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

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)

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.

  • Roy Keane

    Hmmm….Coachella in New Jersey…

    Sunday Lineup:

    12:00 – Arctic Monkeys
    12:45 – Frank Sinatra Jr.
    1:30 – Of Montreal
    2:15 – Tony Bennett
    3:00 – Wilco
    3:45 – Frank Sinatra Jr., 2nd set

    etc., and so on…

  • MrStarhead

    But what about Rocklahoma?

  • Dead Air ummm Dead Air

    Maybe we’ll have Ozzfest at PNC redux, but this time with hipster douches rather then butt rock douches.

  • Audif Jackson Winters III

    Young people enjoy music festivals.

  • Dan Gibson

    I’m hardly a young person anymore, but I still plan to attend Coachella this year. Not because I really enjoy oppressive heat and the sort of jackasses I left behind in L.A., but because it’s a manner in which to see bands that simply don’t make a stop in Phoenix often or at all. If I wanted to see Hot Chip, Konono No. 1, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Jarvis Cocker or my beloved Happy Mondays, Coachella is the simplest, cheapest way to do so, and instead I can spend the rest of the year complaining about how lousy the concert bookers in Phoenix are.

    On the east coast, where other major cities are train or car rides away, it would be difficult to see the appeal.

  • MTS

    @Roy Keane: Wow, a Sinatra joke. How leftfield!

  • SuperUnison

    My problem with coachella is that it’s always such an expenditure to go. There are usually only about 5-8 acts I really like plus ten I feel marginal about. Economically, I could spend $400 (when you count up ticket, camping, water etc.)to see this thing OR I could spread that out over 10-20 shows throughout the year that I’m actually interested in. Being around a dehydrated, somehow-even-more-disingenous version of everything I hate about LA is just gravy on my intent to skip this thing.

    As for the East Coast idea, it’s dumb for all the reasons mentioned above. As much as I dislike Coachella, it has momentum as a brand that would be dumb to fuck with by pulling it out of the market it serves.

  • Roy Keane

    @MTS: What….too soon?

  • MTS

    @Roy Keane: Let me know when you drop a bit on Springsteen, so I can set my watch. ;)

  • strapsy

    you’ll be able to add at least three more events to this list by march.

    see y’all in liberty start park in august.

    CMJ is a music festival? really? have you been lately?

  • SAShepherd

    @DanGibson: I don’t like to take even a 48-hour break from complaining about Phoenix concert bookers.

    While I agree in concept with Maura’s point, doesn’t it depend in part on how many locals attend? I speak as someone who’s attended only ACL, and obviously Austin is its own musical creature, but if you can get 40,000 local rich kids to throw $150-$200 of their parents’ money on tickets, plus a few thousand tourists, maybe it’s worth the risk.

    Stupid idea for Coachella, though.

  • Vince Neilstein

    I feel like compared to Europe where there are literally dozens of festivals in every country all summer long, the US festival market is really weak. I wish the US had more summer festivals like the European ones (Download, Wacken, Rock Am Ring, etc etc)

  • Halfwit

    Festivals in the Northeast (at least post-Woodstock)… Cripes, doesn’t anyone remember the clusterfuck that was the Field Day Fest?

  • AquaLung

    Dumb idea all around.

  • Silverfuture

    As a Chicagoan, one thing that bothers me abotu Lollapalooza especially is that smaller bands on the bill aren’t allowed to play in the area for a month or two before or after the festival. I wonder what effects having a corporate festival of this size in the NY/NJ would have on smaller (mid-range, really, I suppose) clubs and they bands they tend to book.

  • Maura Johnston

    @Halfwit: Or Across the Narrows, or whatever that “take a ferry between Brooklyn and Staten Island” one was called?

  • Janelleyo

    And Bamboozle, Bamboozle Left, Saints and Sinners — there are too many all around.

  • el smrtmnky

    is this the same ‘insider’ that told Frankenberry that Castro was dead? fuck you, piggy!
    two years ago, ana matronic from Scissor Sisters announced on stage that it was the last coachella. it’s a well known fact that the permit to use the polo grounds was up, but that goldenvoice and the city of indio had come to an agreement. otherwise, why would goldenvoice go through the hassle of creating their stagecoach festival?
    european festivals are more numerous because the distances are so much shorter. but you can’t beat the weather at coachella, even if it sometimes gets to be 105. less douches show up, especially those with blogs.

  • Halfwit

    @maura: Oh, man… my mind blanked on that one cause it wasn’t anywhere near interesting enough to get me on the road, but it did seem pretty miserable. I just remember getting my presale tickets for Field Day, then slowly feelng my heart sink as I read Newsday online.

    Damn you, Field Day Fest — you made me read Newsday!

  • CarsmileSteve

    @el smrtmnky: um, europe isn’t *that* small dear…

    there really are festivals every weekend from may to august in the uk, but the only successful ones are the monsters (glasto, reading/leeds, V, T in the park), the micros (that are generally completely off the radar, friends and word of mouth only) and very niche ones (green man, secret garden, glade). loads of the extra kind of generic ones have flopped badly, but it’s been a fair while since i’ve heard of any NIMBY objections…

    i don’t quite see why america which is like a billion times the size shouldn’t have more festivals, or is it because they’re all indie rock festivals?

  • AndrewJStone

    @Silverfuture: Those noncompete clauses are an industry standard in practice at all of the country’s major festivals (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Jazz Fest, ACL, etc..). And they are only employed for the major acts. Smaller bands of lesser notoriety usually do not have to sign one. Now while I think they are a bit unnecessary in a market as large as Chicago’s, sure, but I don’t think that is reason to not attend Lollapalooza though.