The Making of a Live Music Curmudgeon

I swear, I used to be fun.

These days, a whole lot of my opinions involve irritation. Some of that is to be expected, New York City is perhaps one of the most annoying places to live on the planet, as a city that is too expensive, crowded, and reliant on corrupt government-run monopolies will tend to be. I love it, but there’s certainly no lack of things to bitch about in the Big Apple. However, this latest round of complaining isn’t about something directly related to NYC. This time…it’s about music.

Look, I like music. I love karaoke. Like everyone else, I’m constantly wearing earbuds while on the train, and constantly playing music when in my car. Sometimes I even get the urge to just randomly seek out certain albums and listen to them from cover to cover. So I “get” people who are really into music. What I’ve been failing to get for the past decade or so are music festivals.

A few details: I used to actively seek out music festivals. My first concert was a music festival: Ozzfest 2001, featuring Black Sabbath, Linkin Park, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, and many others. I was clearly a very cool 15-year-old. After that, I went to two more Ozzfests, then to Bonnaroo in 2005, a Voodoo Fest in 2007, and then sort of attended SXSW for a few years (I mostly did film stuff, but one year as a crew chief I got a platinum badge, and so had much more access than I normally would as a mere gold badge volunteer).

Other than that, it’s been a no-go for festivals. I lived in Austin, Los Angeles, and now New York City, and in that time I’ve attended zero iterations of Austin City Limits, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Marleyfest (shudder), Coachella (double shudder), Rock The Bells, and Governor’s Ball. It’s not that there haven’t been artists I was interested in seeing at these festivals, it’s just that on the whole, I feel the entire music festival experience has turned into something rather distasteful.

So to start with, I think most music festivals are more easily enjoyed by younger folks. All of the usual bitching applies: you’re out in the weather, it’s crowded, there’s nowhere to sit, you frequently can’t see shit, and everything, EVERYTHING is overpriced. Coachella is probably the worst offender in this regard, with no-frills, general admission passes coming in at a whopping 375 dollars (that’s before taxes and fees of course). A festival place and the privilege of living in your own filth in a teepee for 3 days will run you an astronomical 2,000+ dollars, and if you live outside of California, you can factor in gas and/or air fare as well, plus the untold hundreds of dollars you’re liable to spend on food, water, and other necessities.

And what exactly do you get for all this money? When you look at it all from a practical standpoint, the chance to see maybe 1 or 2 of your favorite artists (if there are actually that many on the bill) perform from a football field away, crushed in so hard with a bunch of smelly and obnoxious strangers that you can’t breathe. The festival defender will frequently point out that for the sheer number of performers on the bill the outrageous price-gouging actually works out to something reasonable, but I’ve yet to meet anybody with eclectic (read: bizzarre) enough tastes to actually be that excited about more than 30% of any given festival lineup. Regardless, due to logistics, you’re going to be forced to choose between which of the 3-5 top tier acts you want to see over the course of a given weekend, and will probably wind up spending the bulk of your time at the festival sweating your ass off while you watch a nameless, flash-in-the-pan gang of nobodies perform as you try to convince yourself that this is totally worth 500 bucks.

In case you were wondering, yes, all of this is because I’m bitter. When I first got word that Outkast were reuniting for Coachella, I immediately thought, “Well, that’s annoying…because there is no way, come hell or high water, that I’m going to Coachella.” Then it was announced that the duo was actually embarking on a 40 festival-long tour, which included Governor’s Ball, which is held every summer right here in New York City. I went to check it out: the first wave of pre-sale tickets were priced at sort-of-not-really modest $175.00. Granted, I didn’t know the rest of the lineup, but I’ve wanted to see Outkast perform for quite a while, and up until recently, it didn’t seem like that would ever be possible. Long story short, I was willing to shell out $175 just to see Outkast, and hopefully there would be one or two other decent bands once the full lineup was announced. Seeing that there was no option to buy, I assumed that pre-sale wouldn’t begin until more of the lineup was announced, and I made a note to check in later.

Well, it turns out that I should have checked in the next day. Because in the span of a few hours, the event posted the pre-sale time, began the pre-sale, and then sold out of the pre-sale. Immediately after that, tickets went on sale for the much less swingable $250 for a weekend pass, not including taxes, fees, and a required ferry pass. So yes, this entire thing is basically on my blog because I’m pissed and not willing to spend $300 plus dollars to see Outkast perform in less than ideal conditions. Fuck me, right?

The accompanying white rage (there are more than two ways to apply that adjective) gave one to some serious thinking about my feelings towards music festivals in general, along with discussion with my roommate about how have both sort of “outgrown” (to use the ultimate condescending verb) live music except in very rare circumstances. I’ve come to view the live music experience like the “club” experience: I’m just not willing to pay somebody bungloads of cash in order to make me mildly resentful that I can only see some of my favorite bands in blatant corporate cash-grabs slopped over with a thin veneer of plastic faux-hippie vibes.

Perhaps most distasteful of all, but the least easy to prove: I suspect that most people who attend these ever skyrocketingingly expensive festivals go out of some sense of cultural obligation. This is especially true of places like Coachella, where the outrageous prices and close proximity to Los Angeles dictates that most people you run into there will be ladder-climbing starfuckers who spend the bulk of the festival they paid upwards of $2,000 trying to convince 19 year old girls that they’re a big deal in Hollywood. The shotgun-blast, no-rhyme-or-reason stylings of most lineups only reinforces my suspicions that a lot of people just go to these things in order to rack up cultural credibility, and to balloon the large number of artists, or even festivals they’ve been fortunate enough to attend, rather than for the sheer love of the music or the show.

So that’s it, I suppose. Odds are I’m never going to see Outkast live (the world’s smallest violin is playing), but that’s OK. I’ll enjoy the best music they have to offer from the comfort of my very own home. If I want to see the real, “live music experience” for myself, well…there’s always YouTube.