What Pri­mav­era Sound can teach us

The Span­ish mu­sic fes­ti­val has free shows, treats bands well and uses city ameni­ties.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Au­gust Brown Fol­low @PopHiss and @Au­gustBrown on Twit­ter for more mu­sic news

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.

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