Music festival reviews
Willoughby Thom | Tuesday, January 21, 2020
As awards season is in full swing, every music festival line-up is also being released. Waiting for festival line-ups to be released is often more nerve-wracking than seeing the same predicted film win every award.
Festival line-up release dates are all over the place, adding to a festival-goer’s anxiety. There is no rhyme or reason. It is almost as if the festival coordinators, like Live Nation or Goldenvoice, get distracted and frantically post the line-ups on social media because they suddenly realized they need to sell tickets. However, the release dates of the line-ups are beside the point. The anticipation leading up to the reveal is something that is exciting, and anxiety-driving, for most music lovers.
For weeks predictions are made. One can compare their favorite band’s touring schedule with the festival they wish to attend and pray no conflicting dates stand out. Reddit is perused to see if there have been any leaks and then, finally, all one can do is just wait.
So far, there have been a number of festival line-ups released, notably Coachella, Bonnaroo, Shaky Knees and Bottle Rock, and all of such have been largely disappointing. The two that really stand out, however, are the Coachella and Bonnaroo line-ups.
Let us first take a look at Coachella. In recent years, Coachella hasn’t been a “music festival” in the proper sense of the word. It has become a place for celebrities to be seen rather than for music, but this year is particularly interesting.
Since Coachella’s birth in 1999, rock groups and a smattering of pop and rap artists have headlined with a slight decline in rock groups doing so beginning in 2009.
The most noteworthy headliner of 2020’s Coachella is, oddly enough, Rage Against the Machine. Rage has taken a break from live performance since 2011, and, only last year, they announced their intentions to go back on tour and headline the first day of Coachella. This is all very exciting news, but will Rage be received positively at a festival that has become known for its prominent “influencer” celebrity scene and EDM flavor?
Rage Against the Machine played at Coachella in 1999 and 2007 prior to the festival’s shift in their genre inclinations. Interestingly, when Rage announced their reunion in 2007, they immediately played Coachella and are now doing the same with their 2020 reunion.
The group’s anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian and revolutionary views conflict with the highly commercialized and mainstream rebranding of this festival. Rage will most likely draw in a new “crowd” of people, extremely different in political and social views of a normal Coachella goer. Their debut performance after their seven-year split in 2007 was before the multi-million-dollar festival became scene driven rather than music-driven. This begs the question will this year’s Coachella be well-received by the molly-tripping adolescents in flower crowns?
Bonnaroo, on the other hand, is forcing us to ask another question — what qualifies a group or individual to headline a major festival?
There are no set guidelines for deciding such. Obviously the act needs to be well-known and high on the charts, but should that same band or artist have a thorough discography before seen as a headliner? The reason for this question is that one of Bonnaroo’s 2020 headliners, Lizzo, has only released one album, along with a number of singles and EPs. Lizzo is an extremely talented artist, but does she possess enough content to fill a two-hour headlining spot when her normal shows are only about an hour long?
The question of who can headline a festival is also at play with the Mad Cool festival in Spain where Billie Eilish is listed before The Killers on the bill. The Killers have been active for 19 years and have released five albums, whereas Billie has been active for four years and has only released one studio album. Yet, she is seen as more important than a band that has been around for almost five times longer than she has.
It seems to all be a social and economic game. Festivals have become events people go to be seen rather than to hear the music. Of course, purists still exist who attend simply to listen to good music, but the majority has fallen victim to the social panopticon.