Like it or spike it? The big outdoor concert festivals

Another satisfied Bonnaroo customer.

CatalpaNYC comes to Randalls Island this weekend, another attempt by big-time promoters to make some big-time money ($180 for a weekend pass) off of NYC residents, who as we all know, are starved for big-name touring acts. Are you going? Are you excited about going? Are your friends going and rubbing it in your face? One person who won’t be going (unless his job pays him to, of course) is the Daily News’ Jim Farber, who let loose a fire hydrant-pressurized blast of hate on festivals like Catalpa this weekend. 

“Waaah,” cries the music critic, “these festivals have no cultural resonance. Waaah, they have crappy greasy food. Waaaah, you have to watch people play while the sun is up.” Which are the easiest complaints of his to deal with, by, in reverse order: making a “jerk-off” motion with your hand, pointing out that there hasn’t been a hive mind culture to support something like Lollapalooza or Woodstock in almost two decades. That cultural resonance is given too much weight by baby boomers who can’t let go of the idea that they had long hair first. All right already, we get it: you rolled around in the mud more purely than we do.

Then there’s the larger complain of “Waaah, it’s crowded and things don’t sound good and it’s impossible to see the headliners!” Farber has a point, it’s going to be hard to see Snoop Dogg or The Black Keys this weekend. That ignores the whole point of a music festival though. The music is there for ambience and so that you can see a few mid-card acts that have gotten some buzz this year.

Farber doesn’t even touch on the high cost of festivals, but if I had a job paying me to bitch about them I’d also probably forget that part too. It’s the only reason not to go to something like Bonnaroo, considering the cost of travel and supplies on top of the the pass. More free-form festivals like Northside and SXSW allow you to at least see bands in clubs, and the sheer amount of music you can see during them, minus the shitshow of headliners, tends to make the ticket price reasonable. If you see five bands that would normally run you $30 a ticket and then wander into a couple more that you didn’t know but enjoy, hang out in an open field and also maybe have sex with a stranger you’ll never see again, you’ve gotten fair value out of your ticket.

I hate to echo the thoughts of promoters, but a giant festival is more about the experience than the music. If you’re going to a music festival for any reason other than to get filthy, sweaty and full of chemicals and rub up against someone else who’s all of those things, you’re doing it wrong. Pick out a few bands that aren’t headlining and check them out on smaller stages, then pick a spot to lay out and listen to the day’s headliner that’s far from the main stage. Easy. Want to eat acid in three different forms in one day? Get sunburned? See Ralph Stanley, The Flaming Lips and Tool in the same weekend? A giant festival is for you.

Don’t hate big festivals. Hate your friends who spend the week before the festival clogging up your newsfeed with “OMG CAN’T WAIT FOR COACHELLA” and then the week after talking about “Passion Pit was OMG amazing. Sooooo transcendent.” Shut up, jerks. I know how to do drugs too.

Who do you side with, Dave or Farber? Tell us in the comments!

9 Comment

  • Oh… hey… that’s a picture of me.

    Well, since it’s there I can verify that the price of the festival ticket was mitigated by the colossal amount of free drugs I received. Just sayin’.

  • $100 bucks to see a bunch of bands I’ve never heard of? Nope. At least Northside was half that price. I prefer my tickets in the $20 range which sadly isn’t happening so much anymore.

    • Wrong! Say you pay 250 bucks for your Bonnarroo ticket. You see four bands that would normally run you 20 plus service fees in the city, so let’s call it 25. There’s a hundred bucks. Then you stumble into a couple other bands’ sets that you like and they aren’t small time, so they’d also run you 25. Then the giant headliners, where you sit out in a field and enjoy them, and they’d be 50 bucks a ticket in NYC anyway. Already you’re coming out ahead as long as you aren’t expecting an intimate listening experience. Then factor in your access to an open air drug market and the new friends you’ll make and the other weirdness going on around you and you’ve got your money’s worth.

  • Festivals are horrible. Seeing music outside sucks about 100% of the time. The experience and ambience of a big music fest is the worst thing about it. No thanks.

  • “If you’re going to a music festival for any reason other than to get filthy, sweaty and full of chemicals and rub up against someone else who’s all of those things, you’re doing it wrong.”

    *cringe* yeah, I hate music festivals. Except jazzfest.

  • I prefer my festivals to involve unlimited eats and booze. The music aspect is irrelevant.

  • Man… you guys arent much for a little fun are you. You sound like a bunch of whiners.. “The music aspect is irrelevant” …. why are you even commenting on this?