Wall Street Journal December 2011
Music Without the Mud: Rock festivals are cleaning up their acts to attract more baby boomers
Wall Street Journal
By: Jim Fusilli
December 19, 2011
Music Without the Mud:Rock festivals are cleaning up their acts to attract more baby boomers
For many baby boomers, the words "rock festival" still conjure visions of Woodstock: overcrowding, traffic nightmares, lack of comfort facilities and mud, mud, mud.
But there are some rock festivals today that might be dubbed the un-Woodstocks—days of fun and music that really are nothing but fun and music—because all the little things have been taken care of. They feature good crowd and traffic control, delicious food, ample restrooms and precise scheduling of acts. If it rains, oh well. But at many events, tents abound for quick shelter.
"Music festivals have evolved," says Allen Scott, vice president of Another Planet Entertainment LLC, which co-produces the Outside Lands Festival each August in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. "We see an older audience who wants to go to festivals. They're more discerning—and they have disposable income."
Among the three-day festival's concessionaires are scores of Bay area restaurants and vineyards. And for $450 a person, a VIP package includes what Mr. Scott calls "resort-style amenities," such as a private cabana, lounge seating, catered buffets, drinks served by a wait staff, and massage therapists.
The choice of musicians, meanwhile, usually a diverse lineup of new and emerging acts, tries to appeal to a cross-generational audience. This year's headliners: Arcade Fire, Phish and Muse. Joining them on the bill were Big Audio Dynamite, John Fogerty and Mavis Staples. Dates for 2012 have yet to be announced.
ALL TOGETHER NOW Fans across the age spectrum enjoyed artists such as Levon Helm and Ray LaMontagne at this year's Life is good festival in Massachusetts.
Boomers are also part of the marketing mix for Bonnaroo, a four-day festival of rock, country, rap and other music in Manchester, Tenn. This year's talent included Gregg Allman, Buffalo Springfield, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Loretta Lynn, Robert Plant and Band of Joy, Eminem and Lil Wayne.
Though Bonnaroo is known for its vast camping grounds on the festival's 700-acre site, 65 miles south of Nashville, Tenn., the promoters understand tent life may not suit most concert-going boomers, says Ashley Capps, founder of AC Entertainment Inc., co-producers of the festival.
In other words, there is no need to rough it. "You can rent a recreational vehicle," he says, or "buy a VIP food plan. You can have catered meals." A two-person VIP pass for Bonnaroo ranges from $1,300 to $1,700 and includes preferred parking, a special viewing area for the major stages, air-conditioned lounges, attended restrooms and showers, and a pre-festival party. Manchester and surrounding communities have plenty of hotel rooms as well.
Of course, no matter how good the accommodations, some boomers may have misgivings about mingling with music fans young enough to be their children or grandchildren. For those who grew up in the 1960s, the thought of running into their parents at a rock show would have been mortifying.
Mr. Capps says the vibe at Bonnaroo isn't as jarring for boomers as a 1960s festival would have been to folks raised on big bands and supper-club singers.
"For the type of fans we have at Bonnaroo, it's all about being inclusive," he says. "Performers like Robert Plant, Neil Young and Willie Nelson connect across generations."
Acts for Bonnaroo 2012 haven't been announced yet, but the festival is set for June 7-10. Bonnaroo and Outside Lands are co-produced by Superfly Presents, a New York-based event and marketing company.
Drawing all ages is part of the chemistry at the annual Life is good Festival. "By welcoming a 50-year-old, some people think it's going to represent a drag to a 20-year-old," says Bert Jacobs, co-founder of the Life is good Inc. apparel company. "But it's not true. There's nothing that brings [both] more joy than seeing other people enjoying the music they enjoy."
Attitude, Not Age
This year's two-day festival, held in late September on a farm in Canton, Mass., 20 miles south of Boston, featured the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Michael Franti, Levon Helm and Maceo Parker, as well as relative newcomers like the neo-bluegrass quintet the Avett Brothers and singer-songwriters Brandi Carlile and Ray LaMontagne.
All festival profits go to the Life is good Kids Foundation, a nonprofit that helps children endangered by life-threatening problems such as violence, illness and extreme poverty. In Canton, activities for all ages were offered, including yoga classes, a sack race and tug-of-war. There was also what the organizers called "an instrument petting zoo," where festivalgoers could play with drums, keyboards and guitars. The date and location of the 2012 festival haven't been announced.
At this and other festivals, Mr. Jacobs says, it's attitudes, interests and lifestyles that define the typical fan, not age.
"If someone said to me, 'I'm 60, and I don't belong,' well, that's like saying, 'I shouldn't be playing in the waves,' " Mr. Jacobs says. "If you want to curl up and die, go ahead. But you're totally welcomed at music festivals."