Mar 12, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

The best darn festivals of 1992 … and 1989

… will be held at the Chicago-only Lollapalooza (Beasties, Depeche, Jane’s) and Coachella (Paul McCartney, the Cure, MBV, and Morrissey) (I’m averaging) this summer.

In fairness, the second night of Coachella has the Killers headlining, with Theivery Corporation, TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, roughly, second billed. (Amy Winehouse has cancelled.)

But the balance of both lineups is otherwise pretty pathetic.

I’m trying to think back… when I was twenty, would I have been clamoring to endure a dusty and crowded  mess of folk in the desert to see bands that were big when I was barely out of kindergarten?

These festivals … all those reunion tours … this sad practice of playing some album from the past in order ….

(“Oooh—Sonic Youth is going to play ‘Teenage Riot’ … and then ‘Silver Rocket’ right after it!“)

… are we reaching some sad decadent place, where a new generation is being told that this is quality entertainment?Why is it cool to populate these allegedly hip fests with artistically moribund nostalgia acts?

I mean, I’ve seen Paul McCartney. This is a guy who, in 1976, thought it was an inspired bit of stage patter to say, in the course of introducing his band, “This is my wife, Gertrude Higgins” (yuk, yuk) … and to keep using it the next time he toured, in 1989.

Did I miss the discussion of how retro this lineup is on Pitchfork, or is “strong lineup” all it had to say?

Jul 29, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

Festival Watch: The WSJ on the Pitchfork Fest

It’s so uncool not to be nice in the world of rock criticism these days it’s refreshing to see a good pan. Jim Fusilli at the Wall Street Journal surveys the bands at the Pitchfork Fest assaying the hep new move of playing one of your famous albums in its entirety. He’s not impressed:

These self-tribute concerts from acts that may have nothing new to say are a staple of All Tomorrow’s Parties, the promoter behind the opening night at Pitchfork here …

Here’s what he had to say about Mission of Burma:

[G]uitarist Roger Miller showed he still has a flair for dissonance and melody, and offstage sound engineer Bob Weston added unexpected heft and textures to the mix. The band seemed delighted to be together again — they’ve played sparingly since their post-punk classic “Vs.” was released in 1982, due in part to Mr. Miller’s tinnitus. When they forgot which song to play next, a few fans provided the answer.

Emphasis added.  Isn’t this… lame? You’re there to play your famous album, and you don’t bother to rehearse, or, uh, use a setlist?

But fortunately P.E. was there to set things right:

When Flavor Flav, who failed to turn up for the opener, “Bring the Noise,” appeared on stage, Chuck D chided him and then pronounced “It Takes a Nation [of Millions to Hold Us Back]” “the best rap album of all time.”

Flav can’t even make it on stage on time? Maybe Chuck D. should institute a buddy system for his band so everyone gets on stage for the first time. Fusilli didn’t mention it, but I bet the sound sucked for Public Enemy; I saw them a half-dozen times back in the day, and never saw Chuck D. bother to get the sound right, or even passable.

Fortunately, fans could revel in the festival atmosphere, right?

Overnight thunderstorms and a Saturday morning downpour turned parts of Union Park into a quagmire…


Previously in Hitsville:


Chaos at Pemberton
2008: The Year of the Fest
The business of festivals
Festivals, schmestivals

Jun 16, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

Festivals, schmestivals

kuo fest graphI forgot to link to artist Andrew Kuo’s fanciful graphic representation of the discomforts of the modern rock festival in the Times a couple of weeks ago. Almost nothing in the entire, dense construction could be argued about by any sensible person. Why fans put up with the crazy long lines, terrible sound, weather, horrendous travel times, safety issues, and, often, lack of basic facilities is beyond me.

(I’ve had a lot of fun at festivals and all sorts of other music events with huge audiences and meager necessities. But that’s because, as a critic, I got to hang out in the comfy VIP tents. I particularly remember fondly the original Lollapaloozas, when I’d often have reserved seats in front of the stage … and access to a box high above the floor as well. When you read a review of these out-of-the-way fests that don’t mention the crowds or the difficulty of getting food and water and such, remember it’s because the critics have those tents to go back to.)

Anyway, Kuo’s work got a couple of letters in response yesterday, one in favor, one agin. From the latter, written by Steven LaKind:

Instead of offering a real understanding or opinion (except his experience as a 15-year-old), he comes off as the ultimate insular New Yorker. Someone concerned primarily about insects and rain and unaware of new bands is hardly the ideal audience member for outdoor festivals.

I feel sorry for Mr. Kuo and his ilk; they feel so urbane, hip and culturally superior when in fact they are cut off from the reality experienced by most of the rest of the world.

I don’t think Kuo, like most normal people, was concerned so much about insects and rain as paying for the privilege of interacting with them.

