Now that we’ve moved into summer, music festival mania is creeping into everybody’s psyches. The lineup announcements are coming fast and furious, everybody is buying sunblock and camping equipment, seeing if the drug dealers they scored shrooms from last summer are still in business, stuff like that.
Music festivals (especially large ones) represent an especially instructive confluence of marketing, sponsorship, flagrant branding, and something vaguely resembling a mass cultural experience, and are a great representation of where the music business is going.
But it’s important to remember that these assemblies can stand for something local, empowering, and supportive of musicians, too. So rather than create some gigantic argument about which festival has the best lineup, or the best bang for your buck, or which one is “most relevant,” we’ve decided to put together a list of festivals that are most exciting to us. Each of the following is defined by a certain characteristic that makes us really excited about the future of music festivals in general. Also, our pals Scott Feldman and Microphone Memory Emotion are in on this game, too, so be sure to check their posts, too.
Make Music New York (New York, NY)
Great music festivals are a mix of shared and individual experiences, and Make Music takes this to an extreme. Less a typical music festival than a musical blitzkrieg that hits all five boroughs, the festival crams hundreds of free performances in public spaces into a single day. Artists perform on street corners and in rowboats, in ensembles that have been together for a long time and that have formed that day, simply for the joy of playing together. The good news is that the festival’s grown every year since it was inaugurated four years ago. The better news is that New York is so big, that it might never have to stop growing.
Long Live the Queen (Halifax, NS)
Everybody who’s attended a music festival knows the wrenching, horrible feeling of looking at a set times list and noticing that their two favorite bands, maybe even the two they’d traveled all those hours by car to see, are playing at the exact same f#$&ing time on different stages. The organizers of Long Live the Queen hate this feeling, and make it a point, out of respect for the performers, never to schedule bands’ sets on top of one another. The festival, which is organized by the city’s residents, also does a nice job of combining Canadian indie pop royalty (Julie Doiron) with local favorites (Jenocide).
Meltdown (London, England)
People get all hot and bothered about musician-curated music festivals like they’re this new thing, but Meltdown has been artist-curated since 1993, and in that time they’ve significantly expanded the definition of what a music festival could sound like. This year, under the direction of Richard Thompson, Meltdown stretched far beyond the confines of middle-brow, middle class indie rock, featuring everything from a Middle Eastern punk showcase to string quartets playing Ravel and Shostakovich to lectures about the history of Western pop music. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, ATP!
SOLID SOUND (North Adams, MA [MASS MoCA])
Speaking of fan-curated music festivals, the brand-new SOLID SOUND Festival hosted by rising contemporary art museum MASS MoCA is more than just curated by Wilco. It will also feature workshops that showcase the talents and expertise of its members, with a drumming and percussion workshop by drummer Glenn Kotche, a guitar pedal installation hosted by guitarist Nels Cline, and performances by their side projects On Fillmore and the Nels Cline Singers, respectively. SOLID SOUND also boasts a poster silk-screening class, which should be especially exciting to attendees who have spent the day wandering around MASS MoCA’s impressive exhibits.
Whartscape (Baltimore, MD)
The art collective Wham City‘s weird take on Artscape, a long-standing Baltimore summer tradition, Whartscape has been 100% volunteer-run since 2004. And really, “volunteer-run” is kind of a mis-characterization, but only because it doesn’t go far enough. They build the stages, they run the sound, they control the crowds, they offer their lofts; they are Whartscape. And since its founding, the festival has done as much to raise the profile of its local music scene than anybody or thing not named Dan Deacon or Spank Rock.