Festival Sell Outs: Why We Need VIPs

FestivalSellOutRecently, a list of artists’ guarantees (essentially a performance fee) was making the rounds on the Internet. And while most of the public’s reaction fell into one of two camps – of course Justin Bieber charges $1 million per performance or it’ll only cost $5,000 to get The Trews to play for my birthday?! – no one seemed to draw a correlation between festival line-ups and how much it would cost for OutKast, Muse and Arcade Fire to take the stage with hundreds of other artists.

There’s also recently been a lot of talk about the hyper commercialism (read: sell out!) of the same festivals at which Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix once spread peace and love.

Festivals are about the music! And the love! And the love for the music!

And if you have $6,500 lying around, you can experience that love at Coachella from the comfort of your own private two-person safari tent. For those with more distinguished taste, you can indulge in a rose garden dinner – included with your $1,024 VIP pass.

Yup. There was a lot of… ahem… disdain for the exclusive packages available at the annual festival. Disdain that I didn’t quite understand.

Yeah, Coachella is the unofficial kick-off to festival season. And sure, there are a lot of great performers. And okay, rich people are entitled to like good music. So why the hate-on for those rich people who want to listen to that good music at the kick-off to festival season – without being shoulder to sweaty shoulder with some guy who’s flying on molly and dancing with no regard?

FestivalVIPAnd that, my friends, is the crux of festivals. Artists cost money. Festivals need money to get artists. Rich people have money and want to go to festivals to see artists.

Steve Knopper wrote a fantastic piece appropriately highlighting that disdain in the June issue of Rolling Stone. In that article, he says the packages work to separate festival grounds into a sort of class structure, where the wealthy are bathed and fed and the poor are left to stand in mud and wait in hour-long line-ups for a $12 bottle of water.

You see, festivals will always need that cash flow. And so, they’ll always offer VIP packages and outrageous sponsorship deals (Budweiser’s Horseshoe Tavern) and downright absurd ad placements (MioSquirt Streetcar Series).

And, as unpopular as my opinion is undoubtedly going to be, I think the sell-out tendencies of festivals are good (usually).

When corporations and independent artists mutually benefit from a situation, it’s good. Musicians need money – to press CDs, to print press kits, to tour. And corporations need hip young folks – who listen to independent artists – to buy (and thereby endorse) their product.

I also realize that I very well could be sick with nostalgia and am most certainly not naive enough to know that the suits behind these festivals are undoubtedly growing richer with every designer-clad VIPer. Knopper did finish his article with a great quote from Tony Margherita, the manager for Wilco, which puts on the Solid Sound fest: “We don’t have to extract every dollar.”

Maybe the festival spirit isn’t dead just yet.

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