This week, Coachella pre-sale tickets sold out in under four hours.
Although the festival won’t happen for over 10 months and none of the bands playing have even been announced yet, enough people already know where they want to be next April to allow Coachella to hold an “advance sale” year after year.
Last weekend, on the other side of the country, the rain-shortened Governors Ball Music Festival took over New York City for a couple of days (Sunday was canceled due to the threat of thunderstorms and the fact that 72 people got struck by lightning at a music festival in Germany shortly before). Roughly 50,000 people each day crammed into a four-stage festival to see acts like the Strokes, the Killers, Beck, Miguel, and HAIM (Death Cab for Cutie and Kanye West were Sunday’s canceled headliners), and few left disappointed by what they saw (aside from the lack of DCFC/Kanye).
But something seemed off.
I’m not a festival expert by any means. I haven’t been to a decade’s worth of Coachella. I rarely travel cross-country for a weekend of music, and until a handful of years ago, the bulk of my festival experience was comprised of the Warped Tours of the 2000s.
That said, the rise of Snapchat, Instagram, and every other FOMO-inducing form of social media has shaped and changed festival crowds over the last few years. More people are worried about taking the perfect selfie than seeing their “favorite” bands, and you may as well have not even gone if you’re not going to post everything you saw/did/ate/drank online while you’re doing it.
Governors Ball (among other recent festivals I’ve been to) was filled with people doing their best to imitate what they think going to a festival should be. New York City is known for being one of the hippest/coolest places in the world, and yet 99 percent of the crowd at one of its biggest music festivals was comprised of the most boring young adults attempting to reenact what they’ve seen of Coachella and other festivals through the filters of Instagram. Have you ever seen a rain-drenched pissed-off New Yorker wearing a flowing dress and flower crown? It’s not a good look.
It’s not just Governors Ball, it’s many of the multi-day multi-genre music festivals. I’ll never forget the Snapchatting girls next to me during Against Me!’s set at Governors Ball (“I don’t know anything by them, but they have the trans singer and she’s hilarious on Twitter!”) just the same as the bros who kept wondering when J. Cole would play “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” at last year’s Summer Ends Music Festival in Arizona.
Festival culture has never been bigger, but it’s also never been less about the music. As long as there are giant money-grabbing music festivals going on, there’ll be people who go just to say they did (or just for the Facebook photo album). Unfortunately, the mainstream popularity of music festivals has created a world where spending hundreds of dollars to see a few bands you enjoy and a handful of others that you’ve heard of is totally reasonable as long as it gets you followers and likes. But if festivals keep selling out for $400 per weekend, how much longer before it becomes $500 or $800? Ask anyone with a Disneyland pass, annual rate hikes are a bitch.
Not all festivals are bad though. Coachella will still be Coachella for as long as people are willing to drive to Coachella. It’s the gold standard of festivals, and even with some publications pulling their coverage because of how far it’s drifted away from the “music” half of “music festival,” Coachella isn’t stopping anytime soon. For that matter, Coachella could probably continue with no live music at all and plenty of people would still go. Coachella is the coolest kid in town, and it knows. Other festivals like Outside Lands and Bonnaroo are allegedly more music-based, although I haven’t been, so maybe they’ve changed.
For that matter, single-genre festivals are often fantastic. Last year’s It’s Not Dead Festival brought out punks of all ages from all over the world (as did Taste of Chaos, but more for the 2000s emo/pop punk scene), while Ice-T’s Art of Rap Festival is an awesome day full of multi-generational hip hop. Even radio station-hosted festivals like the KROQ Weenie Roast bring in a more interested crowd. Rather than trying to draw the most people, focusing on one genre allows the festival to fill with audience members who are actual fans of the music and will (hopefully) spend more time watching the show than staring at their phones.
Eventually, it’ll reach a point where the festival bubble bursts and it all collapses in on itself. People will stop paying the ludicrous prices, artists will stop bouncing from one festival to the next for entire summers, and promoters will stop making boatloads of money for one weekend in otherwise-obscure venues. There won’t be mandatory selfies going on at every main stage in the world, and companies won’t be cashing in on $300 festival outfits or ridiculous Coachella-themed furniture. As far as I’m concerned, we can’t get there fast enough.