Your first reaction is envy when you hear Bjork, R. Kelly, and Belle & Sebastian are headlining Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival. And that the Stone Roses, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse, Lou Reed, and Blur (and that's just Friday's line-up) are playing Coachella, your second reaction is to audit your checking account and see if you have the finances to make the show.
What might seem like a great opportunity to get a smorgasbord of musical acts for one hefty price also has a downside. In these massive festivals, the emphasis is quantity. The plus side of the sheer magnitude of music is that you might stumble upon your new favorite band. But if you're travelling cross country to see the Make Up play their first West Coast show in over a decade, be prepared for a mere forty minute set and general indifference by most others in attendance.
A few years ago, I witnessed Pavement playing a pre-Coachella show at the mid-size Fox Theater in Pomona. The crowd was on the tip of their toes, and when the band came on stage to crank out "Silence Kit," the room of a couple thousand went electric. They played for over two hours with the whole crowd singing along. Compare that to Pavement's Coachella show where they were on stage after a mere hour, and a matching crowd of 2,000 seemed insignificant when 55,000 other people are roaming the grounds trying to find their drunk friends or waiting in line for a Porta Potty. A Pavement show, that days earlier seemed like a spiritual experience, was now a mere sideshow attraction.
While they might celebrate music, the emphasis of music festivals is on the second word. Thousands of people rally under the hot, hot sun or in the wet, wet rain. The people watching as you sweat alcohol out of your pores will be excellent and there will undoubtedly be stories to tell your friends, but none of those stories will include specific details about songs. Coachella, Pitchfork, Bonaroo, and Lollapalooza try their best to follow the folklore of their ancestor, in that if you remembered Woodstock you weren't really there.
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