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Music Festivals: Consumer America?

Music Festivals: Consumer America?

By: Alex Ramirez
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August 28, 2012
It was early morning on January 13 and I clicked on the Coachella home screen button, “Buy Tickets” I was exuberant as I would be able to attend Coachella for the first time. Unfortunately, it came up to the waiting page.

So I waited for ten minutes. But soon enough, ten minutes became thirty minutes and thirty minutes became an hour. And after four hours of waiting, I received the dreaded tweet, “@Coachella: Coachella 2012 SOLD OUT. Thank You!”

Selling out within days, it’s easy to say that festivals such as Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Austin City Limits have acclimated themselves into the clutches of America’s mainstream culture. Once used to be about leaving the humdrum and ostentatious snobbery of life behind, is now (in some cases) becoming a business driven tycoon.

“I often make the point that people don’t go to festivals for the music, which is a secondary attraction,” said Casper Smith, editor of the Observer Music Monthly Magazine, to BBC. “They go because of the mass experience, the event itself.”

This is clearly evident because for the past two years, Coachella advance tickets have sold out within a few hours with no confirmed lineup. Ultra Music Festival 2012 early bird pre-sale tickets also sold out in 20 minutes amidst crashing servers.

At these festivals, money can now buy things that would probably be deemed as hedonistic luxuries by the past festivalgoers of Woodstock. Coachella and Lollapalooza both offer hotel packages with Coachella also offering a safari tent with the same amenities of a hotel at a hefty price of $6,500. Bonnaroo also offers a Roll Like A Rockstar package that allows main stage VIP, airport transportation, onsite catering and more for nearly $4,000.

Not only that but festivals are still growing to appeal to a wider audience of musical backgrounds- electronic, rock, punk, hiphop...etc.- even if it means to abandon their roots and following.

Disco Biscuits, an improvisational electro-indie band, has been hosting Camp Bisco since 1999. Once known to host jam bands to appeal to modern-day hippies, Camp Bisco is now a popular event boasting the headliners of Skrillex, Crystal Castles, and A-Trak. In order to compete with the likes of other festivals and to diversify the lineup, the festival has found itself increasing the booking budget of $50,000 to $100,000 in 2010 says an article titled “Biscuits and Jam With a Side of Mud.

But as festivals expand and gain a popular repertoire, they also begin to appeal to the smaller audience of wealthier America.

Although, tickets have remained relatively the same throughout the years ranging from 70-300, scalpers have increased, making it harder to actually procure a ticket. Scalpers often scoop up massive amounts of tickets and inflate the prices to outrageous rates that are nearly unaffordable. A $285 Electric Daisy Carnival ticket becomes $1,000 and $185 Austin City Limits ticket becomes $700.

Hotels fares have also taken the opportunity to cash in on the behemoth festivals, which add to extra expenses that do not even include the music festival itself. Hotels that are near the festivals spike up the daily prices to nearly $100-$300 more.

Festivals are even tapping into new ventures such as the growing trend of music cruises. Coachella will be joining the likes of Simple Man, VH1, and Weezer, as S.S. Coachella sets sail this December starting at $500 a person.

These festivals are beginning to play a role in corporate America and are aiding to the economic success of the cities they are held in.

Coachella for the last two decades has taken place in the quaint city of Indio, California. And despite recent fallout with a proposed tax admission, Coachella and StageCoach have been contributing to the economic success of Indio. As stated in an article by the Desert Sun, the city of Indio has already collected $500,000 this year per a contract with Goldenvoice (promoter of the events) and another $328,009 from a 10 percent bed tax on concertgoers.

Also Austin City Limits, known to boast the acts of ubiquitous Kanye West and classic rock n’ rollers, The Eagles, has generated almost $316 million into the Austin economy in 2006-2009, claims a study. And it will only be expected to increase in the future.

With all this emphasis placed on the consumer and paying for extra expenses, it’s no longer a simple joy to go to a music festival but an intrinsic struggle.

Also “there’s a huge amount of snobbery when it comes to festivals these days,” says journalist Alice- Azania Jarvis, an Independent writer, to BBC.

And with festivals losing their certain endearing aura because of their sponsorship by corporate brands such as Hyundai and Heineken, the prestige of the festival is beginning to matter more.

“The reputation of a festival is more important to some people than the acts who are playing,” says Jarvis. This trend is bringing in new attendees that fake sentiment which can sometimes prevent genuine fans from attending.

Perhaps I’m still bitter due to my disappointment of not getting a Coachella ticket. Regardless, music festivals are changing and will continue to do so, but I just hope music festivals still maintain the promise of youth and relaxation in the years to come.

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