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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - JIM CAR­ROLL

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

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