a bitter, high maintenance look at summer festivals vs concerts

Just before last weekend started, I engaged in a gchat rant with a friend of mine about my lack of desire to attend a music festival – specifically, Lollapalooza in Chicago from August 1st – 3rd.

It is my experience that a music festival like this can’t be enjoyed if you’re going into it with the same expectations and mindset of attending a concert.

When attending a concert, you look forward to hearing that band… enough that you’re willing to tolerate whatever the opening band is (if you even think to take note of who’s opening). With a concert, you normally (more than half the time, anyway) have assigned seats, so there’s some reward for being on top of things and getting your tickets early. With assigned seats, you also don’t have to worry about lining up three hours before the show.

There’s also a better chance, for a concert, that the majority of attendees will actually be there to see and hear the band, not just see it as a place to have louder conversations than normal. And obviously, concerts don’t take anywhere near the time, money or planning that a music festival does.

To me, these are the advantages of the single-performer concert, and music festivals have none of that.

If you’re going to a music festival, I think you have to focus more on the set of experiences and less about the end result. Make the journey (travel to the event) memorable. Get psyched for some great iPhone spy-cam opportunities (great people watching). Do not get wound up about the schedule (don’t worry about being “on time”). To some degree, I think you really have to roll with the event and hope you get to see the bands you intended.

The New York Times recently ran a set of graphs from Andrew Kuo under the heading “a pessimists guide to the summer festival season.” They illustrate Andrew’s experiences at some of the festivals and sum up what is probably a somewhat familiar take on attending events like Bonnaroo. Here’s the graph:

Add to that, in the case of Lollapalooza, that it is in Chicago – the worst of America’s larger metropoli. People who think it’s difficult to get into New York have obviously never tried to get into Chicago. It takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive to Chicago proper from Madison and another 2 hours from that point to actually make it to where in Chicago, the land of single-driver cars, you were intending to go.

Despite all that, I thought about the conversation we had and decided to purchase a ticket to day one (August 1) of this year’s Lollapalooza. (I would have purchased the weekend pass, but my in-laws are visiting from New Jersey that weekend, and… well, you know…)

Plus, day one has a ready made schedule to it… Rogue Wave at 1:15, Enemy UK at 2:15, The Kills at 3pm, Gogol Bordello at 4:15, Mates of State at 5:15 and Radiohead at 8pm.

So, with expectations low, and ticket firmly tax deductible, I begin my mental preparations for a day of meandering from one band to another. This better be good…

*Incidentally, Andrew Kuo has had other graphs of the music scene. Here’s the one I liked the best.


2 Responses to “a bitter, high maintenance look at summer festivals vs concerts”

  1. 1 Jim
    June 26, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Basically what that graph (and this post) says is: festivals aren’t for everyone.

    You’re absolutely right that a single show and a fest are very different animals but as long as you modify your approach accordingly: you’ll come out happy. If you approach your day at Lolla expecting 6 back-to-back great single-concert experiences… you’re going to come away disappointed.

  2. 2 Joe
    June 27, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Right- the festival is almost less about the music and more about the the good times that are had with the right group of friends.

    Different than a concert – a more focused music experience.

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