Festivals and Streaming: Coachella And The Death Of Dealing With Sweaty People In A Field

Festivals.  Let’s talk about them.

On the one hand, it’s the Costco/Music Mall/Best Buy of shows.  Every band you’ve heard anything about on many stages across a vast landscape.  Sets are truncated (sometimes severely due to scheduling,) and the first few songs always sound terrible due to lack of sound checks.  Food and water are impossible to obtain, you will either bake in the sun, or be covered in mud from hours of torrential downpours.  Your fellow attendees will be hallucinating, screaming, passing out, and just generally being all up in your space, and you will get no rest, because the partying goes all night, and the hot sun will wake you up at the crack of dawn.

On the other hand….You get to see every band you’ve heard anything about in one location, and maybe a few of those will be pretty good!  That’s about all I have for positives…I’m not one for endless groups of people for days on end.

In my younger days, I was a festival enthusiast.  These mostly existed in what one might call the “Jamband” scene.  The Gathering Of The Vibes in Bridgeport CT was a prime example.  A few years in a row, it was a utopian experience.  Easy parking and transportation, not a massive crowd, good lineup, friendly people.  As it gained popularity, it literally became a shit show.  That’s literal…during a storm which included tornado warnings, porta-potties overflowed on a massive scale.  It was also pretty much a farmers market for sketchy drug dealers, who heard there would be some hippies in town.  Not good vibes.

What, you don't want to hang with these people?

Years later, at my final festival as an attendee, I went to the Phish IT event in Maine.  The drive was 12 hrs from New York, then 12 hours once we got to the location, on the mile long road leading to the festival entrance.  It was a not so fond farewell to a music I was not longer in love with.

Some Dudes Wheeling My Drums

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival with the band Depedro, in Winnipeg Canada. The other side of the coin looked completely different.  As a performer, you were driven with your gear to stages by golf cart, people carried equipment for you (photo above,) you were fed great meals at any time of day, shade and seats were readily available.  We saw tons of great music, made great friends, played Beatles songs in the hotel ballroom at all hours of the night….the complete opposite experience.

Well, this weekend, we discovered the middle ground.  And not surprisingly, it appeared like a desert oasis thanks to technology.  Streaming.  It’s pretty much the answer to everything (media related anyway,) and festivals have become Youtube enthusiasts.  I’ve tried to access some streaming events in the past to some dismay – probably due to wonky internet connections…but it seems to be making some progress! Coachella, the hipster paradise and its own desert oasis to some, decided to stream nearly the entire festival.

coachella-2012-photo

Sunday night, after a day of biking, a trip to Smorgasburg in DUMBO, and  an obligatory visit to 16 Handles, we retired home to the comfort of our livingroom to watch Father John Misty do his evening set at Coachella.  There were a few hickups in the stream, and the sound was a little weird during the first few songs….but would it have been much better in a windy desert?  No one was standing in front of me, no drunk idiot looking up the lyrics on their phone to sing along (which happened at a previous FJM show) no line for beverages…..all in all, pretty good!

FJM via Brooklyn Vegan
FJM via Brooklyn Vegan

Yes, you can call it COUCH-ella.  The Office already did that a few years back in a surprisingly well timed joke! Give it a little time.  The picture looks great, there are no commercial interruptions, and the sound mix gets better as the performance continues.  I’m sure as bandwidth becomes less of an issue we’ll move to higher resolution, but I’m not complaining.  If they decide to charge a bit for it, that’s fine.  If the quality increases, its totally worth it.

Yes, nothing can replace the live experience.  But As I get a little older, the experience as a whole is what’s important.  The band needs to be great, but I just can’t deal with all the other shit that goes along with it.  Hundreds of people holding up  iPhones for entire songs.  Drunk pushy people.  The Talkers.  It’s endless.  I’ll venture out if its a favorite band at the right venue, but you just never know.  Even the Village Vanguard attracts “Bro Dudes On Date Night” from time to time.

Somehow I don’t feel guilty about this at all.  As I said, I’ll pay to stream shows, I don’t care.  As long as musicians can all be in the same room playing together, Music will continue.  Just the thought of having to rush to get tickets when anything goes on sale, only to be defeated by The Bots, then have to worry about a shitty experience even if you do get in….it’s just too much to take.  I sound old, and I’m pretty OK with that.