Previously in Hitsville:

The best show of the year?
The Business of Festivals
The Year of the Fest

Apr 28, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

The best show of the year?

Idolator, tracking the performances at Coachella yesterday, raved about Prince … Portishead and Kraftwerk … the Breedersthe Verve

Didn’t I see this show in 1995? I certainly could have, except for Kraftwerk … who didn’t do their big reunion tour until 1998.

I can’t believe they didn’t get Stone Temple Pilots and Dinosaur Jr.!

Previously in Hitsville:

The Business of Festivals
The Year of the Fest

Apr 19, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

The business of festivals

The Wall Street Journal, in its survey of the onslaught of music festivals coming online this summer ($), has some interesting facts and figures. To wit:

  • There are […] some powerful new business players emerging on the festival scene—bands themselves. Coldplay is taking a cut of the revenue at the new Pemberton Festival. The band’s manager is a major investor in the festival and helped select the location in British Columbia. At Stagecoach, a country-music festival in its second year in California, the Eagles were promised a percentage of the festival’s ticket sales and merchandise in addition to the group’s performance fee, according to someone familiar with the deal.
  • Last year, 80,000 people attended the Bonnaroo festival in rural Tennessee, which featured the reunited Police as one of its marquee acts. The event grossed $16.8 million in ticket sales (up from $14.7 million the year before), not including revenue from concessions, merchandise and sponsors, according to Billboard magazine.
  • A band can often command more than its usual fee for a festival gig—$1 million or more for headliners—in part because organizers are paying a premium to get a special performance instead of being a stop on a tour.
  • A growing emphasis on mainstream headliners accompanies some shifts in the makeup of festival audiences. At Lollapalooza in Chicago, for instance, 35- to 64-year-olds accounted for 20% of ticket buyers last year, up from 16% the year before. The broader demographic mix helps festivals attract crucial sponsorship dollars. North American companies are projected to spend $1.04 billion to sponsor music events this year, up from $867 million in 2006, with festivals attracting a growing share, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report.

I personally don’t understand the economics underlying these; there are just a few $1M-a-performance folks out there, and most of them, like the Police or the Eagles, can make a lot more than that from one gig in most big cities. I suppose there’s some marketing benefits, for an oldster band like the Police, for example, playing at a hip festival. But I also suspect most of the lesser bands on the bill aren’t making as much as they would from a local show; presumably, again, there’s the opportunity to play in front of a larger audience, even one spread out over dozens of acres on a field.

Which is its own problem; these fests, relentlessly romanticized in the press, are horrible places to see any band perform. Grant Park in Chicago, where Lollapalooza now encamps, is just across the street from the Loop, so amenities aren’t that far away, and Chicago knows how to handle crowds. Kids love Bonaroo of course, and I don’t know of too many problems from there, but when I see the words “rural Tennesee” and “80,000 people” in the same sentence, I cringe.

As for Pemberton, well, it seems to be a few hours north of Vancouver, which is to say a few hours away from human habitation. (If you’re driving, just head north on rte. 99, past “Furry Creek” and “Squamish.”) Remoteness makes for cheap real estate for such fests, but it also creates miles-long traffic backups, iffy amenities, and, most importantly, not much in the way of governmental oversight, which is of course a big drag, man …

… until kids start burning, looting and raping. Generally, nothing horrifically bad happens at these fests, until it does, as the carnage from Woodstock ’99 attests.

Worse is the stuff that just is taken for granted, stuff like this, reported by my former colleague Jeff Stark from that show:

Irresponsible: There’s no other word for Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst. He’s goading the crowd, pumping them up, higher and higher. It’s beyond working them into enjoying the show. He’s encouraging the pit, working them into a frenzy. He wants people to “smash stuff.” “C’mon y’all, c’mon y’all,” he shouts. Below him, the pit is a war zone, a sweaty, dirty, roiling mass of vicious guys knocking the fuck out of one another. It’s not a fun scene. It’s nasty, and people are getting hurt—bad. Bodies on cardboard stretchers emerge from the audience a couple of times per song.

After the last metal-rap hybrid song, the MC comes up onstage to make an announcement. “Please, there are people hurt out there,” he pleads. “They are your brothers and sisters. They are under the towers. Please, help the medical team get them out of there. We can’t continue the show until we get these dear people out of there. We have a really serious situation out there.”

A few minutes later, the crowd parts. The kids are hauled off. Tomorrow, at the morning press conference, the staff will announce that 10 people were taken away in ambulances with head injuries. I’m shocked that no one died.

Rock rejuvenates itself so quickly that its collective memory is six or eight weeks at this point. If one of these new fests—one of which, sooner or later, is going to be turned out to be run by folks without the obvious smarts of your Coachellas and Bonaroos—is Woodstock ’99 revisited, we’ll see the appeal of the fests quickly wane. For another few years, at least.