So it may come as a surprise that in 2018, the majority of those festivals actually increased the overall number of female acts on their bills -- the most notable being Coachella, which upped its solo female artists and groups with at least one female member from nearly 40 to just under 60 this summer. While headliners still skew overwhelmingly male, festivals are booking more women in the middle tier.
“It’s a conflicting feeling,” says Lucy Dacus, who will release her sophomore album, Historian, on March 2 and is booked on the Firefly bill. “Because when I hear someone say, ‘There should be more women on the lineup,’ I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ But I’m also like, ‘There are...’”
“I feel like this year, [female presence] has improved [in the industry],” adds pop-rocker Alice Merton, who will play Alabama’s Hangout Music Festival in May, as well as Firefly and Governors Ball in June. “There have been so many up-and-coming artists who are women getting bigger and bigger.”
When Hangout started, in 2010, there were only six acts with women on the lineup; Boston Calling, which originated in 2013, first included eight. This year, both have 16 (although, of course, band lineups can change). Tennessee’s Bonnaroo festival, which started in 2002 and has grown through the years, boosted the four women on its inaugural lineup to over 30 this year.
The emerging artists who dot the mid-tier lineups in 2018 inhabit a range of genres: Tash Sultana (guitar rock), Kelela (moody R&B), Lizzo (lighthearted rap), Alex Lahey (melodic rock), Jorja Smith (sultry soul), Maggie Rogers (synth-pop), Julien Baker (plaintive singer-songwriter) and Billie Eilish (alt-pop).
But the overarching problem remains: Women still aren’t being booked at the top level, despite the fact that in 2017 several female pop stars crowded the charts: Kesha, Taylor Swift, P!nk and Katy Perry debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (as did Lorde and Lana Del Rey, who played several festivals last summer). They also recently had, are currently on or will soon be playing arenas or stadiums on their own headlining tours.
Why aren’t these women getting marquee-booking? “A lot of it just goes back to who’s available and who’s working,” says Jordan Wolowitz -- co-founder/partner of Founders Entertainment, the company behind Governors Ball, which this year booked Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Halsey toward the top, and The Meadows (a fall festival in New York’s Queens borough) -- of the booking process. He cites conflicting touring schedules as a huge factor in solidifying a lineup. “There are things that, understandably, ticket buyers and people who don’t work in the industry don’t know, [but] there’s usually a pretty pragmatic reason behind [why we book certain headliners].” (Billboard’s own Hot 100 Festival had Demi Lovato perform a headlining set in 2017 and Ariana Grande the year before that; the 2018 lineup has yet to be announced.)