Let’s leave the festival fields to the cows
For many music acts and fans, the end of festival season can’t come soon enough
It’s festival season and that’s good news for many people. Be it Body & Soul here or Glastonbury across the water, thousands of people will spend the weekend showing their standard of festival fitness in the open air. They will carouse, dance, shout, drink, scream, fall over and generally act the maggot in various charming and not so charming ways. They will watch bands, hang with their mates and, inevitably, head back to their tents to loudly sing Ed Sheeran songs until the wee small hours.
For one coterie of people, though, festival season is not good news, but you rarely hear them expressing this sentiment. As far as many artists are concerned, festival season can be miserable. There may be a big fat fee to be earned as they tour from field to field, but is it worth the downside?
Most acts will air their grievances when the recorder is not running. “I watched three women in the audience pissing by the side of the stage last night”, was the main takeaway from a conversation with one international act about a recent high-profile festival appearance.
“I’m fairly sure no one had any idea who we were,” said the lead singer of a band high up the main stage bill of a major Irish festival.
“The amount of sound spillage from the stage next to us meant I could sometimes hear the other band better than my own,” said another guitarist with a long-established Irish act.
I can’t use the names behind the above quotes because the acts know what side their bread is buttered on. They have to bite their tongues, go along with the festival chorus, and stay in the game. If you’re a band on tour during the summer in Europe or the US, you’re earning your money in the open air and it’s not worth rocking the boat.
Festival sets are not what most acts want. Those who are serious about what they do want to play proper venues with permanent infrastructure and where proper care is paid to their sound and lighting requirements. They have no interest in playing in a field where sound can be blown around by the wind or subject to limitations so as not to upset the locals. Bands don’t spend all their time learning their craft and creating their music to be the backdrop for tacky selfies in the afternoon.
There are few acts who can afford to say no when the festival bookers call, especially as festivals have largely taken over the summer circuit. The main live music action won’t return indoors until the leaves start to fall in the autumn, so acts don’t really have many options if they’re touring over the summer. Modern gigonomics mean that the major promoters have gone festival crazy because they know they can make good money when things go right.
However, there is a season for everything, and it’s inevitable that the current fondness for festivals is finite. It’s also clear that the finances don’t always stack up: this year’s high profile clangers such as Fyre in the Bahamas and Pemberton Music Festival in Canada show that putting on a festival is not always a shortcut to printing money. Just as we saw with Oxegen, even summer calendar staples eventually fall out of favour.
For many acts – and even fans who realise that music sounds better indoors – this can’t come too soon. Live music belongs indoors, so let’s leave the fields to the cows.
Those who are serious about what they do want to play proper venues with proper infrastructures and where proper care is paid to their sound and lighting