Independent festivals are becoming more vital by the day.
Live Nation, the world's largest presenter of live music, dominates the American festival space. Five years ago, it purchased a controlling stake in C3 Presents, the producer of major festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and at the time, the largest independent company in the industry. Earlier this week, Live Nation bought out Superfly's remaining minority share of Bonnaroo, effectively ending the indie organizer's role in the festival it helped found. Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) often goes head-to-head with Live Nation, boasting a formidable festival portfolio including Coachella, Firefly, and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest. When some called for Coachella boycotts upon hearing of Philip Anschutz's history of donations to highly conservative organizations, that idea quickly became untenable under the shear breadth of live music controlled by AEG.
Autonomy is important; quality can truly set a festival apart. Today, indies deliver some of the industry's most uniquely curated festivals, untethered to the something-for-everyone demands of big ticket promoters, free to dive into less commercial sounds and scenes. "So many festivals now have indistinguishable lineups," says Brandon Stosuy, co-presenter of the Hudson, N.Y.-based festival Basilica Soundscape. "Some of these festivals just feel like pop-ups for corporations; they don’t feel like music festivals. I think the ones that don’t feel like that are the ones that are interesting."