Are music festivals becoming elitist?


To Karl Marx, religion was the “opium of the masses.” I personally think music is the real opium. We listen to music for fun; to accommodate our sadness and anger. We listen to music to forget things, to experience specific emotions we normally couldn’t without music’s presence. So it’s natural for gigantic events, like music festivals, to be some of the coolest places one can go. Coachella, Reading, ACL, Governor’s Ball, and countless others, all bring the heat when it comes to memorable music experiences. But, something of a questionable trend has been gaining traction in recent times, as some publications have reported that some music festivals are becoming elitist, to counter the culture of mainstream festivals.

the emergence of exclusive music festivals

According to Tess Reidy, in her article for the Guardian, she reports that some festivals have “decided to avoid well-known headliners altogether, in a bid to deter the shallower type of festival-goer who turns up only to see the big names.” While I do agree that this is an annoying occurrence in itself, I do not think it’s enough of an argument to cut out one’s big opportunity to make a lot of money, just because you’re tired of the obnoxious fans.

The deputy editor of DJ Mag, Adam Saville, explained that by bringing exclusivity to music festivals, one gets a sense of unity, and that “when you have a clash of cultures, it disconnects the harmony; you want everyone there to be on the same page.” Looking at it from this point of view, I can understand it a lot more.

I remember when waiting for Kendrick Lamar to perform at ACL last year, my girlfriend and I were very disappointed, and very uncomfortable with, some of our fellow festival attendees next to us. Some of them were making obnoxious and racist jokes that would be seen as offensive to Asian and Black people, and one girl even frequently used racial slurs like nobody could hear her. If Kendrick knew that so many people were fighting and being disrespectful to each other, I highly doubt he would have appreciated it. Despite this, I don’t think the solution is to create specific conditions to ensure that “certain types of people” don’t get into a festival.

Exclusive doesn’t always mean better

Some festivals don’t even try to hide their exclusivity. Before the debacle and logistical nightmare that became Fyre Festival, the tragic irony of the festival was that it was actually advertised to be the ultimate music festival experience. There were promises of luxury lodging, exquisite food, and musical performances taking place on an island in the Bahamas. Tickets and packages sold for thousands of dollars. The Fyre Festival was elitist in its formulation and advertisement, but it turned into a disaster that gave the internet a field day, and the festival’s organizers, Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, a severe headache.

Music festivals need to stay festivals

It’s one thing for private or small shows to exist for the purpose of intimacy, but something like music festivals, events that are inherently huge and over the top, to try to become these exclusive and closed off events – Is it really even a music festival at that point? Or is it just a big, private show for people with connections and/or lots of money?

I tell people all the time that music is one of the few things in this world that truly makes me happy. In fact, I still believe that music is one of the few things that makes just about anyone happy. So why would I want to go to a music festival that thinks it’s too good for the average person?

Photo courtesy of Pop Press International