Music Festivals Unswayed by Slack Economy

By Shaer, Matthew | The Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

Music Festivals Unswayed by Slack Economy


Shaer, Matthew, The Christian Science Monitor


IN YET ANOTHER hard knock to the hobbled music industry, organizers last week announced they would cancel Langerado, the popular multistage Florida festival. Ethan Schwartz, the founder of Langerado, issued a statement to the media blaming "sluggish" ticket sales and the slumping economy, although critics faulted Mr. Schwartz's decision to move the event from a sprawling reservation in the Everglades to Miami, where parking and lodging are at a premium.

Long a staple in Europe, the music festival has gradually become a vital part of the concert culture here. Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella, among the most profitable festivals, now draw tens of thousands of fans, each paying upwards of $200 for a three-day pass. In recent years, younger and scrappier events such as All Points West in New Jersey, the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, and the Mile High Festival in Colorado, have also attracted capacity crowds.

But the cancellation of Langerado, which was created in 2002, is being viewed by some as evidence that the festival bubble could be close to collapse. (Schwartz has said that he hopes to return Langerado to the Everglades in 2010.) "Some of these events are hugely expensive propositions," says Dade Hayes, the assistant managing editor at the New York bureau of Variety Magazine.

"The entertainment industry, whether it's film or music, is based on the coasts. In the boom times, it might be a good idea for bands to ramp up and take their entourages on the road or across the world," says Mr. Hayes. "It starts to look a little different - a little more expendable - in times of economic crisis."

Still, in interviews this week with the Monitor, organizers and industry insiders called Langerado an anomaly, and forecasted another strong season for American festivals. "I think other parts of the music industry will suffer before the majority of festivals are affected," says Jeremy Stein, the event producer for Michigan's Rothbury festival, now entering its second year. "People may not go to their local club for 30 bucks. But I think in terms of the 'destination' weekend experiences, we're still in a good place."

His reasoning - and that of many other festival promoters - is twofold. First, although the ticket price is relatively high, many fans see festivals as a bargain - one ticket, dozens of bands, and a bustling carnival atmosphere. As Jonathan Cohen, a senior editor at Billboard Magazine, points out, "These events offer a lot of bang for the buck. …

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