News that this year’s Rothbury Festival, a four-day long celebration of music and arts, was cancelled probably came as a bummer to day-tripping hippies all over the U.S. The event was called off due to a poor artist line-up, and the outcry from hopeful attendees was to be expected.
Festivals like Rothbury — Coachella and Bonnaroo are other famous examples, with hundreds of smaller, local versions as well — are pretty traditional harbingers of the summer. People love them not only because they allow for the chance to see dozens of their favorite artists at one venue, but because the festivals afford them with a rare opportunity to mingle with thousands of strangers in bacchanalian revelry.
But if these music festivals were simply another concert and another way to celebrate the summer, it wouldn’t explain why they enjoy such a cult-like following. Instead, the massive popularity of these events stems from their ability to appeal to our generation symbolically.
Some would argue that these music festivals carry more importance than being a simple concert, that they capture the zeitgeist of our generation — even going as far as to referring to Bonnaroo as the Woodstock of our time (despite the nearly $300 difference in ticket prices, and the fact that Bonnaroo is sponsored by huge entertainment corporations — no big deal). It’s no doubt that these festivals do bear some cultural significance to us, albeit that culture being an untraditional, questionable one of drugs, music and self-indulgence.
Plus, the rare cancellation shouldn’t make festival fans too worried about the future of these events — Rothbury will be back as early as next year. The event is expensive to put on, and the producers decided it would be better to postpone it to give themselves time to line-up great artists to perform. And large music festivals will likely always be around.
After the economic downturn, bloggers mused how queer it was that these festivals seemed to be immune to the recession while nearly every other industry was feeling the crunch, though it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Big-name music festivals like Coachella have been navigating the moody economic waters pretty carefully, even offering a payment plan for hopeful attendees to pay for their tickets.
Unfortunately, according to a blog published by the Los Angeles Times, smaller music festivals like Florida’s Langerado Music Festival and the San Francisco Blues Festival are being rattled by the economy, either due to lack of corporate sponsorship or poor ticket sales.
I’m all for these music festivals: in addition to simply being a great experience that people look forward to each year, they often inspire people and support great causes. Many of them, including Bonnaroo and Coachella, also emphasize a sustainable way of life and donate money to charitable organizations. But the legendary South Park episode “Die Hippie, Die” articulates a major drawback to all their good intentions.
In this episode, Cartman flies into a disgusted rage when thousands of pacifistic, suburban adolescents wearing cut-off jeans and bandanas overrun his hometown for a music festival. The hip, young new-agers, or “dirty hippies,” as Cartman refers to them, spend most of their time passionately discussing taking action and changing the world — but as the festival days go on, all they do is sit around smoking pot while cheering on the bands’ empty but inspirational messages about activism.
Music festival-goers should keep Cartman’s wrath in mind this summer and try to take something from their experience more than a massive hangover and a ringing in the ears — these festivals have the opportunity to motivate and inspire, forge a sense of community and promote a variety of causes. But far too often, they are only seen as a place for substance abuse and mindless hedonism.
So the next time you’re considering breaking the bank to go to a corporately sponsored event like Bonnaroo, consider looking up a local arts and music festival to attend — you might not come home with stories to tell about having been offered random drugs by strangers, but in addition to supporting the little guy, you will likely walk away with a richer cultural experience.
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College sophomore from Atlanta.