Mike Martinovich manages My Morning Jacket, known for its epic performances at rock festivals. With their newest studio record, the critically acclaimed "Circuital," coming at the end of this month on ATO Records, MMJ will be hitting the festival circuit hard, playing seven rock fests including ACL, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.
Martinovich is uniquely equipped to weigh in on the impact of music festivals and their role in today's music scene, and does so here, drawing a correlation between the diverse programming of major festivals to adventurous radio programmers.
Billboard.biz: Are festivals the most critical artist development space in today's live business?
Mike Martino: While useful, the term 'artist development,' I think is overused and in some ways condescending to artists. I think a more egalitarian and accurate term for that process is 'audience development.' It puts the artists, promoters, label folks, booking agents, publishers and some radio stations all on the same team. That's important because, yes, done the right way, festivals can be integral to 'audience development' for a newer artist to be exposed to a broader audience, and established artists who are re-introducing themselves to the broader public. And by the looks of how healthy festivals are this year in the greater context of our slowly recovering economy, the audience is speaking loudly.
BB: Fests like Bonnaroo and ACL have drifted away from their original, more "niche" programming, and successfully. As an observer, is this a reaction to broader musical tastes of fans?
MM: It's funny, I have been having this conversation with Jim McGuinn (KCMP The Current in Minneapolis) and Bruce Warren (WXPN in Philadelphia) for years now. There is an analogous situation at radio right now, too, that I feel has a relationship to the broadening of festival line-ups. For years, radio stations used call-out research to find out what seven seconds of a song resonated with people who don't really even care about either the station or the musicality of music, and that begot sort of a 'dark ages' of lame festivals.
When stations like KEXP (Seattle), KCRW (Los Angeles), WXRT (Chicago), WXPN, WFUV (New York), WFPK (Louisville), KCMP, WRNR (Baltimore), among others, can play George Jones into Sharon Jones, the Beastie Boys into Roxy Music, and the Fleet Foxes into the Ronnettes, and it actually sounds awesome, that's how these festivals have always programmed. But for the first time, there's a culture of radio, both commercial and non-commercial, that is reflecting it more clearly, thereby having a positive effect with the public.
[New Orleans] Jazz Fest has been becoming more contemporary while staying true to their heritage. You can spend the early hours of the festival having your mind blown and your heart warmed in the Gospel tent, see Preservation Hall, then see Pearl Jam. I think that the talented programmers at festivals and talented program directors, coupled with a new era of creative and redeeming artists, is all happening right now at the same time and it's wonderful.
BB: When there is so much crossover between acts at the major festivals, is there a risk of "sameness" or a "McFestival" scenario?
MM: Not at all. Sure, we're all in the business, so we see the line-ups and cynical kids on blogs who a) can't afford to go to all of them, and b) think they're smarter than Austan Goolsbee snark about it. But we live in a huge country. I know that each promoter goes through a total slog trying to differentiate their festival from others and that's healthy.
There are only so many headliners to go around every year, but I do think that all the festivals have done a nice job creating an event that reflects their community or creates a culture unto itself. Bonnaroo and Outside Lands [in San Francisco] have their own feel. Lollapalooza and ACL, while vaguely similar in that they happen 'in town', still maintain their own history and culture. The Pitchfork Festival (Chicago) and Wakarusa (Ozark, Ark.) are wildly different, but beloved on their own terms, too. There really is only a small small percentage of people who will travel to multiple festivals every year…and they're certainly not complaining.