To make up for lost time —and money—Festival lineups have booked anyone and everyone, and that’s not the worst thing

To make up for lost time —and money—Festival lineups have booked anyone and everyone, and that’s not the worst thing

The "Mega-Festival" lineups are all over the place this year...

MusicApril 12, 2022 By W.C. Ferryman

What do Stevie Nicks, Tool, Machine Gun Kelly, Rezz, Robert Plant, Herbie Hancock, J.Cole and Nathaniel Rateliff have in common? It’s a trick question—aside from existing as musicians, the answer is nothing. Oh, and they’re all migrating to Manchester, Tennessee mid-June for the once-annual Bonnaroo Festival. If you knew this answer, odds are your ticket is in the mail. Look, we’re all for musical diversity, but this lineup is ridiculous, even more so when stacked against previous years. Bonnaroo is not alone—massive musical gatherings across the country are shamelessly flopping their dicks onto the table. It’s the first year in what feels like a decade that COVID is “under wraps,” and major events like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza need to make up for lost time (money). 
It’s simple, really—the live-events industry has a hole to dig itself out of. In December 2020, Pollstar estimated a thirty-billion dollar loss as a result of cancellations due to the global pandemic. That number is staggering, and surely just a portion of the nut-punch this sector of music took considering the full-year of postponements that followed. In 2021, some festivals said “fuck Fauci” and ran it anyways, but the artists they featured were underwhelming. Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo opted to take the “festival dwellers” route (artists whose names produce a “fineeee” when announced for seemingly every lineup on earth): most notably Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Roddy Rich, Miley Cyrus, Lizzo and that guy you put on smores. Coachella opted against fistfighting Gavin Newsome and canceled entirely. Instead of following suit, the aforementioned events probably realized they couldn’t take another year of absence. It’s worth noting that Bonnaroo did end up canceling in 2021, not because of COVID, but because severe flooding destroyed the festival grounds (God’s way of saying “let’s wait till next year”). 

Now, with the world at their fingertips, these events are going buckwild. Coachella features mega-ultra-superstars Billie Eilish, Harry Styles and Kanye West, as well as a gargantuan return to the desert by Swedish House Mafia. Rolling Loud has Kanye too, as well as Future and Kendrick Lamar—a trio of artists that could reasonably be placed on modern rap’s Mount Rushmore alongside Soulja Boy. Lollapalooza hasn’t announced quite yet, but if it’s main competitors are any indication, it’ll be leaps and bounds better than their 2021 showing; a weekend whose best moment was Playboi Carti climbing a light post amongst a crowd of white teenagers (they let Journey play a set… Journey?!). Then there’s Bonnaroo—perhaps the greatest, most hilarious example of playing catch up. Take a gander at nearly every one of their lineup posters from the foreseeable past; they all feature a cherished Tennessee staple, the revered Grand Ole Opry. As respected as they are, particularly in the state Bonnaroo takes place, most people aren’t shelling out four-hundred bucks to see a bunch of old people play brass instruments on stage (I think that’s what they do?). Instead, they said “fuck that noise, who wants to see ninety-year-old Robert Plant and Goose play back to back?” We can’t lie, we do. 

As insane as it may seem on paper, it’s worth noting how financially important live shows are to artists. Are music festivals money-grubbing circuses? Yes, but see last month’s Playback piece on streaming royalties and you’ll quickly realize that the number presented above—thirty-billion in losses—affected the artists too, probably more-so than the venues that host these gatherings. At the very least, Bonnaroo is enticing—the thought of breaking your neck at a Rezz show, then immediately after watching Herbie Hancock’s grandson wheel him on stage for “Watermelon Man” is cause for curiosity alone. These artists need shit like this, and in “post-pandemic world’ (knock on wood), we do too.