Now that summer is in full swing, you could almost literally spend every weekend between now and Halloween attending a music festival.
July will bring us Woogie Weekend, Viva Pomona, the Low End Theory Festival and HARD Summer. August is time for Outside Lands in San Francisco, the SoCal Hoedown in Santa Ana and Berserktown and FYF right here in L.A. September keeps the music going with Desert Stars in Pioneertown and Music Tastes Good in Long Beach. And then there's that “Oldchella” thing in October.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Even for hard-core music lovers, it can all get a little exhausting.
Given the recent festival tsunami, which has swept across not just the Golden State but all of America, a number of articles have started surfacing like this one from Paste's Eric R. Danton, arguing that the festival market has peaked and is set to collapse any day now. (Danton also argues, testily, that all festivals suck, so his festivals-are-doomed reasoning may be a bit clouded by wishful thinking.)
We've clearly hit market saturation for mega-festivals like Coachella (witness the recent failures of ill-conceived new entries in the field like Rock in Rio USA and Made in America), so there's some truth to Paste's take. Mega-festivals, even well-organized, well-curated ones, typically take years to turn a profit and draw from an increasingly overexposed talent pool; the Venn diagrams of major festival lineups have gotten pretty crowded in recent years. It's hard to bill yourself as a “destination festival” (as Coachella and most of its ilk still do) when nearly all your headliners are playing 10 other multistage behemoths that same year.
However, the festival-saturation argument misses a major recent development in the live-music industry: the rise of the niche festival, those that cater to fans of a specific genre or musical subculture. Such festivals have been around forever, of course, but they've learned a lot from watching (and, in some cases, partnering with) the mega-festivals, and they've gotten much more sophisticated at delivering the amenities and atmosphere of a large-scale fest while still tailoring the experience to a more narrow set of tastes. Burgerama, Odd Future's Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, San Diego's CRSSD Fest and this year's combined Knotfest/Ozzfest metal revelry are just some of the many local examples of niche festivals done right.
For proof of the continued vitality of niche festivals, look no further than two such events that just announced their full lineups this week. One does a good job of identifying an underserved niche in the SoCal concert scene and filling it; the other, now in its fourth year, continues to expand its scale and programming in smart ways while aiming most of its lineup squarely at the crowd that made it a success in the first place.
At first glance, the new hip-hop–focused Day N Night Festival, happening Aug. 13-14 at Oak Canyon Ranch in Orange County, looks like a direct competitor with Camp Flog Gnaw. But as curated by the Observatory's Jeffrey Shuman, who already books some of the best hip-hop shows in the Greater L.A. area, the lineup actually offers a more diverse selection of forward-thinking and left-field rappers than even Odd Future's successful event: A$AP Rocky, Young Thug, Chief Keef, Post Malone, Vic Mensa, the Seshollowaterboyz. There's even a DJ set by Flume, whose mix of spacey synth-pop and rattling, trap-style beats is only a couple doors down from the spooky, minimalist tracks of A$AP Mob and Keef's Glo Gang. Fans of this style of hip-hop haven't really had their own large-scale event before, so Day N Night is a smart addition to the local festival landscape.
Desert Daze, Oct. 14-16 in Joshua Tree, has the unenviable task of competing directly against the second weekend of Goldenvoice's massive Desert Trip festival, aka Oldchella. But L.A. creative collective Moon Block, the self-described “bunch of positive freaks” behind Desert Daze, has risen to the occasional with its most impressive and diverse lineup yet.
Primus might be a somewhat odd choice of headliner for a traditionally garage/post-punk/psych-rock niche festival, but veteran influencers Television and Suicide are major scores, and the additions of an Andrew W.K. “keynote address” and “closing ceremonies” with rapper-poet Saul Williams are nice touches, too. Beyond that, the lineup is a smart mix of the usual suspects (Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Angels, Thee Oh Sees, Cherry Glazerr) and cool but less obvious choices that should still fit well within the Desert Daze template (Deerhunter, Washed Out, Deafheaven, the insanely weird and great Gary Wilson). Desert Daze is far from the only psych-rock–centric festival in SoCal, but with so much savvy booking, it now stands as the best.
So does Southern California have too many music festivals? Probably. But are there still opportunities for new and emerging festivals to find their niche and own those smaller, more selective audiences? Damn right there are. Just don't try to become another all-things-to-all-people mega-festival like Coachella, or even FYF, because it's probably true that there's no juice left in that squeeze. (I'm looking at you and your WTF lineup, Kaaboo Del Mar.)
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