There is no level of confusion quite like watching the mayhem of an all-white mosh pit unfold. I witnessed my first mosh pit as a black middle school gumbo of hormones and misguidance at Warped Tour 2006. Taking in the heavy metal schizophrenia of Underoath in the Houston humidity, apparently, made white folk predisposed to beating each other up publicly. When the girl I was vibing with asked if I wanted to join, I told her that I couldn’t get any blood on my powder blue Carmelo Anthony jersey.
Steez over violence always.
I got my Warped Tour poster signed by the members of Gym Class Heroes and went on my merry way.
That memory stayed with me almost a decade later when I witnessed my first all-black mosh pit at Afropunk music festival in Brooklyn a few years ago. That day, it wasn’t so humid, but Danny Brown rapped his horrorcore anthem, “Kush Coma,” and the response among the crowd was visceral. Hyped up on green and a few other things, I watched black bodies soar. The verbal sparring of the cypher that defined rap culture had given way to tangible collisions that were as inviting as they were haphazard.
Experiences like mine aren’t uncommon these days. About a third of consumer spending on music is used towards live events–of that, millennials are most likely to spend their ducats on a music festival this year (via Neilson SoundScan)
The profits from music festivals have .created a market that combines live music, youth, drugs & liquor, and social media–business is booming. Since the explosion, writers have speculated whether it’s too good to be true or if the trend will come to define how young people engage with live music. Any trill economist will tell you that in order to avoid stagnation, your money’s gotta make money. On average, music festivals generate a 100 million dollar economic impact–while some festivals like EDC Las Vegas generate more than $300 million. That’s all well and good but it doesn’t address the issue that music festivals will face in the upcoming year–continued growth.
Take a peek at the graphic above, you’ll notice that the percentage of attendees to music festivals showed no significant growth from 2014 to 2015. The needle is stuck on 11% and it’s a figure that should cause a bit of tension for festival promoters. Though social media posts and photos have become personalized advertisements for festival-goers, the steep cost of attendance–$200-$400 on average, and over-saturation of festivals have proven to be death knells for the market.
The story of Squamish Valley Music Festival in Vancouver is revealing. Organizers announced that this year’s festival would be cancelled, leaving fans wondering what the hell happened. Just two years ago (2014), the show doubled its capacity to 35,000. Owing its fall to the growing rift between the American dollar and the Canadian loonie, competition within the Pacific Northwest region of the continent, and logistical issues between the promoters and the city, Squamish is a warning–getting bigger doesn’t mean getting better.
The possibility that the summer festival season could stutter is only a real obstacle for burgeoning events. It’s hard to predict that Warped Tour, ACL, or EDC will see real regression in the next five years. But for local, niche-based festivals, the danger is very real. Large companies like Live Nation and BRANDLIVE are experts in monetizing the festival scene through corporate sponsorships, renting out vendor spaces, and including contractual obligations to popular artists (usually pertaining to if they can perform in a given area a month before or after the festival). The money grab is really obvious and off-putting for festival-goers and the inaccessibility is catching up to the market.
Music festivals have come a long way since Woodstock–audiences are discovering new music, doing hoodrat shit with their friends, and integrating their online personalities with their musical experiences. But the future is a bit more unknown than promoters would like to admit. It’s easy to forecast a festival season that is more and more inaccessible to the public simply because of ticket pricing. When that happens, we will learn the fortitude of the summer music fest. Being able to move seamlessly from one artist/band to another and take part in a communal music experience gives summer fests an allure like no other event. But the shine is fading. In the next half-decade, the millennial generation will have to determine whether the mosh pit is worth the cost of attendance. Bruises to the bank account don’t heal easily.