Monday, September 16

Better music revives big concert festivals


People who grew up in the ’60s like to talk about
Woodstock. A lot. They like to talk about Jimi Hendrix, and The
Who, and why Crosby, Stills and Nash were so much better with Neil
Young in the lineup. They like to reminisce about “the
times” and how, obviously, they were
“a”“changin.”

And they really like to proclaim that people of our generation
just have no idea what it was like to attend such a mass-scale rock
and folk concert at a time when our country was being torn apart by
a divisive war. Well, OK, maybe it’s a little tougher to buy
into that one these days. But you catch my drift.

And I’ll be the first to admit there was a time when I
agreed with some of these former hippies about the state of
festival concerts. Despite the fact most of the people who talk
about their time at Woodstock as if it were a religious experience
now drive SUVs and swear by the revolution that is TiVo, they had a
point. Back in the 1990s, big rock ‘n’ roll festivals
just weren’t what they used to be.

Take Lollapalooza, for example.

Perry Farrell’s idea to resurrect the music festival was a
big deal and hugely influential, bringing the likes of Smashing
Pumpkins and Alice in Chains, along with a score of other hip
alternative bands, to a city near you.

But before too long, the festival ran out of steam. So many
other festivals had cropped up around it that Lollapalooza felt
like yesterday’s news. There was Lilith Fair, Ozzfest, the
Vans Warped Tour, the Family Values Tour and H.O.R.D.E., just to
name a few. Unable to continue to drum up an interesting enough
lineup to go on, Farrell’s tour drew what seemed like its
inevitable last breath in 1997, just six years after it began. The
other festivals of the time had similar fates.

But suddenly, it seems, Lollapalooza might be back. Last summer,
it quietly resurrected itself with, albeit, a group of largely
mainstream artists like A Perfect Circle, Incubus and Jurassic 5,
and completed a modest tour. And this summer, the just-announced
lineup actually looks pretty hot: Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, Gomez,
Le Tigre, The Flaming Lips and Morrissey, among others.
They’re even promising to stay at each venue for two days,
increasing the likelihood that whoever wants to attend will.

And Lollapalooza is by no means the hottest concert festival
around these days. There’s the amazing, Tennessee-based
Bonnaroo Music Festival, which over three days this June will
manage to bring together artists as astonishingly diverse as Willie
Nelson, Yo La Tengo, Primus and Cut Chemist. There’s also All
Tomorrow’s Parties, which, despite its rather disorganized
and dismal showing here in Los Angeles last year, is currently
still a force to be reckoned with in the U.K. And then
there’s this weekend’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts
Festival, which since its inception has evolved into what, this
year, promises to one of the best concert festivals in recent
history.

Not only is this year’s lineup arguably the best Coachella
has ever put together (The idea of being able to see Radiohead,
Stereolab and the friggin’ Pixies in a single day has been
giving me chills for months, not to mention who’s playing on
Day 2.), but it looks like organizers may have finally solved some
of the problems that plagued past festivals. For example,
they’re now offering limited on-site camping, which should
cut down on the number of desperate people fleeing the crammed
parking lot at days’ end to take refuge in a motel.

So just why, exactly, are big concert festivals making such a
resurgence this year?

After so many recent years of excruciating bubble gum pop (the
first U.S. release of a Backstreet Boys album was in 1997, the same
as the last year of Lollapalooza ““ hardly a coincidence), it
feels like good music might actually be back, and those who love it
are coming together to celebrate in a big way. Whether or not this
has anything to do with the current political climate is a little
hard to judge, but artists have always been able to draw from
turmoil in order to create.

So maybe the Woodstock generation was right, and the answer
really is just blowin’ in the wind.

E-mail Mathis at [email protected]

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