Is 2008 The Year The Bottom Falls Out Of The U.S. Festival Market?

Maura / January 15, 2008

Perez Hilton is reporting* claims from an “insider” in the Coachella camp that
the sun-baked festival will be moving eastward this year, and will be held “in New York or possibly New Jersey” sometime in August. Hooray?

Well, maybe not. See, I’ve been wondering for a few months now if the market for big, multi-day festivals that attract people from all over the country–and a lot of jerky “VIP” types who show up to collect their gift bags and pose for Cobrasnake shots–was due for a serious correction, and this announcement is finally what pushed me over the edge and into the “yes, please” camp. A question from someone who actually lives in the geographic area in question: Does the Northeast really need its own Coachella, considering that it’s, well, the Northeast, where cities that bands actually tour to on a regular basis are crammed together close enough that if you want to really see a band, it’s pretty accessible by car or train? Not to mention that the area’s residents haven’t exactly been kind to the notions of multi-day, camper-rich festivals in their backyard, even with the promise of tourist money. Perhaps I’m still bitter since I bought a ticket for Bonnaroo Northeast the Field Day Fest back in 2003, only to have the show canceled at the last minute because of “community complaints,” but I do also think that the population-dense Northeast is a different animal than the middle of the California desert, what with there being a lot more people around and, as such, a lot more potential complainants. The proposed Vineland festival–which is also scheduled for August in New Jersey–is experiencing quite a bit of pushback from local residents, and I don’t doubt that an East Coast Coachella would have similar tussles with the people who live wherever it decides to set up shop.

But aside from the whole NIMBY concept, there’s a more pressing issue. Does America really need another festival at this point, given that the economy is grinding to a halt, gas prices are soaring and bringing airfares along with them, and the concert market–particularly the one involving bands that aren’t reuniting or Disney Channel-related–slowing down as well?

Just think about all the festivals that have attracted bloggers and Lindsay Lohan types over the past few years–including a bunch of new ones, many of which have had variable success rates. Off the top of my head, you’ve got:
Coachella (CA)
Bonnaroo (TN)
Vegoose (NV)
Lollapalooza (IL)
Sasquatch! (WA)
Austin City Limits Festival (TX)
Virgin Festival (MD)
Bumbershoot (WA)
Milwaukee Summerfest (WI)
Pitchfork Music Festival (IL)
SXSW (TX)
CMJ (NY)

Granted, not all of those festivals are the same beast as far as logistics, but they do tend to attract similar demographics thanks to lots of overlap in booking and the seemingly endless disposable income of people who like to put their music fandom on the Internet. Are there really enough of those people out there in the States–or even the world–to sustain all of these multi-day events? Even if Radiohead plays every single one, and has Led Zeppelin open, I’d say the answer is “no.” And so, a predicttion: This year, I foresee at least two of the above concerts–perhaps Virgin and Vegoose?–either throwing their final outings or canceling their festivals at the last minute, citing “problems with the venue.” And Coachella East isn’t going to happen, or if it does, it’ll be in the middle of Pennsylvania or waayyy upstate in New York. Anyone want to bet me a $5 bottle of water on either of these wagers?

Good News, Music Lovers [Perez Hilton via The Daily Swarm]

* FYI: Using this clause still gives me hives.