Shantel Mitchell for NPR
The crowd at Bonnaroo 2010.
The start of the summer music festival season — this weekend's big Coachella show in Southern California — is upon us, bringing with it a couple of questions about the state of the touring industry.
1. Is it possible, in any way, to chalk up last summer's disastrous live concert season to the growth of the summer festival? When bands can snag paychecks while playing in front of larger audiences than they'd be able to draw on their own, is booking a solo tour more trouble than its worth?
2. Many bands (My Morning Jacket, The Flaming Lips, STS9, Death From Above 1979, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Best Coast) have built impromptu tours out of festival dates. So what would lineups look like if you got rid of these festival hogs?
Each of these questions is difficult to answer in its own way. The first because the U.S. festival circuit is still young and those invested in that model and the traditional touring model (many of them the same people) don't like to confirm that one could damage the other. The second because it requires a whole mess of data collection.
Never let it be said that we shy away from tedium or nerdery. So while we started digging into question #1, we dove head-first into question #2. We picked 10 festivals from around the country, then eliminated any band that shows up on multiple lineups, to see what remained, and then assigned each festival an Exclusivity Rating based on the number of bands in its lineup that didn't show up anywhere else.
Caveats abound. It's an imprecise science. Lineups are subject to change. For the sake of time and sanity (and repetition) we skipped over many festivals. Apologies to Essence Festival in New Orleans, SummerFest in Milwaukee, Summer Camp in Chillicothe, Ill., Starscape in Baltimore and many more. Lollapalooza, we probably would have included you if you had bothered to tell anybody who was playing your festival by now. Anyway, your notoriously strict and possibly illegal radius clauses probably would have totally screwed up our curve.
April 15 - 17 in Indio, Calif.
Exclusivity Rating: 73.2%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: Maybe because of its reputation, maybe because of its beautiful setting, maybe because it takes place a full month before the competition swings into gear, but in its twelfth year, Coachella is still the premiere American summer music festival, booking more acts, from a more diverse range of genres, than anyone else.
Remaining Headliners: Big names with broad appeal on all of Coachella's stages. Kanye West, The Chemical Brothers, Duran Duran, PJ Harvey, Lauryn Hill, Interpol, Sasha, A-Trak, Kings of Leon and The National all remain standing after the elimination round.
Hangout Music Festival
May 20 - 22 in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Exclusivity Rating: 41.5%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: The least exclusive fest in our field, this beachfront festival's lineup reads like the average of every other festival, with big names (Foo Fighters, The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket) and jam bands (STS9, Warren Haynes Band, Pretty Lights, Bassnectar) you'll find at many other festivals this summer. Maybe its booking policies are just as laid back as its name?
Remaining Headliners: A collection of randoms — Paul Simon, Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers, Medeski Martin & Wood, Ween — that should sound good to anyone who likes long walks on the beach. Which, as it happens, is an option at Hangout if you get bored of the bands.
Sasquatch! Music Festival
May 27 - 30 in George, Wash.
Exclusivity Rating: 57.3%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: Though it has a nearly identical Exclusivity Rating as fellow-West Coast fest Outside Lands, Sasquatch! clearly views itself as a little brother to Coachella, with more adventurous bookings and bigger gets. Possibly the "Indie"-est fest of the summer, even if many of the bands are on majors.
Remaining Headliners: Indie-made-good from area stars Death Cab For Cutie, The Thermals and Modest Mouse, dance music that's hard to dance to from Gold Panda and Flying Lotus, and some classic '90s-era guitar-centric alt-rock from Archers of Loaf, Bob Mould and J Mascis.
June 2 - 5 in Ozark, Ark.
Exclusivity Rating: 77.0%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: The exclusivity champ wins the summer by booking So. Many. Jam. Bands. It doesn't matter that the genre's biggest stars stacked the deck against Wakarusa by touring these festivals incessantly. A quick glance at the names of bands (Dirtfoot, Ekoostik Hookah, Family Groove Company, Lubriphonic, Perpetual Groove, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, Vibenhai, VibeSquad, Wookiefoot) makes it perfectly clear that there's a strong farm system of bearded noodlers ready to step up to the big leagues.
Remaining Headliners: Ben Harper, Toots & the Maytals, Peelander-Z, and any number of jam bands to whom I should now apologize for not realizing that their audience is so huge and devoted.
June 9 - 12 in Manchester, Tenn.
Exclusivity Rating: 54.0%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: Chalk Bonnaroo's relatively puny Exclusivity Rating (only two festivals scored lower) up to its inclusiveness. Big festival draws from across the genre spectrum (Girl Talk, Arcade Fire, Bassnectar, Wiz Khalifa, The Black Keys, The Decemberists, Mavis Staples, Robyn, Sleigh Bells, The Strokes) all play the remote Tennessee festival.
Remaining Headliners: Bonnaroo doesn't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get exclusive bookings. Neil Young, Eminem, The Walkmen, Florence + The Machine, Buffalo Springfield and Alison Krauss & Union Station will all make their sole U.S. festival appearance of 2011 here.
Dave Matthews Band Caravan
June 24 - 26 in Atlantic City, NJ and July 8 - 10 in Chicago, Ill.
Exclusivity Rating: 46.8%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: A traveling side show of crowd-pleasing bands with proven festival track records.
Remaining Headliners: Technically, these are the only shows where you'll be able to see the Dave Matthews Band play this summer, which makes the $195 price tag seem like brilliant ticketing innovation from a band that knows how to get its fans to pony up for tickets.
July 7 - 9 in Mariaville, New York
Exclusivity Rating: 62.3%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: More jam, but bet on Bisco's bookers to know something you don't about what bands connect. For a great primer on how bands can shape their own image within the touring industry, see Billboard's story on Camp Bisco founders The Disco Biscuits.
Remaining Headliners: The Biscuits themselves, plus tents curated by Damon Dash, Mad Decent and DFA.
Pitchfork Music Festival
July 15 - 17 in Chicago, Ill.
Exclusivity Rating: 63.3%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: The site, Chicago's Union Park, is smaller and more intimate than most festival settings, which allows the fest's organizers to mine a vein of the hippest, most current, and most likely-to-be-forgotten-next-year acts. Pitchfork hasn't yet revealed its entire lineup, but among the 30 acts it has announced, fans of the affiliated website will find many familiar names.
Remaining Headliners: Current indie darling James Blake, stalwarts Fleet Foxes, Neko Case and TV on the Radio, and must-see-reunion/brand cornerstone The Dismemberment Plan.
Newport Folk Festival
July 30 - 31 in Newport, RI
Exclusivity Rating: 61.5%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: With a couple of exceptions, the most conservatively booked festival of the summer looks like it could have taken place at any time in the last decade.
Remaining Headliners: Veterans Elvis Costello, Earl Scruggs, Gillian Welch, Ramblin' Jack Elliott hold up the tent for youngsters Mountain Man, David Wax Museum and the PS22 Chorus.
August 12 - 14 in San Francisco, Calif.
Exclusivity Rating: 58.9%
What It Looks Like After Elimination: Outside Lands is booked by the same promoter — Superfly — that runs Bonnaroo, and it ends up looking a little like a smaller, posher West Coast version of that festival.
Remaining Headliners: A little bit of roots (Vetiver, Infamous Stringdusters), a little local rap (Latyrx), a bit of dance (Deadmau5), a bit of fairground-friendly oldster rock (John Fogerty), and a little something for the behind-the-curve hipster (MGMT, OK Go, Arctic Monkeys), but the big draw here is Phish, playing its only festival date of the summer. If that won't make the Haight-ers happy, nothing will.