Coachelleagafest: The Ups and Downs of Music Festival Season


Similar to your friend’s first cat or a screenshot of their 7-day weather forecast pre-vacation, there’s another time of year you can expect to have your social media flooded with sometimes unwelcome promotion and commentary: the season of music festival line-up releases. We know it well; the month when international festival organizers firm up the summer’s hottest line-ups, sending people into a gasping frenzy while they sit at their desk and hope for more Facebook likes on their “breaking” line-up status update, credit card clutched in sweaty palm, praying for the box office to open so they can re-post about the impossible tickets they’ve secured. We’ve all been a bit of this person.

Now, it’s a tough season to come to terms with. While we so look forward to the warm nights, new friends and near silly collection of superstar musicians in one place – as the line-ups for the likes of Coachella, Osheaga and Bonnaroo roll out, the music-loving stress and FOMO resulting from being denied a ticket within 25 seconds of the open box office feels paralysing. Then again, if you’re one of the lucky few who can break the internet and comfortably toss down $300 – with realistically every assurance you’re going to get bang for your buck – you’re guaranteed a ticket to the time of your life in a place where the beer runs cold and the hipsters run free. Whether you make it to the momentous musical events of summer 2013 or not, here’s a list of some of the ups and downs to weigh while you drool over that colourful poster:

UP: You’re bound to have the time of your life and you only live once, regardless of every “down” I’m about to list below. With every “down,” you can add this statement to the end of the sentence to cushion the blow.

DOWN: The cost. The average ticket prices for these weekend or week-long festivals are well into the hundreds, and if you’re from out of town, that number hardly factors in three meals a day, room and board, plenty o’ booze and transportation to and from said music festival. Kiss goodbye a month’s rent.

UP: The sheer number of musicians these festivals manage to cram into one line-up can be borderline bananas. I have every recollection of wandering through festival line-ups that felt surreal. It’s some kind of miraculous to stroll from one grassy stretch to the next, stumbling upon three musical legends in a matter of minutes.

DOWN: Festival organization and communication can be a damper if done wrong and/or ambiguously, and the rules can be super confusing. Do I need a yellow or blue wristband? Can I just walk in to a bar with a band playing during music week? Cover? Each year, the same questions go on and on. Also, nothing is worse than a programmer who doesn’t understand diversifying a given festival time slot, so that two bands who would entice a similar demographic or fan base don’t overlap. Don’t put Fogerty at the same time as Frampton, Black Keys around Jack White or The Hip near Blue Rodeo – tears will flow and ankles will twist while we try to sprint back and forth.

UP: The fashion. Not necessarily music-related, but it’s always a treat how style pairs with sound. Whether it’s a hair metal concert, hip-hop crew or ramblin’ folk collective – ‘tis the season for digging out an outrageous jersey (just don’t let it be the band tee of who’s on stage…judgment) or braided headband to add to the experience.

DOWN: Terrible people. Slight concert etiquette at any live music event can always be a concern, but in mainstream venues like the Rogers Centre and Scotiabank, we usually have the sanctuary of a seat, section or patrolling security. On the festival landscape, this is usually far from the case. If the 6”4 couple blocking your view decide to spend the night necking, the underager to your left is questionably gurgling after too many sodas or buddy in front kindly packed his Herschel extra full in case you needed a chin rest at the peak of the mosh – chances are your favourite band’s set might be overshadowed by the fury you want to unleash on strangers. If I honestly can’t tell whether it’s my hair or Rapunzel’s next to me slathered across my hot summer shoulder? I’m going to wish I parked a lawn chair across the street with the visored Grannies.

UP: If you make the most of the music-loaded experience, chances are you’ll walk out of a festival having made a handful of new discoveries. Whether a band you “sort of” know plays a song that sounds exponentially better on stage or you stagger over to a smaller, intimate venue and catch a new act – you’re likely to get a new album or I saw them when moment out of the occasion. I can’t emphasize this enough: go see bands you don’t know. That’s the point. You never know what you’ll find.

DOWN: Hopefully not in the same daft way that Herschel did (^), but chances are (unlike one concert night or the best case RV-on-site-scenarios) you’re going to have to carry a lot of your life with you for the duration of the festival. At the risk of tent ransack, dehydration or unpredictable weather (cough – Bluesfest 2011 grand finale), if you’re at a festival from noon until 3am – you should have some essentials with you while manning Mother Nature and unruly crowds.

UP: I covered Ottawa’s Bluesfest for five consecutive years – with my first year writing for a magazine being one of the most outrageous experiences of my life. Although I was only expected to write the highlights of the festival, I decided to (on top of my day job) attend 12 of the 13 nights and write full reviews of each night’s line-up when I returned home at midnight or when I woke up the next morning before work. I was malnourished. Exhausted. Perma-beer-buzzed. I had learned to pack the contents of my apartment into a miniature satchel and not break my pretty camera.  I was almost out of words (almost) by the end of it. But, when it ended, it was a real shame that life had to go back to the way it had been before. No more hot nights spent swaying with festival friends – both fellow concert lovers and legendary artists – and no more happily ignoring what was happening outside of the festival parameters. So, despite the downs – embrace music festival season 2013. Double book them, make a mess of yourself and laugh at the annoyances. If it comes down to the music, at least in my eyes and ears, everything’s worth it.

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Jess & Catherine at Bluesfest 2009

 Catherine and I at Bluesfest 2011

Jess & Catherine at Bluesfest 2011



  1. ok… but how GREAT is the Osheaga lineup!!!

  2. LEE BEST says:

    On a side note, here’s a fun game to play with the picture on the top of this page. I call it, ‘spot the murderer’. I’ll give you a hint; he’s in the middle of the photo wearing an all black shirt, pale complexion and a muscular build. His cold dead eyes are locked onto the photographer like the grim reaper. Its like, ‘Where’s Waldo’ except were looking for a murderer.

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