From Woodstock to Lollapalooza, the music festival has always been an iconic, sometimes era-defining summer event. Seeing Elvis Costello at the Newport Folk Festival three years ago, for example, was a memorable experience. But the times are a-changin’. Thanks to YouTube, you can now watch entire music festivals, for free…without leaving the couch.
That’s right, you can live-stream some of the country’s biggest and best fests; sans money, suntans, and waiting in lines. The trend started a few years back and, as this year has shown, is more ubiquitous than ever. April’s Coachella webcasted arty indie rockers like Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, and headliners Arcade Fire (joined by Blondie’s Debbie Harry), while hip hip-hop acts like Chance the Rapper and Nas were joined by Justin Bieber and Jay-Z, respectively.
Though I didn’t catch Coachella, last weekend’s Bonnaroo stream truly rocked. Imagine: a weekend of free every kind of music, well edited and crisply webcasted. Where else can you see the ferocious rapper Pusha T and Ivy League rockers Vampire Weekend within minutes of each other? Elsewhere, Cake played up audience rivalries and college-rock nostalgia, Foster the People delivered sunny alternative pop, and the Avett Brothers defined “rousing” with their anthemic folk-rock performance. On the other end of the spectrum, electronica brothers Disclosure kept the crowds dancing and dubstep darling Skrillex performed three times over the weekend. Even Lionel Richie (?) and Elton John (!) got a chance to headline. Two shows, meanwhile, stirred everyone into a frenzy: Kanye West and Jack White. Both artists slammed the press and played the hits, thrilling the crowds rock-star bravado. An angry, angered hip-hop icon and a cocky guitar god, both playing at one of America’s most diverse music festivals. How do I know all this? A little reading and a lot of (free) watching.
Streaming festivals entirely free may seem detrimental to ticket sales or even at odds with what festivals are all about (clue: being there). In reality, though, it could introduce a new generation to the summer music festival. It’s not exactly clear which fests will stream this year, but keep your computers near for the Newport Folk Festival where Jack White, Mavis Staples, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy will extend the parameters of folk in new ways. And, of course, if you really felt like it you attend an actual music festival. Just saying.