Music festivals are a dime a dozen once summer arrives—and we mean that so figuratively because have you seen what a VIP Pass to a three-day concert could actually cost you? (Everything.) This month alone has already seen Power 106's Powerhouse, Governors Ball, the Roots Picnic, Hot 97's Summer Jam, Bonnaroo, Firefly, and the Electric Daisy Carnival hit scattered cities and states across the country from New York and Delaware to Tennessee and Las Vegas. And there's still one week left.
But because of the abundance and ubiquity of festivals, and because some artists' names tend to appear more than once, twice, or three times on line-ups—like, if you want to see Chance the Rapper this year and have already missed him at Summer Jam or during his surprise sets at Bonnaroo, you can still throw a dart in the dark because you're bound to hit Made in America, the Meadows Arts & Music Festival, or his own damn Magnificent Coloring World Tour—festivals have to do their part to differentiate themselves from the rest. Here are a few things they should take into consideration.
The Lineup (Duh)
Unless you're hella niche-driven—correct, Future should not appear at Stagecoach—you're not a sellout for topping an otherwise indie roster with an established artist. And you're not lacking direction for having an alt-popper share space with a hip-hop pothead. It's rare that a music lover will get to traverse the earth to London just to headbang to Mumford & Sons' banjos or to Stockholm to witness Robyn's pint-sized self traipse a stage in sky-high platforms in person, so a music festival should be generous in its all-inclusive offerings because it's doing fans a favor. (And it's barely a favor because, again, have we mentioned the ticket prices?)
But that's the whole point. If Kanye West can find a friend in folk king Justin Vernon (who curates his own music festival, BTW) and OutKast's Big Boi can form a supergroup with electrock duo Phantogram, and footage exists of both Beyoncé moshing at BBC Hackney Weekend Festival, and of Jay Z swaying among a crowd at a Grizzly Bear show than festival-goers, no matter how emo or angsty, should be able to briefly wrap their mind around the fact that, yes, J. Cole and Lana Del Rey will be headlining Lollapalooza alongside Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A festival should be a blend of internationally-known veterans, local talents, and promising up-and-comers.
Besides, one of the best parts of attending a festival is discovering acts you're unfamiliar with and walking out with the intention of searching their name on Google or SoundCloud later. That, and developing a newfound respect for an artist upon seeing their live show because there are simply things you can't see on Spotify, guys: FKA Twigs straight-up bursts into ballet. Tove Lo flashes. Steve Aoki throws cake. Kanye West, uh, smiles. Shit like that.
A Smart Schedule
Why is The Weeknd performing at the same time as Miguel at the same time as BANKS? Stagger that shit. For concert-goers, there is nothing more heartbreaking than getting hyped over a lineup upon its announcement and then discovering, once set times are released, that they can't make it to both Ellie Goulding and Haim unless they clone themselves. For all the aforementioned talk about expanding the small-mindedness of some music lovers, many will still feel comfortable sticking to what they know and spending their hard-earned money (we've mentioned this already, yes?) the way they see fit. So, in addition to a creating a schedule that sensibly separates acts based on popularity, virality or, whatever, cult following, designated stages for styles of music don't hurt either. No hip-hop head wants to sit through an hour-long set of heavy metal. And they shouldn't have to.
Location, Location, Location
Is the festival on an island, organizers? Can you then maybe provide directions as to how to get there sans personal ship? No festival experience would be complete without the trademark gripe about how its accessibility seemed like an after-thought. If it's not the general headache that comes from a cursed "Parking Lot Full" sign or a valet service's newly-created opportunistic fees, it's the 45-minute walk from the security check-in to the show stages, and then each of those stages being either so close to one another that you can't enjoy Ed Sheeran's acoustic set without some muffled but intrusive EDM thump from elsewhere, or so far apart that in order to make it from the forest area where Wet performed to the indoor arena where Kaytranada will "spin" before his set begins, you'd have to literally fly. Somewhere in between is a lack of clean water, porta-potties, and charging stations. All festival-goers ask is that an engineer, an architect, and an event planner walk into a bar and figure this out before their arrival. Is that too much?
And if, for any reason listed above, crowdmembers still can't make it to see a favorite performer, they better be so engulfed in their "sponsored by" cocktails, artisanal food truck finds, and free face paintings that they don't even notice. Sure, the term "experience" is hippie-level vague, but the programming that goes beyond the music—like the Roots Picnic's comedy sets with Neal Brennan and Jerrod Carmichael or Voodoo Fest's carnival rides and large-scale interactive art installations—will make all the difference when it's quiet in between sets, when people get tired of walking, and when the munchies intensify.
Uh, make 'em cheaper? That's kinda it.
2016's remaining festivals: Essence Music Festival | Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival | Panorama | Lollapalooza | Hard Summer | Outta This World | Made In America | Roots Picnic (NY) | Meadows Arts & Music | Voodoo Fest