USA TODAY US Edition
Spring sets the stage(s) for festivals
Events growing in size, number
The Black Keys have been playing the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for years, but tonight will be the first time they’ll take the stage as headliners.
In 2004, “we played the smallest tent in the middle of the afternoon,” says drummer Patrick Carney, who teams with guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and will spend the summer playing in support of album El Camino. “Last year, we played right before Kings of Leon.
“When you go onstage at these big festivals, you just get flooded with adrenaline, and in a way, it’s the same feeling we used to get on our first tour playing in front of 100 people. When you get to 75,000, it is so surreal, you’ve got to play just like you’re playing for 100.”
The three-day event in the desert in Indio, Calif., has grown over the past 13 years into the premier annual event, kicking off the ever-growing festival season and attracting huge crowds with more than 100 bands, including some of music’s biggest names. Tickets sold out in just three hours when they went on sale in January, even though there’s a second weekend (April 20-22) this year, with an identical lineup topped by Radiohead and a collaboration of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
“There was a lot of headscratching when the double play was announced, but, Paul Tollett’s (president of promoter Goldenvoice) instincts were dead-on,” says Ray Waddell, Billboard’s senior editor for touring. “Like most successful festivals, it’s about the music, the experience and servicing the fan. Tollett has remarkable instincts about what fans want, and he brings it every year.”
The festival business has been booming for a decade, even as the rest of the touring industry struggled at times with the economy. In 2012, there are dozens of multi-day events ranging from superstar-laden extravaganzas to niche festivals catering to specific genres. The Black Keys will help inaugurate two new ones: Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del. (July 2022) and the Catalpa NYC Music Festival on New York City’s Randall’s Island (July 28-29).
Once established, festivals develop a certain brand loyalty.
“Bonnaroo, Stagecoach, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza remain very strong, with the latter showing more international growth with its South American editions,” Waddell says. “Electronica is huge (June’s Electric Daisy Carnival) and growing. Where I’m seeing the growth or consistency is with the midsize festivals like Hangout, Sasquatch and Wakarusa.”
Epic festival performances have boosted the careers of bands such as Phish, Dave
“It’s about the music, the experience and servicing the fan.”
Billboard’s Ray Waddell on Coachella’s success
Matthews Band and Metallica, he says. This year, The Shins, Alabama Shakes, Bon Iver, Fitz & the Tantrums, A$AP Rocky, Gary Clark Jr. and Need to breathe stand to gain from festival exposure, though all bands eventually have to prove their worth on their own on tour.
For Carney, playing festivals is more challenging than a standard show because there’s less prep time and no sound check.
“It’s sort of the same feeling you get from live TV,” Carney says. “You just go out there, and whatever happens happens. For the fans, it’s fun . . . and if you’re bored, you can walk away and find something else.”