50 YEARS AF­TER WOODSTOCK, CAN ANY FES­TI­VAL MATCH ITS MAGIC?

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Mes­fin Fekadu As­so­ci­ated Press Morn­ing Call Arts & En­ter­tain­ment Ed­i­tor Craig Larimer can be reached at 610-778-7993 or at [email protected]

Fifty years af­ter Woodstock, the mys­ti­cal and messy event that gave birth to myr­iad mu­si­cal fes­ti­vals, the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is di­luted with fes­ti­vals and events like it — some genre spe­cific, some ex­tremely di­verse and others of­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in ad­di­tion to mu­sic, rang­ing from food to art, in or­der to ap­peal to wider au­di­ences.

And while there have been his­toric mo­ments at mu­sic fes­ti­vals since Woodstock — from Prince’s 8-minute cover of Ra­dio­head’s “Creep” at Coachella in 2008 to Ra­dio­head’s ground­break­ing Bon­na­roo set in 2006 to Bey­oncé’s black pride sum­mit at last year’s Coachella — could what hap­pened at Woodstock be repli­cated?

“It’s hard to com­pare any mod­ern-day fes­ti­val to what oc­curred at the orig­i­nal Woodstock. It was a cul­tural event that was a wa­ter­shed hap­pen­ing that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of an en­tire gen­er­a­tion,” said Ray Wad­dell, pres­i­dent of me­dia and con­fer­ences at Oak View Group, which owns con­cert trade pub­li­ca­tion Poll­star. “It was an amaz­ing sum­mer, an in­cred­i­ble year. It all kind of came to­gether at Woodstock in 1969. To try to repli­cate that, they’ve never fully been able to.”

Since the orig­i­nal Woodstock, which took place Au­gust 15-18 in 1969 in Bethel, New York, and fea­tured Jimi Hen­drix, Grate­ful Dead and more, fes­ti­vals have grown tremen­dously and, when done prop­erly, are money mak­ers. The Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val, which takes place ev­ery April in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, is the most suc­cess­ful fes­ti­val in the United States, sell­ing out quickly, and even be­fore its lineup is an­nounced. Other fes­ti­vals have main­tained a strong pres­ence, too, from the Bon­na­roo Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val in Ten­nessee to Lol­la­palooza in Chicago.

To­day, about ev­ery ma­jor city has at least one fes­ti­val — some gone af­ter a year, others per­sist­ing through. But it’s made the fes­ti­val scene over­crowded, and now pro­duc­ers are work­ing tire­lessly to make their fes­ti­vals dif­fer­ent than the next one. That has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult over the years, as many acts use fes­ti­vals al­most as a tour­ing stop, head­lin­ing mul­ti­ple fes­ti­vals within a mat­ter of weeks.

“What makes the fes­ti­val stand out is one, the ex­pe­ri­ence, and two, ex­clu­siv­ity and unique­ness of the lineup. They can ebb and flow with the lineup. You look at Bon­na­roo, which fell off for a cou­ple of years and then came back this year with the per­fect mix of a lineup that cap­tured the at­ten­tion of the peo­ple who are will­ing to camp out three or four days,” Wad­dell said. “The prob­lem is there’s not enough head­lin­ing acts out there.”

He con­tin­ued: “One thing that Coachella has go­ing for it is it’s first in April. When they had Outkast that year, LCD Soundsys­tem that year, Guns N’ Roses — they were the first and three or four or more booked those same acts but you didn’t know that.”

Bou­tique fes­ti­vals that cater to smaller au­di­ences as well as artist-cu­rated fes­ti­vals have been a suc­cess in re­cent years. Jay-Z launched Made in Amer­ica in Philadelph­ia seven years go, and other artists have done the same, in­clud­ing Drake, Phar­rell, Travis Scott, Mum­ford & Sons, J. Cole, Bon Iver, Grace Pot­ter & the Noc­tur­nals, the Na­tional and others.

“There are a lot of rea­sons fes­ti­vals don’t work right now, over­sat­u­ra­tion be­ing one of them,” said Jor­dan Kur­land, co-founder of Noise Pop Fes­ti­val in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area and co-founder of Bril­liant Cor­ners, the artist man­age­ment com­pany home to Death Cab for Cu­tie and She & Him.

Kur­land said some fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers need to think be­yond per­for­mances. “What is the fes­ti­val do­ing dif­fer­ently? Why does it ex­ist? It’s not enough to just fence a field and say we’re go­ing to have 30,000 peo­ple here be­cause we have ma­jor acts,” he said. “Launch­ing a good, sus­tain­able fes­ti­val is do­ing some­thing unique. It doesn’t just stand on tal­ent at this point. It’s fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s fes­ti­val lo­ca­tion.”

Alec Jhangiani, the co­founder and pro­ducer of Fortress Fes­ti­val in Fort Worth, Texas, said he be­lieves fes­ti­vals have lost their “sheen a lit­tle bit as it be­comes more preva­lent.”

“I think what a lot of these fes­ti­vals are key­ing in on now is it can’t just be so mu­sic de­pen­dent. It can be an­chored in mu­sic, ob­vi­ously — that’s go­ing to be a large part of it — but how do you re­fresh it from the con­tent side?” he said.

“I don’t think any­time soon peo­ple are go­ing to stop their im­pulse to gather at these large fes­ti­vals and places where there are tens of thou­sands of peo­ple — that seems to just be a part of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence — but I think they’re ob­vi­ously go­ing to de­mand more and more new and in­ter­est­ing ways of pre­sent­ing the con­tent. It’s our job to keep in­no­vat­ing the space.”

Mary and Aaron Walkover, left, from Florida, talk with a man who calls him­self “Run-A-Way Bill”, right, from Vir­ginia, while wait­ing for the gates to open at a Woodstock 50th an­niver­sary event in Bethel, N.Y., on Thurs­day. Woodstock fans are ex­pected to get back to the gar­den to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing fes­ti­val. Bethel Woods Cen­ter for the Arts is host­ing a se­ries of events Thurs­day through Sun­day at the bu­colic 1969 con­cert site, 80 miles (130 kilo­me­ters) north­west of New York City.

PHO­TOS BY SETH WENIG/AP

(R-L) The Lescin­ski sis­ters, from left, Kristi, 19; Jaime, 17; and Emily, 13, sing to­gether in the park­ing lot while wait­ing for the gates to open at a Woodstock 50th an­niver­sary event in Bethel, New York on Thurs­day.

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