no lines for drinks either?
Here, the poor college student questions, “Where’s the fun in that?” Let’s see the cliché comparison to the original Woodstock. Over 400,000 participants, all organized without online tickets or VIP passes. Barely any safety considerations, around half of the attendees didn’t have tickets, and the venue had to have its fences cut down in order to avoid a riot. All this, and yet only one overdose death, one death by tractor in a neighboring field and two on-premise births. The backlash? Governor Rockefeller considered sending 10,000 National Guard troops, but was talked out of it by festival organizer John Roberts.
There was the potential for danger, rioting and looting in the presence of nearly half a million people, but the festival is remembered as the touchstone for hippies, peace and love. They achieved this in pouring rain and knee-deep mud, without “rehydration zones” or beauty parlors.
So, what’s the big fuss 45 years later? On top of the aforementioned comfort items, the city of Miami tried to push Ultra out of its center, and Electric Zoo announced last week a safety review board staffed by doctors, security experts, music industry specialists and DJs Steve Aoki and Armin Van Buuren. Furthermore, the festivals continue to ramp up their efforts to spread their zero tolerance drug policy.
The drug-proofing is a noble cause, as in a city environment the attendees can present a danger not only to themselves, but also to the commuters on their way back to their lodging. Festivals should be for the music and the live experience, not to worry about the state of the crowd. In 2014, party drug users, especially those who can afford major music festivals, should know enough about their choices to avoid danger.
Yet drug-proofing doesn’t entail an overall streamlining of the festival process. Rehydration tents make sense, but why turn a music festival into a spa day? It’d be hard to believe that the commercialization of the festival experience is a financial issue, considering recent ticket prices and on-site refreshment costs.
Unfortunately, the music industry has made its path clear. Small-scale festivals may still retain their rustic and rugged environment, but if you want the best collection of big-time performers, you’ll have to attend the new music festival.
That means rounded edges, pay-per-use toilets, safety doorknobs, steak dinners and spa breaks, just to see your favorite artists. Child-proof, idiot-proof, fun-proof.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.