Perhaps not all of us remember Woodstock, but we’ve all heard of it.
The year was 1969, the Beatles were breaking up, America put a man on the moon, and the anti-war movement was in full swing. That summer nearly 400,000 people converged on a farm near Bethel New York to be part of a celebration that would transcend music, art, and social reform to define a generation.
Today it seems like every town hosts a musical gathering of sorts at some point over the summer, ranging in size from the Fields Summer Music Festival in BC with a few hundred attendees to Coachella, which spans two weekends and hosts upwards of 200,000 music fans.
Impeccable social news feeds relentlessly churn out images of smiling attendees enjoying moments that we all want to be part of. Selfie’s with a group of friends in costume, a killer set by your favourite band, or watching Billie Eilish meet Justin Bieber during Ariana Grande’s performance.
Woodstock may be the most iconic of the bunch, but all festivals offer a way for us to be part of something bigger.
I also feel like every time I look at my news feed there is another failed attempt to throw a larger than life Music Festival.
Probably the most famous fail was Fyre Fest back in 2017, which according the Netflix documentary, is “The Greatest Party that Never Happened.” It was billed as a luxury entertainment experience on a tropical island but descended into chaos opening day because organizers were unable to pay vendors, artists or suppliers. None of the musical acts showed up, just a few planes full of twenty-somethings hoping for the weekend of a lifetime.
And then there was VestiVille, which was scheduled on the last weekend in June of this year, which media is now calling Fyre Fest 2.O. The event was also promoted as a luxury experience that was supposed to feature Cardi B, ASAP Rocky and Migos. The event was cancelled a couple of hours before it was set to commence, and attendees were stranded without food or water for upwards of 12 hours. If it sounds a lot (or exactly) like what happened at Fyre Fest, consider this: Ja Rule helped “organize” both disasters.
A few weeks ago in Ontario, the organizers of Roxodus pulled the plug on what could have been an epic four-day event featuring Aerosmith, Kid Rock and Alice Cooper and a slew of other classic rock bands. A media war has erupted in the wake of the announcement over who is responsible for refunding ticket holders, most of which shelled out thousands of dollars in tickets and travel. Eventbright has offered to refund ticket holders despite being stonewalled by the events’ organizers Mike Dunphy and Fab Loranger who have essentially blamed each other for the failure.
Putting together a festival is expensive and risky business. In fact, the original Woodstock left its organizers essentially bankrupt. They only managed to come out on top because they were smart enough to retain copyrights for filming, which they capitalized on when a documentary was released a year later.
Two subsequent attempts at re-creating Woodstock have missed the mark with respect to delivering a positive experience for attendees, even though both events reported successes financially. Unfortunately, Woodstock 1999 had become notorious for being a poorly planned money grab that turned violent. Basically, the opposite of the original Woodstock.
Perhaps the legacy of left by Woodstock ’99 lives on. Woodstock 50 has been in the works for some time, although at the time of this publication, the event had yet to secure a location. Organizers still need to find a venue AND sell tickets or they will find themselves out the reported $32 million being held in escrow as payment to artists who have agreed to play.
Even Coachella got off to a rocky start back in 1999. It came only a few months after the disaster of Woodstock 99 and by all accounts was a success from an operational standpoint. Despite offering an experience much closer to what the original Woodstock had delivered, organizers lost over $800,000 in the first year. Determined to succeed, they took the next year off to regroup and came back in 2001 with a one day line-up that hit the mark with Weezer, Chemical Brothers and the reunion of Jane’s Addiction.
This year, Coachella celebrated its 20 year anniversary by selling out all 250,000 tickets within 40 minutes. Weekend passes started at $429USD, which is pretty much the starting price for a successful luxury festival – even Glastonbury tickets were the equivalent of $400CDN.
The fact is that many festival experiences are expensive and sell out fast, so they are simply not an option for everyone. Luckily, there are plenty of options out there that can offer you good times with good friends, great music and some once in a lifetime moments to cherish.
Here is a quick run down of three festivals that I will be attending this year.
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
When: July 19-21
Where: Jericho Beach Park
Who: Corb Lund, Larkin Poe, Sam Roberts Band, the Hamiltones and 48 others
This will be the Folk Festival’s 42nd year and my third consecutive year covering it. I’ve always been really impressed by the talent and I love checking out the workshops, where groups of musicians share the stage and take turns playing songs. Some of my favourite moments have come from these collaborations and both years I’ve discovered a new band that I absolutely love!
The organizers make sure their loyal following is happy. You don’t get to 42 years and not have a loyal fan base. That means there are designated areas for dancing and designated areas for sitting. I don’t know how much I love how huge the designated sitting area is in front of the main stage, it does bring people into the grounds early to claim their spot.
When: July 26-28
Where: Squamish, BC
Who: Serena Ryder, Bahamas, Jesse Reyes, Wintersleep
I can sum up the reason I wanted to cover this festival in one word. Wintersleep. Don’t get me wrong, the line-up is pretty stellar and I’m excited to see a lot bands, but I was a pretty die hard Wintersleep fan back in the day. I think I’ve been to every single show they’ve played in Vancouver and I once saw them play three times in one week; once in Vancouver, once in Victoria, and once in Seattle. Expect a detailed account of their performance.
This is the first year for the Constellation festival so it will be interesting to see how it goes. A lot of bands are local acts which I think is awesome and honestly, you couldn’t ask for a better location than Hendrickson Field in Squamish.
When: Aug 1-4
Where: Pendarvis Farm
Who: Dan Mangan, Daniel Ratelief and the Night Sweats, Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band, Mandolin Orange
This quote from founder Zale Schoenborn sums up nicely the main reason I want to attend.
Pickathon started 20 years ago and faced a choice. Would we follow a typical festival model of scaling up attendance to make money, which would compromise the experience, or could we innovate a new model that maximizes discovery and experience and achieves scale through digital content? We dared to be different, we chose the inspired route.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time you will know how much this speaks to my core values. I love the natural world and will passionately advocate for the little guy. Pickathon has led the charge with respect to eco-friendly outdoor music festivals and has managed to avoid corporate sponsorship while maintaining a reputation for delivering a stellar musical experience.
Nathaniel Rateliff, Dan Mangan and Mandolin Orange in one weekend on an eco-friendly farm with local food vendors and no unnecessary corporation vying for my attention while I meander through the wilderness listening to great music.
I’m looking forward to hanging out with my tribe the first week of August!