Music fest season in high gear for holiday weekend

by Steve Jones, USA TODAY

Fans won’t have to travel far to get their fill of live music this Memorial Day weekend, as nearly 20 festivals — from Baltimore to Monterey, Calif. — will offer bands galore on their stages. It’s just the start of a summer of sounds with dozens of festivals that fit just about every genre and niche imaginable.

The indie-rock-leaning Sasquatch! Music Festival, which runs Friday through Monday at The Gorge amphitheater near the Columbia River Gorge in Quincy, Wash., has been sold out for months and is the weekend’s biggest attraction. Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Vampire Weekend and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are among the more than 100 bands that will play before daily capacity crowds of about 27,500.

“The festival market is the most robust sector of the live music business,” says Ray Waddell, Billboard ‘s senior editor/touring. “The anchor events like (New Orleans) Jazz Fest, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Milwaukee Summerfest and Austin City Limits have become an integral part of the touring landscape, and the market is healthier than it has ever been — and growing.”

New festivals seem to successfully emerge every year, with events like Hangout in Gulf Shores, Ala., LouFest in St. Louis, Virgin FreeFest outside Washington, D.C., and the Governors Ball in New York City establishing themselves in recent summers. Three of last summer’s debut successes are back this year: Firefly, June 21-23 in Dover, Del.; Watershed, Aug. 2-4 in George, Wash.; and the Jay-Z-curated Made In America festival, Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Philadelphia. This year, Faster Horses, July 19-21 in Brooklyn, Mich., looks to be getting off to a strong start.

The Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas (June 21-23) is the crown jewel of electronic dance music, but with a half-dozen other events, the genre has developed a festival circuit all its own.

“Not only are EDM festivals hugely popular and growing, the stars of the genre frequently are found on the bills at more mainstream rock fests, and developing acts in the genre often show up at after-hours shows and smaller tents and stages across the festival scene,” Waddell says.

Festivals can provide a boost to bands striving for higher profiles. It gives them an opportunity to expand their fan base and garner critical acclaim. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and The Lumineers are recent examples that have benefited from the excitement they’ve generated at summer shows. French indie band Phoenix helped itself last month by creating the biggest buzz at Coachella.

“Festivals can be the best platform out there for developing bands today — but only if they kill it live,” Waddell says. “An epic performance — think My Morning Jacket in the wee hours at Bonnaroo (in 2008) — works wonders in building a reputation as a great live act, but a weak performance can evoke withering and widespread criticism.”

© 2013 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.

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