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Get the feeling something’s…off about this year’s crop of music festivals? You’re not alone. Thoughts?

This has been a weird year for music festivals. First, Coachella failed to instantly sell out, a rarity. There’s grumbling about the lineup for Glastonbury. Lollapalooza looks like a must-miss. Osheaga is okay, I guess. Festival d’été de Québec has a few obvious highlights. Same with Bonnarro, I suppose.

Overall, though, I get the impression that most regular festival-goers are giving 2024 a big “meh.” There are some smaller rock and metal events that will service those contstuencies, but for as for the I-gotta-travel-to-that gigs, it’s kinda underwhelming. Add in all the UK summer festivals that have been canceled or under financial pressures, then you not only can you be critical but also concerned.

Witness this email from Brian:

“I read your article on Lollapalooza. The best year was obviously 1992. That year was the best year for alternative music period. You are right, that poster is terrible. I can’t believe someone got paid to do that. I did all the posters and whatnot for our shows and our band page and I honestly think I could do better.

“North American festivals have declined extremely fast over the last few years. The Havelock Jamboree is gone, Boots and Hearts is nothing like it was. You have been around the background of that scene more than I have. What do you believe is the problem?

“I believe that the organizers are just lazy, and try to cut corners at every turn to save costs and maximize profits. End stage Capitalism. Sorry for the doom and gloom.”

I understand Brian’s frustration, especially since he remembers the 90s when we had things like a proper Lollapalooza, Edgefest, Another Roadside Attraction, Lilith Fair, Summersault, and the first years of Coachella. Glastonbury had some very memorable lineups, too.

So what’s the issue with 2024?

  • The music industry has done an AWFUL job of creating superstar headliner acts over the last 25. And somehow the big stars of today don’t seem as big as the stars we used to have in the 90s and earlier. The small font bands outnumber those in bigger fonts (see Lollpalooza 2024.)
  • How many times can promoters afford to go back to the well of heritage artists? They’re getting older and dying off. One day soon, we’re going to run out of them.
  • There’s big competition for the heritage acts that are left. That makes them expensive. If most of your booking budget goes to them and you still have to fill a lineup, that means booking a lot of “green bananas”–emerging artists that you hope and pray will get bigger by the time your festival rolls around.
  • Heritage acts can make more money with their own tours. A lot of them are doing just that with quick detours (routing logistics notwithstanding) to play only a couple of festivals.
  • Inflation. The era of “funflation”–revenge spending on fun things to make up for the years we spend in COVID lockdown–is tapering off.

I have a feeling this will be a topic that will be revisited throughout the season. Any thoughts?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38165 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

9 thoughts on “Get the feeling something’s…off about this year’s crop of music festivals? You’re not alone. Thoughts?

  • Hi Alan. Very very good article and I am in total agreement. Glad to see it’S not just me getting older ( I mean I am but still…)

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  • Sometimes it feels like the world forgets us, but there’s still a not insignificant portion of us who aren’t medically cleared to go to a big event like a concert festival (or who would need to mask to be there, or where it just isn’t wise with our pre-existing conditions). I suspect there are plenty of others who thought about festivals during the lockdown times and realized maybe they didn’t miss them as much as they thought they would, and just haven’t been back (similar to in-person conferences for the work world)

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  • Eventually, large festivals will die off for those very reasons. The only ones that are doing well are the Metal festivals.

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  • It’s not a coincidence that Coachella has the least number of rock acts they’ve ever had this year and the lowest attendance in a decade.

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  • It’s not a coincidence that Coachella has the least number of rock acts in their history this year and the lowest attendance in a decade.

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  • Thank you Alan for starting this conversation. I stand by my words until organizers show me different. The experience of music festivals and concerts is irreplaceable in the human experience. I agree with the idea that heritage artists are a dying breed. That being said, there is nothing inherently wrong with new music and artists. Here is the rub. I don’t think it is always the artist that people want to hear. It’s the songs. Here is an example. The Sound of Silence is a great song. It was originally done by Simon and Garfunkel. There is another version that is done by Disturbed. Which one is better? Does it matter? I understand that new music is important to the growth and development of the industry. We can’t just keep going back to the same heritage artists. Like you said, they make more money on their own. But, what if, just hear me out for a second…We take the SONGS that people love, license said SONGS to other artists, and make a show that way. Who wouldn’t want to see a new rendition of Black Hole Sun, We Will Rock You, Love Shack, or No Rain? That would free up a whole bunch of money, and allow new generations of artists to show their love for the artists that inspired them, along with new fans that get inspired by the new artists that took a song they loved and expanded on it. Just a thought.

    Love,
    Brian Vincent Darling

    Reply
  • I think greed and capitalism has a lot do with the lack lustre of interest. In Ottawa Bluesfest has always been a must see for us, this year the revamped the system and increased the VIP area so much that us common folk would be forced to watch on screens in the back field instead of riding the rail like days of old (Foo Fighters 2023), there are also many smaller festivals that are offering great lineups and I feel better supporting artists and seeing those smaller shows such as The Glorious Sons playing Tweed and Key to Bala than forking out $1200++ to attend Bluesfest and similar large festival venues like we have been doing for the past 30 years. What I wouldn’t give for a good Edgefest lineup!!! Cityfolk in Ottawa did a great job last year, still awaiting their line up for this fall.

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  • I feel like you may have missed a critical point here.

    Immediately post-COVID, every musical act in the world was out touring. After a couple of years of cancelled gigs, which removed the obvious income from booking deals, gate cuts and merch sales, acts were also contending with adjusted streaming rates. So once the doors opened again, everyone was on the road.

    This made the 2022 and 2023 festival seasons awesome. Bands were showing up everywhere. Even last year’s Ottawa Bluesfest had some surprising “gets” like Foo Fighters, Death Cab, Shania and Mumford.
    After that huge surge, we’ve dipped into a valley again where a lot of the big acts have filled their pockets and have backed off, or at least have decided to focus on Europe over the summer.

    Reply
  • Nice! I see the connections for sure. Insightful 🤔🤟

    Reply

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