Music Festivals

Pitchfork and Coachella: to Festival Or Not to Festival

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. 

But before pawning off your grandmother's china, here is a truth you must come to terms with about these mega music festivals, if you are going to see a particular band (or even bands) your experience will be riddled with disappointment. Even if the midget and Omar from the Wire come on stage during a full rendition of R. Kelly's "Trapped In The Closet," the star of Pitchfork will be Pitchfork. And if during Lou Reed's set the surviving members of the Velvet Underground join him on stage for a rendition of "Heroin" the star of Coachella will still be Coachella.

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.     

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland