A week before we graduated from high school, my best friends and I piled into two pickup trucks and headed down I-65 to Gulf Shores, Ala. Six hours and a few pit stops later, we arrived at the Hangout Music Fest, a three-day event on the beach boasting over 80 bands.
But whenever I think back to that weekend, even when I look at the four rolls of film I shot of 20 different concerts, it’s not the music I remember. Instead, any mention of the word “hangout” conjures up a nonstop blur of overpriced food, a terrifying ride on a decrepit Ferris wheel, and an abundance of sunburnt frat boys looking for “their friend Molly.” It was nothing short of carnival-like. Even the lineup was a messy conglomeration of acts, ranging from the overplayed (Dave Matthews Band, Mac Miller) to the random (Randy Newman, Switchfoot) to the obscure (Shpongle, anyone?). If we hadn’t been so exhausted by it all, we would have stopped and asked: “Music? What music?”
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the Hangout—like most festivals nowadays—was never really about the music. In this week’s lead story, Beth Tolmach discusses this exact phenomenon: the overcommercialized, incohesive culture surrounding the modern-day festival. For the audience, she says, the music festival is a momentary departure from the trials of real life. For the music industry, it’s a rare economic opportunity in the age of online piracy and free streaming. Music is now secondary to the overall experience of festival-going, leaving us to wonder: What would it be like to go to a festival where the music is good and the main attraction isn’t an all-access pass to a weekend of mindless debauchery?
When it happens, you’ll be the first to know.