Spring sets the stage(s) for music festivals
Posted April 12, 2012
The Black Keys have been playing the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for years, but Friday night will be the first time they'll take the stage as headliners.
In 2004, "we played the smallest tent in the middle of the afternoon," says drummer Patrick Carney, who teams with guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and will spend the summer playing in support of album El Camino. "Last year, we played right before Kings of Leon.
"When you go onstage at these big festivals, you just get flooded with adrenaline, and in a way, it's the same feeling we used to get on our first tour playing in front of 100 people. When you get to 75,000, it is so surreal, you've got to play just like you're playing for 100."
The three-day event in the desert in Indio, Calif., has grown over the past 13 years into the premier annual event, kicking off the ever-growing festival season and attracting huge crowds with more than 100 bands, including some of music's biggest names. Tickets sold out in just three hours when they went on sale in January, even though there's a second weekend (April 20-22) this year, with an identical lineup topped by Radiohead and a collaboration of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
"There was a lot of head-scratching when the double play was announced, but, Paul Tollett's (president of promoter Goldenvoice) instincts were dead-on," says Ray Waddell, Billboard's senior editor for touring. "Like most successful festivals, it's about the music, the experience and servicing the fan. Tollett has remarkable instincts about what fans want, and he brings it every year."
The festival business has been booming for a decade, even as the rest of the touring industry struggled at times with the economy. In 2012, there are dozens of multi-day events ranging from superstar-laden extravaganzas to niche festivals catering to specific genres. The Black Keys will help inaugurate two new ones: Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del. (July 20-22) and the Catalpa NYC Music Festival on New York City's Randall's Island (July 28-29).
Once established, festivals develop a certain brand loyalty.
"Bonnaroo, Stagecoach, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza remain very strong, with the latter showing more international growth with its South American editions," Waddell says. "Electronica is huge (June's Electric Daisy Carnival) and growing. Where I'm seeing the growth or consistency is with the midsize festivals like Hangout, Sasquatch and Wakarusa."
Epic festival performances have boosted the careers of bands such as Phish, Dave Matthews Band and Metallica, he says. This year, The Shins, Alabama Shakes, Bon Iver, Fitz & the Tantrums, A$AP Rocky, Gary Clark Jr. and Needtobreathe stand to gain from festival exposure, though all bands eventually have to prove their worth on their own on tour.
For Carney, playing festivals is more challenging than a standard show because there's less prep time and no soundcheck.
"It's sort of the same feeling you get from live TV," Carney says. "You just go out there, and whatever happens happens. For the fans, it's fun … and if you're bored, you can walk away and find something else."
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