What Primavera Sound can teach us
The Spanish music festival has free shows, treats bands well and uses city amenities.
For music fans returning home after a big festival, it’s not uncommon to feel a mix of exhaustion, regret, relief and recharged enthusiasm. But there’s nothing quite as wan for a music fan as getting off the plane from Barcelona, Spain’s preeminent music festival to look out at a whole summer of America’s festival season, which has a lot to live up to now.
The only solution is, perhaps, to help American fests learn from what Primavera Sound’s doing right. Let’s start with the festivals in our own backyard.
1. Use urbanity to its fullest. The single best thing about Primavera was its total integration into the rest of Barcelona. There were no fields of parked cars, no sleeping in dusty tents, no captive audience that couldn’t leave once they’d arrived for the day. Not every fest can be lucky enough to set up shop in the city of Gaudi, so it’s going to be a bit harder for L.A. to pull off.
Fests such as FYF and HARD have done pretty well in using Metro and existing city amenities (though the L.A. State Historic Park renovations threw this a bit off ). And the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is really a city unto itself. But as L.A.’s major events grow and settle in for the long term, they should use pedestrianism and urbanity as an operating principle — centralize your festival location near Metro stations, disincentivize car culture and let people come and go as they would in their day-today lives.
2. Free off-site shows. Coachella’s between-week sets have become a welcome staple for bands tacking on some dates in the L.A. area for fans who didn’t get to the main event. Now let’s go the next step — make some free, and throw in some surprise daytime shows at collaborating venues. In Barcelona, jumping on the Metro to see Interpol at the Sala Apolo on Wednesday (or any of the other free preview shows) had all the rush of waiting in line for last-minute Stones tickets, except you actually got in to see the show. You don’t have to take away from the spate of paid stuff between weeks, but make a few things free and you’ll keep fan interest and create public goodwill. (Austin City Limits and Chicago’s Lollapalooza have already dabbled in this arena, but few if any of their aftershows are free.)
3. Revisit permit protocol for alcohol sales and closing times. This might be a harder logistic hurdle, as this is America and we’re just more puritanical about this kind of thing. But L.A. fans, know this: I have seen a festival where you can order a glass of $2 cava at 4:30 a.m. and take it right to the front of any stage, and I promise no one suffered for it.
In fact, it made the whole thing seem healthier — no smuggling vodka in bodyhugging vessels, no pounding shots to get to your next stage on time, and most important, no streams of 100,000 fans leaving at once after doing both. A successful experiment in closing up at 4 a.m. or not having confined beer gardens would set a civilly adult precedent for how the rest of the city could better run its night life.
4. Treat bands better. Nothing improves your fest’s reputation like bands telling one another how essential it is to play there. Big things such as production competency and nice hotel rooms matter, but so do little things: quality backstage meals, promoters actually spending social time with their acts. It’s the Van Halen M&M theory of festival production: If artists know you watch out for the small stuff, they’ll tell their peers that the big stuff is well taken care of.
5. Travel more. I was glad to see that FYF’s Sean Carlson makes an annual point to get out to Primavera. Like with most things in American life, traveling punctures some of your preconceived notions about how things can or must be done. As the festival circuit becomes more international and a viable catalyst for local tourism, promoters should use their position to get out and see the world, and fans should see what they may be missing out on. Even boring logistical things such as walkway layout or soundbleed prevention take on fresh resonance in a foreign country. Fans and promoters alike: Take a vacation, and use it to make America a better place.