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:
· BIG NAME ARTIST OF THE YEAR
· 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
· 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?