Identity is an interesting concept. When some people hear that word, they simply think of the information that has been compressed into a credit card sized document which tells the police you’re allowed to drive a car. Others spend years worrying and wondering what their identity really means. Questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” constantly buzz around their head.
At the end of the day the concept is so interesting because it is inherently subjective. Everyone defines their identity differently because everyone has a different identity, but one reason festivals provide such a profound opportunity to connect with others is because many people who attend festivals have integrated them into their identities.
That’s why you’ll often hear people arguing about which festival is better than the other. People become attached to the memories they’ve created at these festivals and as a result when they hear someone disregard the festivals, it’s like that person disregarded their feelings. While it may detrimental to become caught up in baseless competition like this, it does speak to something overtly true: a person’s favorite festival says a lot about who they are.
With more and more festivals popping up every year, the key similarities between them are becoming more and more apparent, but it’s the (not so) subtle differences between those elements that truly define a festival, and in turn the people who attend.
Although the place in which the festival takes place is often overlooked as long as all the music, food, and other stuff fits inside, the venue actually speaks heavily to the overall flavor and vibe of a festival; especially if the venue has remained the same for more than a few years. Consider Coachella for example. The Empire Polo Grounds has been Coachella’s home for every single installment of the festival, and even though the city of Indio and it’s surroundings are right smack dab in the middle of the desert, Coachella doesn’t come close to producing the same desert vibe as other fests like Serenity Gathering and Summer Soulstice. I’ve only attended weekend 2 so I’ve never seen this, but from my understanding during weekend 1, the entire Polo Field is covered in fresh green grass that horses would be lucky to trample during a polo match. I’m not trying to say that Coachella should strive for a more desert setting, but Goldenvoice’s inclinations towards comfort and refreshment at Coachella are reflected in it’s attendees. There are few festivals that offer as much of a luxury experience as Coachella (now complete with Helicopter rides), whereas the aforementioned desert fests give you a patch of dirt to set up your stuff and that’s it. Many of the wealthier and more polished attendees at Coachella wouldn’t last in the rougher environment and prefer to treat festivals like the upscale vacation they have the potential to be. Contrarily, there’s plenty of desert dwellers who would scoff at the simple life Coahella attendees live even if they decide to camp, and would jump at the chance to be more connected to the Earth rather than sleep in an AC’d tent.
As the popularity of music festivals as a whole increases, the number of people who are truly in attendance for the music decreases, but that doesn’t stop the real heads from making it out. It’s not uncommon to hear music snobs talk about how festivals are an inferior environment in which to experience music, but that’s just another way they define their identities. To the people who love to hear music at festivals though, they way that music is presented makes as much of a difference as the musicians themselves. Firstly, if those music snobs do decide to attend a festival, it’s very unlikely you’ll find them at one of the smaller, lesser known ones. This isn’t because they are close minded and only like mainstream music, but without a serious budget, festivals usually can’t speak to a more sophisticated ear. One of the reasons electronic music was able to explode in the way it did is because of it’s significantly cheaper production costs. No mics, no sound checks, no nothing. The DJ just has to show up, use the same CDJs as everyone else and the sound guy has to make sure those CDJs are plugged into the speakers. However, to a serious listener of music, electronic music doesn’t come close to satisfying. If a true music snob is going to abandon their traditional venues, that festival better give them rock, jazz, rap, alternative, and anything else they might enjoy hearing. On the contrary, as smaller fests may not be able to dip into every category on iTunes, they begin to draw from small, yet affluent scenes within those categories which will attract the scene’s loyal following. Lightning in a Bottle pretty much only offers music from the electronic spectrum, but they have curated three different stages that define three distinct and important sections of electronic music; bass, house, and pop. The lineup is completely absent of rap, jazz, hard rock, and dozens of other genres offered by larger festivals like Outside Lands and Lolla, but because LIB approached their lineup from comprehensive perspective of electronic music, the festival will benefit from the more focused audience. While a larger festival audience will be more diverse, it will also be more polarized, where as a festival that sticks to a centralized style of music will produce a more tight-knit crowd.
It’s quite common for the lovers of smaller festivals to argue more passionately when their identity is being questioned because the value in those festivals is not as overtly apparent. While EDC has it’s huge lineup, it’s extensive VIP options, it’s overwhelming production, Lucidity has the community of people who attend. Obviously EDC has it’s own community of people who attend, but in an argument there isn’t anything for a lover of Lucidity to compare to the spectacle that is EDC except a marginally cheaper ticket……and the people. Because these festivals are becoming more popular and the gap between their ticket prices is closing, if someone is going to spend all that money and go then there better be a good reason. To some people, the hope that the people you meet there are going to change your life isn’t enough guaranteed fun for $300. To others, the thought of going to a festival for any reason other than connecting with a community is a complete waste of time. It’s not a bad thing to want some more bang for your hundreds of bucks, but it is true in saying that meeting someone special has the potential to be more important to your life that 1000 awesome concerts.
Of course this is all subjective, and regardless of how you feel about festivals or your identity, the most important part to enjoying a festival is to be true to yourself. By doing so, you might realize that the people with which you’ve going to festivals for the past few months aren’t the best people to be around. Either way, by embracing what you truly love about festivals, you’ll find the perfect place for you and everything else will fall into place.