While most fans’ thoughts are on how to survive the inevitable stampede between The Raconteurs’ and Radiohead’s sets or how to sneak in outside food (trust me, easier said than done), festival organizers are gearing up for what promises to be the largest Lollapalooza ever.
The Chicago Tribune reports that despite hiking the price of a three-day pass up to $205 this year, Perry Farrell and company are anticipating capacity crowds of 75,000 on each night of the Grant Park festival. This year, Lollapalooza boasts the biggest combination of headliners of all the North American music festivals: hometown heroes Kanye West and Wilco, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and Radiohead.
Since being cancelled in 2004 due to poor ticket sales, Lollapalooza has retooled and bounced back to become one of the titans of summer festivals. Interestingly, while album sales continue to plunge, these summer festivals are thriving. Not since Woodstock has catching a show with 100,000 of your closest friends been so en vogue.
So why is it that the festival circuit is booming while record sales are nose-diving? Does Lollapalooza’s headliner-heavy line-up mean that other festivals will need to go big or go home? For the answers to these and other burning questions, buzz caught up with CU resident, Seth Fein, organizer of CU’s own Pygmalion festival.
buzz: It seems like more festivals are focusing all their energies on booking huge headliners. What do you make of that?
Seth Fein: I think that in order to get those smaller unknown bands on the bill, you need bigger headliners to sell the tickets. Without Radiohead, Rage and Kanye (at Lollapalooza), people wouldn’t really get the experience of seeing someone like the Gutter Twins. I think it’s a balancing act. I face that with Pygmalion every year. If I didn’t have Yo La Tengo and Dan Deacon, I don’t know that I’d be able to get people to buy tickets and have the opportunity to showcase the Champaign-Urbana music scene as much.
buzz: Why do you think festivals have seen a surge in popularity in recent years?
Fein: People want as much as they can get for their buck. I think people spend their time looking for times to escape. At a festival, they don’t have to think about the war in Iraq, the dipping economy, or outrageous gas prices. I think when times are tough, music can be a means of escape for people.
buzz: In your opinion, what makes a great festival?
Fein: I think it really depends on whether the promoter has catered to their target audience or not. It seems like the trend is to marry the indie rock and hippie jam band scenes. That’s not my thing, really. I’m into smaller niche markets … I’m not a big fan of outdoor festivals. The sound’s bad, it’s really hot, and I can be kind of claustrophobic. I understand why there’s such an appeal though. It allows people to interact with each other. You go to one of these festivals and there’s six thousand people just like you, all looking for a life-changing experience.

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