After recently attending a small music festival, Elandorf, in Central Illinois, it occurred to me that the natural response to the overabundance of corporate music festivals in America will be the rise of the locally sourced and independent music festival.
In the last decade, the U.S music festival industry has ballooned. There are currently over 800 music festivals in North America, and according to Nielsen Music, 32 million people in the U.S attended at least one music festival in 2014.
A major festival can attract anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of patrons to see prominent artists like Radiohead or Kanye West, appealing to those who not only follow pop culture but also have expendable incomes – Coachella tickets start at $397.
For those of us who have fallen in love with the festival culture, it can get expensive to attend these coveted events. But that is only if we try and “chase the dragon” of the big music festivals that were our “initiation”.
Going to a large music festival is a rite of passage for many. We walk away forever changed, looking at the world from a new perspective, but this has little to do with big-name artists and hundred thousand watt PA systems and more to do with the bond that forms between the individuals in attendance.
In a moment of intimacy, when a crowd of people rise to the same frequency, connecting as they endure the elements together in pursuit of a peak experience, the walls come down and you see that everyone is your brother and sister.
That connection is why I keep coming back to festivals, to be with family. And family is what I found at Elandorf.
There was about three thousand people in attendance, some local and others seasoned travelers passing through after Summer Camp. The event was held on private property and felt like an over-sized family reunion.
There was even a homemade ice cream stand.
All the bands were local; therefore, the vibe was less “I can’t wait to see Skrillex rip it up” and more “It feels good to be home.” Actually, the complete absence of DJ’s was notable. This was mostly a bluegrass and jam band music festival, which suited the tie die wearing demographic perfectly.
Even though this was only my second year attending Elandorf, I had no problem connecting with people. Everyone was open and conversational, treating one another with love and respect. After meditating next to a pond on the outskirts of the property, I walked around the grounds and pondered how different the world would be if we all acted like this small group.
I am not a romantic, but I did find myself quixotically echoing John Lennon with the thought “all we need is love”. Truly, we need a lot more than just love, but the contrast of festival culture to mainstream society is stark.
At a festival, everyone is free, the chains of time loosened for a moment. The hearts of strangers are open, and the world feels lighter as if Atlas had hurled Earth toward the sun, finally shrugging off the burden of society.
Contrarily, the capitalist agenda has many feeling estranged.
We are working harder for less, feeling lonelier and more depressed. We pop antidepressants and stuff our faces with beer and pizza until our organs shut down.
We have become accustomed to relying on the government for stability instead of each other, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the government cannot provide the security that we once found in one another.
We escape into T.V. land or spend countless hours surfing the internet, but most of us just want a connection, to be socially engaged.
The more intimate, homegrown festival can appease that need to be connected.
As the music festival industry struggles with the economic repercussions that come with seeking big-name talent and charging hundreds of dollars for tickets, the locally sourced music festival can rise and provide the atmosphere that the initiated truly want.
The focus will be less on creating peak experiences and more on creating supportive communities. In time, we will learn how to share our resources and begin to rely on one another again.
The privately operated and community supported music festival can become a place where we grow together.
Instead of charging hundreds of dollars a ticket to pay internationally known bands, the promoters and organizers could charge a marginal fee and hire local talent. This might not please the people that want to see the big-name acts, but they can still go to a large-scale music festival and see their favorite chart-toppers.
The music festival industry is not immune to the effects of a capitalist economy. With so many competing festivals, the demand for top-tier artists will increase and the quality of our experience will not be matched by the rise in ticket costs. Jam Productions and Live Nation will continue to do what they do, but the alternative is the responsibility of the private sector.
I look forward to seeing more small-scale, independent music festivals popping up and providing quality for an affordable price. There is a slew of talented musicians that can take the stage and entertain or inspire. We need not go broke in pursuit of idol worship.
Let’s move past that and get to the real shit.
Let’s go into the middle of nowhere and howl at the moon and dance and be free and connect with one another through the shared experience of art. Let’s come together in a celebration of our humanity.
Isn’t that what a festival is meant to be?