I love summer. Shedding parkas, enjoying patio beers, camping, cottages, all that shit. Us Canadians wade through 6 feet of snow for three-quarters of the year just so we can enjoy a bit of warm weather for a few weeks, so it’s pretty safe to say that a lot of us like to spend that time outside. Part of that annual tradition has been the institution of the music festival. That’s where you can pretty much count me out. I haven’t enjoyed myself in an outdoor festival setting since the early 2000s, when John Westhaver ran the Birdman stage at Ottawa Bluesfest. I don’t know who decided to give that man a budget and free reign to bring in any damn band he could find, but it was the last smart decision made on the festival scene in the region by a long shot.
I don’t begrudge people a good time. By all means, cram your sweaty ass into a field with tens of thousands of people to catch a fleeting glimpse of Kanye’s so-called genius. But don’t consider yourself a music fan because you shelled out a couple hundred bucks to “discover” a bunch of radio-sponsored acts. Sure,
there are still some genre-specific festivals that manage to attract some decently original performers, something either off the beaten path or that needs a bit more exposure than the same drivel that’s been pummeled into our consciousness over the airwaves since I was a kid. Those aren’t even a drop in the bucket, these days. Counterculture may be a big hit on the Internet, pride taken first and foremost on knowing a band before your friends do; but when it comes time to open your pocket books, the numbers won’t lie: top 40 festivals are where it’s at.
Can there be anything more boring than watching a platinum-selling artist perform for a motley crowd, most of whom have little knowledge of their catalogue beyond what they’ve been force-fed in the lead up to the show? How about catching that set in an acoustically nightmarish setting? I can’t remember a worse feeling than watching Bruce Dickinson’s enthusiasm slowly ebb during a performance when he realized that probably 50% of the crowd was wondering where Snoop Dogg was, and the remainder couldn’t sing along past “the number of the beast.”
When it comes to local acts, some festivals have it right. You’ve got a budget, so why not give some struggling locals a payday they won’t soon forget, that might finance a record or a tour? Sure, the panels reek of nepotism, but at least
some kids from around the block get some exposure. Others are downright scummy about it. Independent touring is hard enough, but when local promoters decide to make bands pay to play for exposure, they’re pretty much ensuring my money will never end up in their pockets. At least this year they made sure no one had to wade through an ocean of liquid shit in Montebello. But don’t get caught sneaking outside water.
The sound sucks, the crowds suck, the weather more often than not turns to shit. Give me a proper venue with an act I truly care about or someone new to discover in their native element any day. Generalist festivals are about sales, not art. The people who attend them, for the most part, aren’t music fans. They’re music consumers. They’re fans of having something to do that weekend, then bragging about it later. Hell of a boring way to go through life. – JP