The feeling's been coming on for a while now. It's that ever-present buzz warming the air this time of year. No, I'm not talking about Spring; I could only be talking about Festival Season. Between April until about August, Festival Season in all of its glory essentially takes over our view, seemingly every social media channel and, thus, our lives. Whether or not you attend any festivals this year, you'll certainly hear and see all of the details about each of them from your friends, or your friends' friends, or from perfect strangers' Instagram accounts who just can't get enough "social" posting in. The festival lifestyle is alive and well, but just over ten years ago, the idea of weekend-long music, art, food, culture and libations events were still pipe dreams left to dirty hippies, tweaked-out teenagers and metal heads of the UK. For better or for worse, these days it’s a very different story.
It's no secret: today's festival experience is on steroids. It has ballooned to its 11.0 version of its original self and now includes gourmet food, craft drinks, musical line-ups, arts and crafting opportunities, and even VIP stations for cat naps in-between events. What were once muddy, rain-filled hills with soggy concert goers are now celebrity filled pop-up tents and sun-kissed art installations providing seemingly infinite Snapchat opportunities and Segway fails in the Coachella desert sands, all of which are just a back-drop to the reason you showed up in the first place.
There is something about music that transcends all social and racial lines. For that ten to twelve-song set while the band plays, you have the ability to escape into someone’s carefully written lyrics and feel something you might not ordinarily feel, or at least, might not feel comfortable tapping into otherwise. It’s that emotional connection to the lyrics and music that brings fans to stages every single year. So, what happened to the music at music festivals? These events used to be a weekend-long appreciation of our favorite bands, but now they’ve become a circus of glitter covered hipsters and overly exposed celebrities getting their fill of Instagram likes. Brands are raking in profit from pushing "festival wear," and festivals like Coachella have become more about being seen, and in what, than about being present for the music itself. Merchandise sold at or worn to the festivals is used as a declaration of loyalty for the die-hards, but they're value's been diluted. Band shirts in particular have become a superficial fashion statement for celebrities and hipsters. I don’t ever hear about reality show starlets Kendall Jenner or Tyga-hyped Kylie blasting "Raining Blood" or "Dead Skin Mask" down Rodeo Drive, much less knowing any of the band members names, so when they start sporting Slayer tees, the authenticity tends to die a little–no question.
"What happened to the music at music festivals?"
Even the festival structure has become less about the music and more about how many curated selfies you can fit into one weekend. I’m not against festivals, or selfie ops, per se. However, I actually miss what music festivals used to be about. As a younger generation, they meant literally having lawn seats and ten bands on a stage. Some of my favorite memories are of being surround by friends at music festivals, singing along to our favorite songs under the stars. There weren’t half naked Go Go dancers wearing rubber unicorn masks and butterfly wings, or Steampunk princesses pretending to know who Lemmy was. The only people that came to festivals were actual fans who genuinely loved the band's music and could sing every lyric to every song played throughout the day.
Not to discount all festivals happening now, as a few still hold some redeeming value, but the era of the so-called “music" festival has come and gone. Now, they're a hybrid of just about everything. Festivals like South By South West (SXSW) bring a mixture of music, art, education, and technology to the masses each year, and while the music was its original central concept, it’s now just background noise to the education convention happening all around it. Featured keynote speakers such as First Lady Michelle Obama, a live streaming interactive technology conference, and film festival all transpire within a ten-day music conference and festival located in Austin, Texas. It’s hard to think music could take center stage over The First Lady of The United States, but somehow we still show up hoping that it does.But if you can get passed the over-priced tickets and the over-abundance of clueless celebrities walking around in Slayer tees or sponsored attire, the music festival can still be an amazing experience. From an average attendee’s perspective, it's still possible to get a solid festival experience with your general admission ticket and a well packed backpack. There is a reason that these events become sold out so quickly and most stages are standing room only. The music is amazing and the bands that play these shows bring their A-game every single time. Festivals are also a great place to get introduced to up-and-coming musicians and artists breaking into the mainstream. Some of my favorite bands were introduced to me on these very stages. So make the experience what you will, but get the most out of it. Focus on the social media chase, or bring it back to the actual music. I hope you'll leave the festival with more inspiration and memories than selfies, and that you go wild, get all the feels, and show the bands some genuine love.
Words by Gina Finstad
Images courtesy of Thrillist, Brooklyn Vegan