Web Toolbar by Wibiya Bears and Bullets: Lollapalooza and the current state of music festivals

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lollapalooza and the current state of music festivals

Why can't you get tickets?

There's a permanent sway that has held over the music festival market, drifting in one improbable direction in the past six years. Availability for music festivals, such as Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella, have become slim in recent years, selling out earlier and earlier every season. What results is a fundamental change in the way we, as fans, approach the idea of festivals.

What resulted of this furious whirlwind attempt to get tickets started six years ago, at the financial boom of music festivals. Tailing back to 2007 and 2008 and you'll notice a striking contrast between the lineups of those years and after. What happened between, of course, is the financial collapse of 2008. Though what a housing market bubble exactly has to do with festival lineups is perhaps beyond me, it was clear that the entire economic system suffered.

Coachella 2007: Bjork, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine
Bonnaroo 2007: The Police, Tool, The White Stripes
Lollapalooza 2007: Daft Punk, Pearl Jam, Muse
Bonnaroo 2008: Pearl Jam, Metallica, Kanye West, Jack Johnson
Lollapalooza 2008: Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails

Since those years reunions have grown scarce, Rage Against The Machine left us again, and Daft Punk became the music festival version of Moby Dick. It's not as if the major three festivals cannot replicate those large-name headliners again (Coachella has done a mighty fine version in the last two years), but you'll be hard pressed to see anything like Lollapalooza 2008 ever happen again.

But the following years the unexpected force of economic fragility and the ever-growing demand of music festivals coincided. So while the viability of the festival seemed to stay afloat because of the demand, say, aside for a bevy of smaller East coast festivals (R.I.P Vineland Music Festival and All Points West) the overall ability to book top flight acts has slipped.

Combining the two elements you'll see larger festivals (Lollapalooza has expanded its size and barriers every year since 2008) for more consumers, who are forced to purchase tickets for either weaker lineups or lineups they haven't even seen yet.

Contrasting 2008 with 2013 is more than just headliners. Lollapalooza, for instance, releases three-day passes in April of every year. It's hard to believe that a festival that sold out its general admission passes in roughly three hours last week took months to sell out a lineup that had Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, and Kanye West in it. That was a reality just five years ago, when fans actually had a chance to say,

OK, we'll go if the lineup is good.

In time that decision had to be significantly altered. Music festivals ceased to be a weekend off and turned into a vacation for most of the consumers, which bode even better for the financial stability of the festival. But those decisions had to be made ahead of time. "OK, we'll go if the lineup is good" turned into "Are we going this year or not?"

Turning the conversation away from a weekend to a vacation altered the demographics as well. Music festivals are populated by two broad groups: Those who travel and those who live within a close proximity. The latter of which always had an obvious advantage, not having to exude travel expenses, hotel, etc. Thus, the ultimate effect of the rampant ticket spree went to them:

Those who live within a close proximity have all the advantage.

Vacations take time, money, and the always casually underrated planning. Combine the obvious factor with the still prevailing fact that the economy is still largely in flux for most prospective festival demographics and the travel crowd has been significantly deterred.

Having to buy a ticket means much less of a hassle for those who live close, hence, why buying one as soon as it is on sale isn't much of a question. Acclimating demand slowly forces out casual outside consumers, which eliminates exposure to something those outside rarely get to see.

I think back to myself as a 19-year-old, sitting on a bench at college, calling my friends about when the idea first came to me. It was April 2008, Radiohead was my favorite band in the world, and Lollapalooza was something I wanted to do for years. I think back then and I realize there's no possible way it would have happened for any of us today. The tickets would be gone and I would have missed something so revitalizing and important to me. Part of it is luck and timing, but another part can't help but feel for that kid today who doesn't get the chance.

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