BY JOSH BAYER
Daily Music Columnist
Published April 4, 2010
Yep. It’s that time again: summer. Or it’s at least close enough to summer to start worrying about music festival tickets selling out — the three-day passes to Pitchfork are already gone, and the only Bonnaroo tickets left are $249.50. But while music festivals are overpriced, over-sweaty, and occasionally malnourishing — I once didn’t eat, drink, excrete waste or enjoy personal space for eight straight hours to get a good spot for Radiohead at Lollapalooza — they are also miniature Meccas for music fans.
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There’s something about seeing a leviathan field of people on a leviathan field of grass, flooding away from a two-hour Pearl Jam show like a bohemian tribe of nomads, and feeling the collective passion for music crackling in the $6-chicken-gyro-smelling air. You feel like you’re part of a movement, even though you’ve done nothing all day but get high and starve yourself and wander boggle-eyed between bands you’ve never heard of and bands whose sole existence validated the wallet-eating ticket price. And the buzz of soaking in raw musical content from all over the stylistic pedigree for three or four days straight is any audiophile’s wet dream.
But, due to the mildly unfortunate fact that the only city that the incredibly economical Michigan Megabus circuit travels to is Chicago, and because Pitchfork’s lineup caters extensively to my indie fetish, I’ve found myself exclusively attending music festivals in the Windy City. And while Lollapalooza and the Pitchfork Music Festival have both filled me with much little-kid glee over the past few years, I’m starting to grow disillusioned with the metropolitan setting.
Chicago may be a beautiful city for a music festival — watching the sunset shimmering off an enshrouding grove of skyscrapers while trancing out to Explosions in the Sky is a fairly time-bending experience. But I can’t help but feel that, until I’ve gone to one of the camp-out, don’t-shower-for-three-days, middle-of-nowhere festivals like Bonnaroo or Coachella, I haven’t truly experienced the full essence of music festival-ing.
First of all, it was incredibly annoying to me how The Flaming Lips’s gala performance at Pitchfork last summer was decapitated at the tender time of 10:30 p.m. due to Chicago noise ordinances. Meanwhile, at Bonnaroo, which is held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, Kanye West can bust onstage at 4:45 a.m., eight hours after his originally slated start time, without pissing off anyone but a few sleep-deprived fans.
And without the transcendentalist edge of on-site camping — a mass campout in Chicago’s Grant Park, where Lollapalooza is held, would probably turn swiftly into a mass mugging — these “inner-city” festivals feel like a far cry from their Woodstock hippy roots. While cramming eight people into a single hotel room for three nights in a row is certainly a bond-strengthening experience, it doesn’t quite scream “community” in the way that a rolling mass of tents, naked bodies and mud-bathers does.
It just seems like the mission statement of these festivals in general is to exist as a sort of free-floating utopia for music lovers — a safe, open space for like-minded people to detach from society and exist for a few days inside a pseudo-anarchist fantasyland, where outhouses are your lifeline and people paint each other different colors.
But smack dab in the middle of Chicago, as people flow into cubicle-like hotel rooms and hostels, this illusion evaporates. Sure, there’s something otherworldly and uncannily “Lord of The Rings”-esque about watching an army of bodies throbbing under a giant rainbow-flashing pyramid during a Daft Punk show, regardless of setting. But when those same bodies flood out into the streets of Chicago afterwards, it’s hard not to feel a little depressed.