Summer is just around the corner, and in the U.S. that means not only warmer weather but an abundance of music festivals. From Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits, millions of people flock to these events each year, fueling the growth of a massive “festival industry” over the past decade. Recently, however, major festivals like Bonnaroo have seen a decrease in attendance rates. In an article in the Washington Post, sociologist Johnathan Wynn explains how growing commercialization and consolidation may diminish the quality of the musical experience for festival-goers.
Wynn outlines how major festivals have relied on corporate interest to promote their brands. In 2014 alone, corporations spent $1.3 billion toward sponsoring festivals, tours, and music venues. Despite a growing corporate presence, most festival attendees in Wynn’s interviews were unphased by this increasing commercialization, viewing it as a trade off for low ticket prices. However, with this burgeoning success also comes the problem of consolidation — or putting numerous festivals under the purview of a few major live music conglomerates. Many popular shows are now owned by a single company. For example, Live Nation, one of the largest world music promoters, runs over 60 music festivals each year. According to Wynn, this “institutional isomorphism” leads to uniformity in the lineups of festivals:
“Sure enough, with only a couple of promoters organizing the biggest festivals, the same artists seem to be performing at the same ones. Twenty of the 103 performers at AEG’s Coachella this year are among the 166 acts playing at Live Nation’s Bonnaroo. That means that one-tenth of Bonnaroo’s lineup and one-fifth of Coachella’s lineup are exactly the same. Consolidation and uncertainty beget monotony.”
The combination of corporatization, consolidation, and uniformity may lead to what some are calling “festival fatigue,” but Wynn points to smaller productions such as the Newport Folk Festival as a beacon of hope. Shows like Newport are attempting to break the mold of commercialization by offering a more local and eclectic experience to their attendees. So music festivals have come a long way since Woodstock, but as Wynn suggests, it may not be for the better.