Music Festivals, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down



By Cathy Lew

Every year, right around this time, I have the same “…should I?” moment about going to music festivals.

And every year, I look at my friends and say, “I’m getting too old for this shit” like I’m the star of Lethal Weapon 12.

Then I go ahead and buy a three-day pass. I’m a pushover when it comes to presale deals, lineup rumors, and heavily filtered #tbts of Time-I-Wore-A-Bandana. Nothing says, “I’m at a music festival, bitch!” like gratuitous headgear.

Music festivals have become an unstoppable cultural juggernaut. The hype occupies the public consciousness for almost an entire year, spanning from initial rumors in December to end-of-summer shows in August. The internet can’t stop talking about who will be emerging, bringing holograms, reuniting. I try to ignore it, but my eyes linger three seconds too long on a link-bait tweet that mentions a band I didn’t even realize was still together. Are they really performing again? How can they look at each other after the lead singer’s solo career that was a middle finger to everyone else? Wait, isn’t the drummer dead?

Against my better instincts, I succumb to the music festival trap. I get excited when I see the typography on the poster announcing:


· Soulful female vocalist performing at 1:15pm for sober people crying about recent breakups

· Rapper with provocative lyrics who everyone loves but whose music I secretly find inaccessible

· Band I loved a decade ago in spite of their failed comeback tour

· Haim

· Five-piece indie/electro band that I call my “favorite” after finding their one song on Hype Machine

I choose to ignore that music festivals couple unrealistic expectations with public drunkenness to become the bastard lovechild of New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Talk of festivals begins in the dead of winter when I’m cold, grumpy, and therefore optimistic about what summer will bring. I justify the price of a three-day pass with how much money I’d spend going to 45 Bowery Presents shows. When summer finally arrives, I walk through the festival gates and immediately remember I spent half a paycheck to watch bare-chested bros high-five girls wearing whimsical daisy crowns.

Most people with self-preservation instincts would get the point, but instead I apply the same predictable shitty logic as lineups oscillate between “Rumored…” and “Confirmed!”

I become forgetful hyperbolic proponent of YOLO: “I have honestly never seen a lineup this incredible in literally my entire life since ever.”

I become the Adam Smith of this rap game with a strong grasp of supply and demand: “Hypothetically, if you buy the presale tickets WITH the three day all-inclusive package that factors in two drink tickets, it will be more cost-effective than buying the individual tickets on Stubhub the night before.”

I become grizzled indie record store owner who has several cats: “Yeah, I saw that band once at an underground popup thing, but I’d be curious to see what their sound is like in an open air setting where they’ll really be tested acoustically.”

I become FOMO Magellan: “We have to take advantage of opportunities to explore different parts of the greater United States rather than becoming complacent with the monotony of our daily perspective.”

Here’s the worst part: I’m not even good at music festivals. I probably should have gotten the hint when I went to a festival for the first time as a high school freshman. I wanted to see Ludacris (leave me alone) and got slapped in the face by an overeager lady fan trying to get closer to Luda and live out “What’s Your Fantasy?” Also, I definitely cried. A few years ago, I blamed stress-induced narcolepsy and fell asleep during Drake’s set at Made in America. I woke up in a patch of grass just in time to ask a group of strangers whether he had played “Make Me Proud” yet. Last year, my rain boot snapped in half and broke at Governor’s Ball, as if to whimper, “Oh really, still at it?”

I’m forcing myself to make this year different. After more than a decade of attending Govchellapaloozaroo and the like, I resolve to stop hauling ass to an abandoned campground that’s as barren as that one level on Oregon Trail where all your oxen go to die.

I’m forcing myself to make this year different. After more than a decade of attending Govchellapaloozaroo and the like, I resolve to stop hauling ass to an abandoned campground that’s as barren as that one level on Oregon Trail where all your oxen go to die. I have a hard time selling, “I’m having the time of my life!” while running a 5k between the Alcohol Sponsor Stage and the Wireless Sponsor Stage. I’m tired of buying water for the same price I’d spend on bottled water in a foreign country where the water supply has been compromised.

Maybe I’m just bitter because I can’t pull off jorts, neon bras, jorts with neon bras, frat tanks, frat tanks with jorts, or neon bras under frat tanks. Or maybe it’s that the only thing more predictable than my inability to survive at music festivals are the festivals themselves. In search of drawing the biggest crowds, festivals have created lineups and experiences that strive to be all things to all people. While spitting out lineups that look like my first generation iPod on shuffle, festivals have adopted a “More is More” mentality at the expense of an identity. I used to nerd out making A Beautiful Mind-style matrixes to figure out which festival had scored the year’s best headliners. Now it’s no longer about pitting Bonnaroo against Governor’s Ball—it’s about festivals competing against the relevance of the format itself. I can’t be the only one who has finally outgrown the barren campground. As festivals get hyped two years in advance and catapult Lady Gaga in to space or get packaged up for cruise ships (looking at you, S.S. Coachella), it’s about who can outdo the festival as it exists now.

For me, it’s time to face reality: there’s a 50% chance music festivals are legitimately a hellhole and a 50% chance I’m actually just too old for this shit. I’m learning to come to terms with either option.

For me, it’s time to face reality: there’s a 50% chance music festivals are legitimately a hellhole and a 50% chance I’m actually just too old for this shit. I’m learning to come to terms with either option. To borrow a quote from whoever your favorite alt radio DJ was in the 90s: “It used to be about the music, man.”

So wait, where is Outkast playing this year?

Cathy Lew is the editor of You can find her on Twitter.

  •!/PancakeMcKennz pancakemckennz

    This is why I’m glad they stream these festivals.

  • PK

    what flavor haterade did you chug this morning, author? sure, there are annoying/frustrating/tiring/played-out aspects of every music festival, but is that why you’re going? no. at the end of the day, it comes down to the music. if you like a band that is playing at a festival enough, then you should be willing to endure the rest of the audience/fans, or the weather, or the prices, etc.

  • Benjamin Ferguson

    You should give a music festival at sea a try Cathy. I should know, I have already spent over 60 days at sea working them. No camping, staterooms. No port-a-johns, private bathrooms. No fighting tens of thousands of people, you’re one of 2500. No missing bands, they all play multiple times. No packing in food, it’s all free and it’s plentiful. Did I mention the tropical port stops? Or how about the high chance of collaboration between artists since they are on vacation too? Did you know you could do it all from a lounge chair or a bar stool or even, the beach? I dare you to give it a try and suddenly find yourself saying “I ain’t too old for this shit!” If the video doesn’t sell you….

  • Justin

    I’ve been dying to go to a festival for years but they are too expensive and too far from Florida. My conversation with my friends around this time consists of questions of affordability. Although I’ve made the most I’ve ever made this year, I’m still short. Count yourself lucky you’ve been to so many for a decade.

  • Realms

    I hear ya, I’m finally recovering from SXSW. I wasn’t planning on doing any more festivals this year but Pitchfork is sounding good!

  • im not registering to comment

    This is the whiniest mid-life-crisis-esque article I’ve ever read jfc if something has consistently made you miserable then yeah, take a hint and stop going.

  • crisp

    after last year’s gov ball fiasco, I’ve called it quits…one too many drunk frat dbags on molly for my taste…it’s sad when other people ruin what should be a pure music experience

  • Graham Garvie

    I love your 50/50 math. We might not be comfortable with all of the implications, but this definitely represents a like-it-or-not graduation from the many manifestations of day drinking clusterf*ck…. From music festival to Santacon to Preakness to any-country’s-take-on-Carnival.

    Just another step closer to sunday morning bingo at the home. Embrace it! I’ll save you a seat.

  • JM

    or you could just see them play a longer set in a better environment elsewhere? not really an all or nothing choice there

  • PK

    the main draw of a festival is being able to see numerous acts in one place over one weekend. obviously you can go see a single band play in a better environment, but when you have the opportunity to see multiple musical acts that you enjoy, dealing with the prices and crowds shouldn’t be a big deal. not to mention, festivals are generally cheaper than single shows anyway. no one said it was an ‘all or nothing choice’.

  • Stuart

    I’m starting to feel the same way. I live in Austin, TX and have gone to ACL and SXSW for the better part of the last decade.

    I also went to attend smaller more specific festivals around the country with random internet music friends and often had a better time then the generic ones in my hometown.

    I’m getting over the FOMO and the appeal of “oh it’s cheap because it’s in your backyard” and wanted to start saving the money I sued to spend on these festivals, for trips to cooler stuff or even festivals abroad (BPM, I’m looking at you.)

    This year I’m doing nothing so I can regroup and have some of the most unique music experiences of my life next year. It’s hard getting off the festival treadmill because everyone is doing it, but it’s going to make it so much sweeter when i visit the ones that actually cater to my tastes and don’t involve me fighting armies of bros at every stage.

  • sdd

    you guys really don’t like music festivals do you

  • pedro

    In washington there have been all these little boutique festivals happening, in towns or islands. There is enough cool stuff that I don’t feel the need to go to the bigger fests…the streaming is cool on the big fests, i definitely dig that that has become a thing, to give everyone that access.

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