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Post: What’s behind the lack of enthusiasm for this year’s music festivals? – National



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The early signs were there. Several Australian music festivals scheduled for the Down Under summer months were cancelled. Then word started to come out of Britain about more festivals that wouldn’t happen because of various financial and logistical issues.

But the biggest wake-up call came when Coachella 2024 failed to sell out instantly like in years before. It took months to sell all the tickets for the first weekend; even as late as this past Thursday, tickets were still available for the second weekend, something that would have never happened in the past.

And it’s not just Coachella. There seems to be an overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for almost every major festival this summer. Lollapalooza has gone all hip-hop and pop. Except for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bonnaroo’s lineup doesn’t feel very exciting. Osheaga has Green Day, Noah Kahan, and SZA, but lacks the superstar punch of previous years. Same thing with Festival d’Été de Québec.

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There have even been moans about Glastonbury, a festival that sells out in hours, months before anyone knows who will be performing. “These are the best headliners you can get?” seems to be the dominant complaint. Oh, it’ll still be the mud-and-booze-and-drugs riot it always is, but I doubt that Glastonbury 2024 will make anyone’s top 10.

So what’s the problem? Why are so many major music events suffering from a “meh” problem? Several reasons.

It’s the end of funflation

Going to a festival costs a lot. Between the price of a day or weekend pass, you need to get to the site (often a real hassle), find accommodation (if you’re not the camping sort or if that’s not available), and then reserve cash for food, drink, and merch.

TikTok is full of messages about food and drink prices (US$64 for two burritos and a juice and US$28 for a double vodka). That might have been doable in the era of funflation, that post-COVID time when many of us decided to make up for the lockdown years by spending whatever was necessary to travel and have fun. We may have reached our limits on that — at least as far as music festivals go.

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Gen Z isn’t playing along

Boomers, Gen X and Millennials were all avid festival-goers. Gen Z? Maybe not so much. “Generation Sensible,” as they’ve been called, isn’t into the party lifestyle as much as their predecessors — at least they don’t see this as a priority. Even those who do go to a festival, a study says that just five per cent of Gen Z is excited about drinking alcohol or doing drugs.

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This tracks with other things I’ve observed about this generation. They’re all about living healthy and engaging in social issues.

And although members of this cohort like hanging with their friends, they like to stay within their small circle, a comfortable network of like-minded friends. And this circle doesn’t have to be IRL; they can be virtual friends, people with whom they only interact online. It’s possible mixing in with large groups of strangers makes them feel uncomfortable.

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Meanwhile, Boomers, Gen X, and even many older Millennials are done with standing in a field for a weekend.

There’s an interest rate problem

Festivals thrived throughout the 2010s when interest rates were low, making it easy for promoters to borrow the start-up capital to stage a festival. Those days are gone. Unless you have really deep pockets (or have access to Saudi Arabian money), you’re either being driven out of business or won’t even bother trying to start a festival.

We have a big music problem

I’ll say it for the one-thousandth time: The music industry has done an absolutely lousy job of creating new superstars for the 21st century when compared with decades past. The ones that do exist — Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, et al — don’t need the hassle and restriction of appearing at festivals. They can make oodles more money and have more control by launching their own headlining tours. For example, Bey was paid US$4 million for her 2018 Coachella gig in 2018. She can gross several times that for each show she plays when she tours alone.

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Heritage acts from the 1990s and earlier — think Madonna, Green Day, blink-182, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Tool, Pearl Jam — know this, too. They would rather go out on the road by themselves than be burdened with scaling down a show for a festival appearance. At the same time, the super-heritage acts like The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and The Eagles are getting into their 80s. Think they want to spend a weekend at a festival? There are other older acts to choose from, but they’re (a) not going to get Boomers out of their houses; (b) not appealing to young festival fans; and (c) dying off.

So who’s left? Artists who in the past would be considered large cult acts. Lana Del Rey a Coachella headliner? I mean, she’s good, but this is Coachella slot once filled by the likes of Eminem, Guns N’ Roses, Lady Gaga, AC/DC, Radiohead, and Muse. Tyler, The Creator, one of the top names at Lollapalooza? Fred Again.. in the big font on the Bonarroo poster? Festival promoters need to figure out how to get these A-level performers on their side again.

Complicating matter is that Gen Z, which grew up with instant access to tens of millions of songs on Spotify, are hugely fickle when it comes to music. Are they into rock? Maybe today, but then tomorrow, it’ll be all about hip-hop. Or pop. Or EDM.

Big festivals are booked using the “green bananas” principle. The goal is to sign young, emerging acts that will hopefully be exploding just as the festival weekend rolls around. They may be in a small font on the poster when tickets go on sale but could move up a few points by the time the gates open. What results are festival lineups that are largely made up of second-, third-, and fourth-tier acts. Promoters need better crystal balls if they’re going to book acts that will appeal to a large number of Gen Zers.

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Music continues to get narrower and narrower when it comes to appeal. Today’s biggest acts are nowhere near as big as acts used to be back in the day (Taylor Swift and Beyoncé excepted). In the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, record labels prepped and promoted a few acts for the masses. Today, technology has lowered the entry barrier so low that anyone can release and distribute their music globally. The problem is that over 100,000 new songs get uploaded to the streaming music services every day.

There’s no centre to music anymore, no consensus, no act that everyone knows and can sing at least a few song lyrics. Ask any random dozen people to name songs by SZA.

So are festivals going extinct? Not the big ones. They’re well-funded and have enough history to keep the momentum going for a while. There are also many smaller specialized events that draw modest by diehard crowds.

Personally, I’d consider going to Cruel World in Pasadena, Calif., on May 11 to get my fix of classic alternative bands like Duran Duran, Blondie, Simple Minds, and Soft Cell. Sonic Temple in Columbus sounds perfect for metal and hard rock fans (Disturbed, Pantera, Slipknot, Judas Priest, Sum 41, Royal Blood, and a couple dozen more.) Las Vegas has Sick New World (System of a Down, Alice in Chains, Primus, Killing Joke, Lamb of God, and many more). Napa Valley’s Bottlerock has booked Pearl Jam, Ed Sheeran, Stevie Nicks, and Queens of the Stone Age, among others. And if you’re an old emo kid at heart, When We Were Young will be back in Las Vegas this fall with My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy, Simple Plan, and an army of others.

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Or you might like to take a music-themed cruise (Monsters of Rock, The 80s Cruise, Emo’s Not Dead, Rock the Bells, Headbangers Boat, Soul Train, The Outlaw Country Cruise, The Ultimate Disco Cruise, and the 700,000 Tons of Metal Cruise.

Festivals will be with us for a while. It’s just that they aren’t what they used to be, you know? Now get off my lawn.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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