Every spring, when music festival organizers unveil their lineups, one act inevitably emerges as the summer’s most in-demand headliner. In past years, the top fests have banked on major reunions (OutKast, Guns N’ Roses and LCD Soundsystem), of-the-moment DJs (Calvin Harris, Diplo) and indie icons (Radiohead). This year, the title belongs to 23-year-old MC and best new artist Grammy Award winner Chance the Rapper.
The Chicago artist has been confirmed as a headliner at 14 U.S. festivals, including Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Essence, Sasquatch!, Eaux Claires, Firefly, Boston Calling and Lollapalooza. Even more remarkable, the appearances are sprinkled among a 36-date arena tour — a big jump from last year’s theater run for an act who has yet to sell a single album. That 2016 tour demonstrated Chance’s earning potential: The North American leg grossed an average of $384,000 per show. And his single-day Magnificent Coloring Day Festival, held Sept. 24 at Chicago’s recently rechristened Guaranteed Rate Field, grossed $2.25 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. This time around, his agent Cara Lewis tells Billboard, the artist’s festival dates and arena shows were carefully plotted to “avoid any double plays” in a market that could affect ticket sales.
Chance’s dominance of the summer festival circuit comes at a time when organizers are increasingly signing hip-hop and R&B artists as headliners instead of EDM and rock acts. “It’s reflective of what’s happening in music,” says Sean O’Connell, festival director for Hangout, which will feature Chance and Frank Ocean as headliners. “R&B is really pushing the envelope, [as is] hip-hop, and people are really responding to it.”
Or, as Lewis puts it: “Hip-hop and R&B are defining the culture of today, and we’re at the top of the most-wanted list.”
Hip-hop is “prevalent on all the streaming platforms and playlists, so it makes a lot more sense to have those artists [headline] festivals,” says UTA agent Jonathan Briks. Of the 10 songs with the most on-demand audio streams in the United States in 2016, eight were hip-hop and R&B tracks, according to Nielsen Music, while Drake’s Views was far and away the most-streamed album.
Shady Records director of A&R/Goliath Artists manager Dart Parker, who reps Danny Brown and Ka, says consumers’ shift toward streaming also has forced rappers to tour in order to make up for revenue lost due to diminishing record sales. (Brown is booked for more than 30 festivals in 2017.) “Everyone who seriously tours has stepped up their game,” says Parker, adding that backing bands, lighting and other effects “create a real show that’s more than just bass and muffled yelling.”
With last year’s giant puppet-enhanced Coloring Book Tour, says Parker, “Chance put together a show that set him a level or two higher than most, and he has continued to grow.”