Fine Arts and Fest

More Than Just A "Free Concert, Man"

The Rise of Music and Arts Festivals
Chad W. Lutz
You’re walking through a green field and suddenly turn to your left to find a booth about voter registration.

“What the hell is a booth doing in the middle of a field,” you think. Much less a voter registration booth with pamphlets that neatly outline the importance of being an upstanding citizen and making your vote count. That’s when you look down at your hand to find the half full beer cup wedged between your fingers and your thumb. You turn back to your friends, who have left you to go check out the fire twirler while waiting on you to decide what you’re going to do about the voter registration booth, and then politely remind you that you’re about to miss Radiohead, who go on in five minutes.

You take a look back at the booth, then another look back at your drink and a quick glance over your shoulder to find the fire twirler has turned into a fire breather and it hits you all at once. You might be part of something more important than a weekend away from the job, or the girls, or the parents. You might be a part of something bigger than you, or any of your friends might be able to understand unless you took the time to think about it. And as you continue to peer down the row of brightly colored booths and stands toting information on topics like climate change, the ozone layer, carbon emissions, recycling, vegetarianism, veganism, paganism, voter registration; you begin to realize that the ticket that you bought might not just be another piece of cardboard tacked onto a cluttered tackboard to be lost in the near future.

Then you walk down a trail lined by intricately carved wooden fences with lights and oddly colored Chinese lanterns arranged in weaving patterns dangling five feet above your head. There are people dressed as fairies, people of the same gender holding hands. Colors and creeds of all credits are talking, immersing, conversing, and laughing.

There are venders around every corner selling everything from homemade hemp bracelets to hand painted canvas prints and portraits. You think about the ticket again, your key to this magical mash up of art and culture. It might just be the key that unlocks the door of social change. The place I’m referring to is a phenomenon known only as Music and Arts festivals.

Since their infamous inception on August 15th, 1969 with the inaugural Woodstock, Music and Arts festivals have grown, not only in popularity, but in numbers and scope as well. I’m sure that many of you reading this are familiar with medieval renaissance fairs that happen in many states during the summer months. But try to imagine one that lasts four nights and five days (one just traveling there). And then try to imagine that all your favorite bands, not just the ones that play in the local bars around town, are going to be less than a quarter mile away from where you are sleeping, and that you actually have access to any and all of these shows at any time, day or night. And on top of that, add in arts and crafts handmade by people from all across the United States, and most certainly the world, and you’ll have a vague conception of what type of form Music and Arts festivals have taken today.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of festivals dotting the U.S and A. From the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to the Golden Gate State of California and anywhere music lovers can be found, fans are flocking in droves to fields and coves alto catch their favorite acts on stages spaced mere yards apart. What began as a single entity showcasing some of the most popular acts of their day has blossomed into a mix and match of every style, type, and genre of music ranging from Bluegrass, Jazz, Pop, Country, Rock, R&B, Cajun, Reggae, and, well, you get the drift.

Don’t know if there is one near you? Check out one of the websites dedicated solely to satisfying the most intense of festival hungers. Some sites offer search engines that help you find out the five W’s of inquiry about any festival across the country (and even internationally) One website, www.festivalfinder.com, even allows you to enter in the location of the festival if you find you’re a little hazy on the name.

And like every product that has a price, there are the big “brand name” festivals that happen annually that are always a huge draw. Bonnaroo, which usually happens the second weekend in June on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee. Another big festival that happens in the middle of July in Eastern New York (Mariaville) is Camp Bisco, a festival put on by the Philadelphia band The Disco Biscuits. There’s a Bluegrass festival called, get this, because I know it’s a stretch, the Wintergrass Bluegrass Music Festival held in Tacoma, Washington towards the end of February. There’s another held in recently ravaged, but rapidly rebuilding, New Orleans held two separate weekends: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that draws almost, “a half million,” as its website boasts.

Back in 2008, I actually had the opportunity to attend my first, and to date last, festival at the first annual Rothbury Festival (which happened to be one of the only two Rothbury’s ever put on). Going in I didn’t know what to expect. I honestly just thought Woodstock all the way and imagined thousands of naked people twisted on drugs squirming to the sounds of some of the best musical acts they’ll never remember.

But when I got there, I was really surprised to find the amount of social awareness that venders and booth-keeps alike were either passing out literature for or engaging in the time tested and always trusted means of communication: the human conversation. I was pretty much sold on the idea of just vegging out and doing nothing but ingesting unmentionables all weekend while sloshing around with some of my favorite people twenty yards from bands I idolize.

However, festivals offer up more than just some good tunes to bob your head to. It’s an experience unlike any other. Millions of people attend these events every year, and the numbers are still rising. As the economy plunges and the social/political scene also takes a swan dive into uncharted, murky waters, it seems people are going back to their musical roots; if only in appreciation. But these festivals aren’t just aimed at the music lover. They’re aimed at the political junkies, the scenesters, the new age hippies (obviously), both the casual fan and the die-hard music bleeders. They help mold minds by offering more than just the buffet of drugs and Rock N’ Roll these places are rumored, and tend to prove to be.

The best example of this is my younger brother, Colin, who had a run in with one such Voter Registration booth. He hadn’t yet registered for his ultimate duty as a U.S. citizen and, being the year of a Presidential Election, he was inspired, if only by the booze raging through his veins, to sign up. I honestly don’t think he would have if he hadn’t seen the booth at that festival. And although it wasn’t a momentous occasion in his life, I feel as though it was at least somewhat momentous and probably tell tale of a lot of other young people who were walking through that sunny green field on July 4th weekend staring down booths about global warming, women’s rights, and vegetarianism. It got you to think, not only about the bands, but also about who you are, at the core. And instead of just allowing people to slosh around and retire to their tents to throw up, there was a cosmic sense that there was more going on than meets the eye. And as my younger brother once put it, and I think he put it best: “Never forget who you were here.” And I doubt that anyone who’s ever been to a festival ever could, no matter how hard they try.



Be sure to check out my first hand look at music and arts festivals in the upcoming article 'Bonna-Ruined'