What has happened to summer festivals?
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales tells of a pilgrimage by a group of random strangers from all walks of life, all with very different reasons to be there and all with an incredible story to tell. Now in the modern day, this is almost certainly the type of story that could be born from the summer music pilgrimage to muddy plains across the land for a slice of festival action.
Music lovers flock to fields across the UK in search of their latest fix of some of the cream of the year’s new stars and established artists playing amongst multiple stages, often in torrential rain, such is the British way. The number of festivals on offer has doubled, tripled and then seen an influx of European heavyweights add to an already extremely competitive marketplace.
In recent years, the press has been quick to jump on the lack of UK artists to make that leap to headline artist, the repetition of the Coldplay, Oasis, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, U2 and Blur bookings has highlighted the lack in depth of UK’s music scene. In football terms, UK’s music scene is a lot like Arsenal’s football team, full of talented youngsters who promise much, but, despite all the promise, they flatter to deceive and always fall at the last hurdle to true greatness.
As I have been working at music festivals for longer than I can remember, be it in PR capacity, arranging the VIP areas or just scoffing ample free drinks and enjoying the fancy toilets, I will always hold a special place in my muddy wellingtons for them. The summer is defined for many by their experiences at festivals – be it that hidden gig in the woods of Secret Garden Party, getting naked at Big Chill Festival, seeing in the morning sun after a night of revelry at Glastonbury, or with your mates in fancy dress at Bestival – these are the modern memories that we look back at over the cold winter months to remind us of better times.
There is no doubt that the interest in outdoor music events has seen numbers drop – but is that from apathy from the public or is just that the line-ups don’t entice us anymore, or quite simply is it just too expensive?
To be honest, I think it is likely that all the above is true; there are some events that survive no matter what – Glastonbury and US’s Coachella always sell-out and no matter what the promoters put on the stages, they can rest assured that they have a hit. This is evident in the confidence of Coachella’s organisers to extend the ‘scenester’ Los Angeles event with a second week for 2012, and Glastonbury this year selling all tickets before even one artist was announced.
The line-ups on offer now are always going to be a mix of established greats (most likely past their peak) like Bob Dylan, The Cure, Leonard Cohen (not past his peak), Morrissey and Guns N Roses, plus a host of the latest buzz artists. Roll up this year’s crop – Tinie Tempah (again), Jessie J, Anna Calvi, Janelle Monae, Katy B, James Blake and Hurts (finally getting UK festival recognition after all the adoration they get overseas).
So, already this festival sounds great if we get all these to play, I want to go – but why do so many not? Well prices have risen a great deal higher than the level of inflation. The answer to why will always be rising costs, but there is no doubt that in these tough economic times that the days of more than one festival a year isn’t happening anymore (unless you are on a free VIP weekend or just a serial blagger!) and therefore the public want value for their buck, so they will treat picking their festival as they would a car or a dress for a big date, with a considered and logical response.
So go and enjoy the rest of the summer and if you are penny pinching try your hand at overseas festivals, they are unbelievable value for money and are able to rival all the big UK festivals for line-ups. At Heineken Open’er in Poland, my personal favourite, this year for it’s tenth anniversary they managed to have Pulp, Coldplay, Prince and so many more that if I can, I would carry on forever.
So go forth, dust off the wellies, flip-flops and obligatory Ray Bans and make love in a tent. Go drink till you wake up and then when you wake up, go enjoy some brilliant live music whilst getting your body back to the inebriated state it found itself in only a few hours ago – it really does beat a Spotify and iTunes playlist.