What is Music Festival Fatigue?
Consider Woodstock, 1969: eccentric, iconic and utterly singular. Fast-forward fifty years, and giant music festivals aren’t so historic anymore.
There’s Coachella, Lollapalooza, SXSW, Tomorrowland, Warped Tour, Austin City Limits, Governor’s Ball, Bonnaroo and literally hundreds of other festivals taking place across the world each year that rack up a total of over 32 million attendees. Although Coachella undisputedly wears the flower crown of festival royalty, an intensive lineup study conducted by Quartz compares headliners for major festivals in 2016, and reveals that the two-weekend-long Californian desert party isn’t all that much different from its competitors anymore.
Big-name festivals used to have distinct identities. Coachella enticed the mainstream hipster crowds while Pitchfork booked the fringier ones. Bonnaroo was a haven for jam-bands and Lollapalooza carried on the alt-rock aesthetic it developed during its days as a traveling festival during the ’90s, Austin City Limits had a southern-roots vibe, and Summerfest was a fun mix of everything. Now, they all share the same headliners, and outdate the notion of a festival’s personality almost entirely.
Insatiable demand for what’s become the quintessential festival experience—that is to say, boozed-up weekends of live music, experiential art and Instagram-able style—has designed a target market to profit from. Festival organizers try to stand out by providing patrons with the most multi-faceted experiences possible, but considering that several of the 173 music festivals going down in the US this year are hosted by the same three giant entertainment conglomerates, they end up looking more or less the same aside from location. This phenomenon is what sociologists call “institutional isomorphism,” meaning that competing companies will conform to the models of their more successful counterparts in the hopes of replicating their success. We’re calling it festival fatigue—way less science-y.
Perhaps institutional isomorphism/festival fatigue is the reason our culture has reached peak festival. That’s the concert equivalent of peak oil, or the concept that the world will one day run out of its petroleum supply and cause society to dramatically crumble. Though the stakes are a bit lower for music festivals, we’re almost definitely past the point of salvation as extravagant multi-day destination festivals are reaching their saturation point and blending into one another.
While some of the bigger fests will obviously remain major money-makers (thanks to massive sponsorships obnoxiously branding every square inch of space), peak festival is already dismantling those festivals that attempted to stay loyal to their niches. Electric Daisy Carnival won’t be returning to New York after its four-year stint, and the creators of Mysteryland USA controversially cancelled the event shortly after releasing a packed lineup. It was scheduled for June 9-12 at Woodstock’s home, the Bethel Woods Center For The Arts in New York, with headliners LCD Soundsystem, Major Lazer, Big Gigantic and Porter Robinson. Guess you could say this is just another L for EDM.
As everyone wants the chance to be part of a capital-M Moment, the music—the ostensible reason for the festival—comes in at a sad second. As festivals become more homogeneous, the scene has, too, and what’s left looks like a clump of logoed tents and stages that spring up overnight in one place, only to pop up the next weekend somewhere else. Its exhausting.
There’s no need to fret if you didn’t make it to Coachella this month, though. We promise it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, despite peak festival. It’s also totally possible that certain fests will find ways to stand apart once again that don’t entail booking all the same acts as its competitors. Someone has to be working on hologram-Hendrix, right?